The Way We See Green

Ever wondered if everyone else sees the world the same way you do?

I remember as a small child asking my mother “Do you think we see colours the way they really are?” My mum replied yes, but I still wondered if what I saw was what was really there, or was really just a trick of my eyes. I wondered – do people see things as they really are, or do people see things because of the way they themselves are?

I watched this incredible documentary on television last night. Do You See What I See  explains how it may be that everyone actually sees things differently. The most fascinating aspect for me was a study on colour perception conducted with the Himbu people from Namibia.

The scientists wanted to find out if what we see is in any way connected to our ability to describe it with words. Is language linked to perception? The scientists established the Himbu have just five words in their vocabulary to describe colours, whereas western culture uses upwards of eleven words. Himbu colour groupings could include some reds, blues and greens in the same category, with different shades of red and green attributed to a different colour grouping entirely. Water is considered white – where we would say it was blue – and to the Himbu, the sky is considered black. You can view the study being conducted in this clip.

What I find extremely interesting is the fact that the perception of difference of the people in the study is seemingly defined by their ability to describe with language what they are seeing. Because the Himbu have the same word for both the green and the blue they see on the chart, they apparently can not “see” the blue tile which is set amongst the green. However, we, with our words for green and blue, clearly “see” the remarkable difference between the two colours. What’s the difference? Our perception? Or the way we define with language what we see?

Do all of us “see” the same thing? We all see coloured tiles, but without the ability to create difference with our words – our language, – apparently our brains are unable to “see” any difference between them.

What if we removed all the words from our vocabulary that describe the differences between people? Words that define between religions? Nationalities? Sexuality? Gender? How would our view of the world begin to change if we removed the words that separate us – that make them into others – and connected us back into only us?

How might this change the world?

 

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