Shades of Life

Do you dream in color?  Most people do, or say they do.  Color is all around us.  Can we live without it?

Today, the first thing I did after I woke up, I turned off the color pallet of my vision.  You can do it, just go your internal settings menu and switch to grayscale. You may have to reboot afterwards.

pleasantvilleEver see the film, Pleasantville?  It’s like that.

So, what’s the point of doing this?  Color is how we see life (unless you have a color blindness to your vision) with the different tones and the mix of primary colors.  If you switch to grayscale, everything changes.  The first thing you notice is the sound of life goes from a full orchestra playing show tunes to a jazz combo of dissonant saxophone and double-bass notes.  Not really, but go with the vibe I am painting.

I told a person recently, who was proud of a black and white photo, that we all spend a lot of our time in the shades of gray.  Without color, that photo reveals information not seen when projected through a color palette generator.

Usually, I write about my silly subjects, the cotton candy for the mind.  Even though I try to provide a kernel of insight, it rarely equates to a prize in the box of Cracker Jacks.  So today, a more somber tone.

When you look at something without the attributes and enhancements of color, you give up many nuances and subtlety.  You are not seeing black and white; you are seeing infinite shades of gray.  Is gray a color?  Yes.  Gray is a natural tone or hue, an achromatic color because it is a color without a color.  Confusing?

If gray is a color, are black and white actual colors?  Encyclopedia Britannica said this:

If color is solely the way physics describes it, the visible spectrum of light waves, then black and white are outcasts and don’t count as true, physical colors.

Colors are reflections of light.  Black and white are not read in the spectrum of wavelengths processed by the eye. A white object reflects all light.  Black is the absence of light, it reflects nothing.  However, a black image printed on a white background is a creation using a mixture of hues.  There is a difference between reality and created objects.  Imagine how confused the brain is.

I am not a neuroscientist, I do not even play one in my dreams, but what I read, the brain processes images in the gray spectrum differently than when it receives a range of colors.  The brain seems to work differently, receiving and mapping images based on the intensity of light received and the lightness or darkness of the original image.  The computer in our brain must interpret what it is seeing and how it exists in the real world, which it does in part, using information it already has.


The brain fills in missing image information not seen by the eye. Our center vision is different from our peripheral vision. Some color in the periphery is missing, yet that is not what is projected in our minds. The brain jumps ahead and completes the picture for us.  How much more does the mind paint from memory?

The study of how the eye absorbs light and turns this into electrical signals that are read by the brain, visual transduction, is a fascinating subject and way over my head.  My brain is not trained to read very deeply into this subject.

If you really could switch off your reading of color, how much would your eye miss, that your brain would go ahead and fill in for you?  And then, how would it impact your interaction with the world based on how your the processes that information?  Does tonality and shading stir certain emotional receptors in your brain?  If I see an image of a sunset with various shades of orange and yellows verses that same image in grayscale, I still see a sunset, yet my reaction is probably much different.  I certainly will notice the artistic impression in each, but my emotional reaction is not the same.

I wake up in the morning and everything I see is a shade of gray. My brain processes the data and instead of decoding the color variations, I am looking for lighting and shade variations and running through my internal databank for what each of those is supposed to mean.  It may be confusing, because my brain is looking for ready-to-use interpretations and not really finding what it needs.  Instead, I am forced to make real life interpretations, and my senses are working overtime.  Even looking at the sun coming through the window has me momentarily on pause.  Is it cloudy, what time is it, is there rain in forecast, is it hot already, what sort of mood should I have? Without color, I do not know for sure, I am making assumptions.

The eye sees one thing.  The brain gets some amount of information and paints a picture, maybe filling in information.  Then somewhere in this process, attitudes, memories and other information is applied as additional layers. That final composite is ready for our reaction.


Back to the original question, I do not know if I dream in color.  Since the overwhelming number of people surveyed say they dream in color, I probably do.  Yet, the survey also reveals that people who grew up without color television are more likely to dream in black & white.  Somehow we survived, and even watched films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” on the old Zenith with rabbit ears.  I grew up watching a black & white television, occasionally watching a color television was a treat. One had to imagine what the Ponderosa looked like and was Disney’s Wonderful World of Color really in color? My brain got quite a workut.

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