This is a serialization from my book, Happiness: A Physician/Biologist Looks at Life. To see the Table of Contents and the dust jacket blurb, click here; to start from the beginning, click here; to read the previous post, click here.
The Experience of Colors
So however real the light may be, the experience of color is not real. It’s an hallucination if you will, fabricated entirely by our minds; except that it’s a functional hallucination. Visual illusion or no, colors are still very helpful, and even crucial to our survival in the world.
It’s still a rather unsettling revelation. We take colors very seriously. Think about all of the money we spend on what we call colors: across the globe, billions of dollars are spent every year on house paints alone. In addition there are fabric dyes, food coloring, printing inks, works of art, flowers, cosmetics and nail polishes, jewelry, packaging inks and dyes, neon lights, and a host of others. Colors are so important to us, and so economically valuable, that two World Wars were heavily funded by dyes from the German chemical industry. So we take colors very seriously. We invest heavily in colors, all of which serve to produce—a visual illusion.
Visual Illusions as Valuable
Now, I am not criticizing colors. In fact, I would argue that colors are wonderful, and definitely worth pursuing with a goodly portion of our time and resources. I, for one, have spent a great deal of money traveling around the world, with scenery and art museums as major objectives. I would argue that colors are definitely worthwhile, even if they aren’t real. But it is important that we recognize that at least some of what we value in life is illusion.
Where we ‘See’
We experience other visual illusions. We have the sensation that the experience of vision is in front of us, that we look out on the “real world.” But the visual centers that we discussed above, the place where our brain shows us what we “see,” is located deep inside the skull—not in front of us where vision appears to take place, but “behind” us, in the murky, unlit back of our heads. The visual cortex of the brain is located in the occipital lobes, in the posterior portion of the brain. For this reason, a severe head injury from the rear can produce total blindness.
Our visual experience of “reality” does not take place where we think it does. The experience appears in front of us; but the machinery producing the visual experience is in the back of our skulls. So it is another illusion.
How we ‘See’
With that, there is the visual illusion that we see “out” in the first place. I remember as a child, thinking that vision was an active process, where my eyes reached out and sort of “felt” the world around me. Apparently that assumption is a common one; the ancient Greeks also thought that vision was a process that “reached out,” that the eye produced some sensitive emanation that produced vision.
It was quite a surprise for me to find out that vision is, instead, passive: I open my eyes, and the light streams in. So this is another illusion about sight, an illusion that we may accept as truth until we are willing to consider otherwise.
To continue reading, click here.
Indian Market Pigments courtesy of Wikipedia.