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one man's story of being totally color-blind

By Justinfinity in MLP
Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:55:13 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Vision in a Complete Achromat is a Swedish research scientist's re-telling of his own life, unable to see any color.

A very good read. Although you can find translation artifacts scattered through out, none are big enough detract from the point.

When you're done, take a bit to imagine if you had never seen the blue of the sky, the green of grass, or the red of a fire engine.


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one man's story of being totally color-blind | 26 comments (26 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Another story... (4.66 / 3) (#1)
by YelM3 on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:57:43 AM EST

I once read a story (actually a case study) similar to this in a book called An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. The book is seven studies about rare brain disorders and their effects. This story was about a painter who was involved in a car accident and lost not only all his color vision, but his ability to even conceptualize or think about colors. He didn't even realize anything was wrong until he ran a red light a week later! On top of that, he gained a superhuman ability to see things far away. The example they gave was an earthworm wriggling in the ground a block away. A very interesting book, and cheap from Amazon.

More acute discrimination among textures/shades. (4.50 / 2) (#7)
by claudius on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:23:09 AM EST

I doubt whether it's a "superhuman ability" per se--it's more likely the case that the artist's visual processing has simply adapted to acquire a more acute discrimination among shades and textures. This is common among those who are colorblind/color-insensitive. I'm mildly colorblind myself (red-green), and I have found that I am less apt to be fooled by camouflage than my color-sensitive colleagues. (I have an uncanny and entirely useless knack for finding four-leaf clovers, e.g.) Many believe that colorblindness evolved in humans in cultures based on hunting, where it would provide a competitive advantage over those who were less pattern sensitive.

In today's world, however, colorblindness is an entirely unfortunate drawback. One cannot get a pilot's license, e.g., or be an officer in the military. Or be confident in dressing oneself in anything besides basic black. (The pilot's license thing really irks me, incidentally. There's no good reason why airports cannot use high-contrast red and green lanterns such as the ones found in traffic lights that red-green colorblind individuals--comprising the vast majority of the colorblind--can distinguish between).

[ Parent ]
But it makes sense for military officers (2.33 / 3) (#13)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 11:09:34 AM EST

General: Kill those humans!
Captain Colorblind: Hiiii-YA!
General: Dammit, you idiot, that's a Vulcan. Can't you tell green blood from red?

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Traffic lights (none / 0) (#25)
by Phaser777 on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:10:28 PM EST

How easy is it to distinguish between the red and green lights? Would you be able to tell if the red and green lights were switched? I thought that their position would be more important to distinguish them than their contrast would be (IE, when the light on top is lit, you stop, when the one on the bottom is lit, you go). I'm not colorblind, so I don't really know what it's like.
My business plan:
Obtain the patents for something (the more obvious and general the better)
Wait until someone else adopts the idea and becomes rich off it.
Sue them.
[ Parent ]
traffic lights (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by claudius on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 07:22:25 PM EST

When I first learned to drive, around 16 years ago or so, it was difficult for me to distinguish between traffic lights' colors without seeing where on the column the lit lantern was. I don't recall exactly when the change was made, but the standard now seems to be for the lights to be of different shades and tints from before, with the shades and tints being ones that colorblind people can distinguish between. The green light is now much lighter in shade than the red one, and it looks to me to be more blue-green than pure green. In contrast, the red light is significantly darker in shade than either the green or the yellow (which I can see just fine), and it has a bit more yellow in it than the green. To me the "green yellow red" colors look more like "blue-green, yellow, dark orange." No two people see colors exactly the same, though, so it's likely that other red-green colorblind people see traffic lights differently.

Strictly speaking, unless one is monochromatic, it should probably be referred to as "color insensitive" rather than "colorblind." Most red-green colorblind can still see red and green, but they are much less sensitive to those colors than they are to, say, yellow or blue.

[ Parent ]
The difference... (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by iGrrrl on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:50:39 AM EST

...between Dr. Knut Nordby describing himself in the link in the story and the artist (and claudius, I'll guess) may be due to the nature of the cause of colorblindness.

Rod photoreceptors can only respond to light/no light, whereas the cone photoreceptor cells have photopigments tuned to more specific wavelengths of light. Most cases of red/green colorblindness result from a loss of one of the photopigments. The cone cells are by far the more numerous receptors in the retina, and are concentrated at the fovea, where the eye is designed to most optimally focus its input.

Dr. Nordby has no cone cells. None. Not only does he lose color, but he also loses the majority of his visual receptors. His best condition for vision is our worst -- twilight.

In the case of the artist who lost color vision, the loss was brought about by a head injury which affected brain areas responsible for cognition related to color. The receptor cells were intact, and the input from the cells was still processed. He lost no acuity for brightness or contrast. One could be tempted to guess that the "increased acuity" was due primarily to the lack of distraction by color information.

That said, I once worked with a colorblind lighting director. He could run a respectable light show for any band, just as long as someone else picked the colors. He had no perception of green.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

Is that possible? (5.00 / 2) (#10)
by DoubleEdd on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:04:33 AM EST

The example they gave was an earthworm wriggling in the ground a block away
I estimate (on the back of an envelope) that a human eye, ignoring aberrations in the cornea and lens, and in the retina (ie, taking the resolution imposed by the entrance aperture) can resolve 0.005 degrees, roughly. Thats with 500nm light, a 3mm pupil, and some rounding.

Now a fairly long earthworm might be ten centimetres long. That means at the limit of resolution it would be about 1.2km away.

However, probably the bigger limit on resolution is the granularity of the retina. From http://www.cnde.iastate.edu/ncce/PT_CC/Sec.1.2.1/Sec.1.2.1.html I reckon the size of a typical cone cell on the retina is 2.4 micrometres. One degree subtended in the viewed scene covers 288 micrometres, so our single cell views .008 of a degree. So you are talking about 750m.

A single cell can't observe wriggling however, so we'd better get our worm to cover two or three cells, then we're talking distances of only a few hundred metres away. Plus I'm talking in cells, which means that he'd be able to observe the individual colour specks making up his vision...

How big IS a block? We don't talk in such terms round these parts. It sounds like it could be possible if he had perfect optics in his eyes and his brain decided to start letting him use every single retinal cell 'perfectly'.

[ Parent ]

Scanning (5.00 / 3) (#14)
by Potsy on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 12:05:53 PM EST

A single cell can't observe wriggling however, so we'd better get our worm to cover two or three cells

That's why the eye scans things instead of just sitting there in one spot. Even when you think you're holding your eyes perfectly still, they're crawling all over what you're looking at, and the brain is assembling an aggregate picture. So in that sense, you can get multiple-cell coverage of something that only strikes one cell at a time.

[ Parent ]

Block Size (none / 0) (#19)
by Waldo on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:07:17 PM EST

<I>How big IS a block?</I>

Varies from city to city. Here in Charlottesville, VA, USA, it's no more than 100 yards or so, I don't suppose.


[ Parent ]
And when you're done with that... (3.00 / 3) (#2)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 03:09:30 AM EST

When you're done, take a bit to imagine if you had never seen the blue of the sky, the green of grass, or the red of a fire engine.

Imagine that you had been different from everybody from birth, and the colors everybody else sees as blue, green, and red, you see differently: you see blues as reds, greens as blues, and reds as greens. What kind of experience could ever reveal this fact to anybody?


Woh man, that's crazy! (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by Khalad on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 03:25:22 AM EST

What would the difference be? My view, though I have absolutely no reason to believe this other than intuition (so I know you'll flame me for it) is that there would be no difference. There's really no way to describe colors except to point at objects with those colors. If you can identify the colors uniquely as anybody else can, what does it mean to say that you see green when someone else sees red?

The only difference I could think of would be that you find difference color combinations aesthetically pleasing. If this were true (and I imagine it would not be, since you would simply identify the color combinations you experience as aesthetically "correct"), I imagine your difference would be readily visible (no pun intended).

It would be pretty psychadelic to see everything in different colors, but since neither you or I would ever know that I'm seeing things this way, how is this meaningful? Of course you could always get really scientific and speculate about some innate sense of color recognition, or brain waves, or something else I know and care nothing about, at which point I'll gladly drop out of the discussion.

You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty

[ Parent ]
ditto (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by Justinfinity on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 04:05:15 AM EST

if you were born seeing the blue of the sky as the same color i see as red, it wouldn't matter, because you would be taught that color is blue.

now what would really be weird is if your brain mized colors differently. i'm not sure how it would work, but imagine if blue and red looked normal to you, but they mixed to make yellow, not purple. eh?


[ Parent ]
There must be lots of people like that... (4.83 / 6) (#5)
by YesNoCancel on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:57:27 AM EST

...it would explain all those web sites with red background and yellow text.

[ Parent ]
Whoa, dude (2.50 / 4) (#6)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:30:16 AM EST

And what if the whole universe was, like, a piece of dirt stuck to the shoe of an incredibly huge alien?

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
No difference then, is there? (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by jabber on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 11:06:51 AM EST

Since the color we see has nothing to do with it's name, then it wouldn't make any difference if your R, G and B lines were scrambled. You'd still see 'blue', except that it would be in the 600nm range now, but due to convention, you'd call it 'red'.

Though this is completely subjective, and there has been research done in color sensitivity to suggest that human perception of colors is not equally distributed among the primary ones. IIRC, we are significantly less sensitive to blue than to other colors. This is to say that for blue to appear as intense as red, it has to be something like 10x more intense on a linear scale - then again, our hearing is already logarithmic (something seemingly twice as loud is actually pushing ten times the energy, the deciBell scale is logarithmic) so why not vision?

Your brain automatically adjusts for a predominance of color, and adjusts also for an overlaid hue. For example, looking through green glass, you'll still see 'white' because your mind assigns 'white' to the brightest, lightest shade you see. The color of the glass you look through will distort your perception of that color with respect to 'white', but your mind will still try to make our relative 'colors' in a normally color-percieving system.

This makes for very funky perceptions when looking through different color glass with each eye. Also, consider tetrachromats.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Personal Experience. (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by bemis on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 12:19:20 PM EST

I can say from personal experience (having optical disorders) that the things that I can't see (such as depth, certain color combinations, amongst other things) are noticed. Optical tests from birth have pointed out to me the differences between what I see and what I'm supposed to see. The fact that I saw things differently wasn't ever really an issue until I began driving -- then the discussions began with my parents, and my friends about "how do you see this?" or "how do you see that?" ... and explaining to them that I don't know ... I see them how I see them .. same as them .. it was hard. After having taken a few english courses that cover poetry pretty in depth I gained a little bit better voice of how I see things, and expressing that to others. <shrug> ... I guess it's just not something that you think about until it's forced on you ...
just my two-centabos.

-I'm sorry! Are you okay?!? Put your pants back on!

[ Parent ]
Color and objectivity (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:27:29 PM EST

I can say from personal experience (having optical disorders) that the things that I can't see (such as depth, certain color combinations, amongst other things) are noticed. Optical tests from birth have pointed out to me the differences between what I see and what I'm supposed to see.

Yes, this is true, but I was pointing out a particular situation were this could easily not be the case.

The point is that there is a fairly objective thing about distinguishing tones of color, while how these colors are actually perceived could be idisyncratic. Hell, we even know that the labeling of the colors is cultural, though there seem to be some general patterns.

[ Parent ]

That's not how it works... (none / 0) (#22)
by Remus Shepherd on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:08:39 AM EST

<i>you see blues as reds, greens as blues, and reds as greens.</i>

I'm sure you realise this, but that's not how colorblindness works.

I'm red/green colorblind. The problem isn't that I see red as green and green as red, but that certain shades of both red and green look like the same color. A red flower on a green plant looks like one solid color to me. If you asked me whether it was green or red, I'd give you a guess (since it's a plant, I'd guess green), and my guesses are often wrong.

Colorblindness is more of a loss of one or more colors than a permutation of the existing ones. I've never seen the color purple; because my eyes don't see red well, purple appears blue to me. But there are sometimes advantages. People who are blue/green colorblind can see through most camouflage or leafy cover. I have very good night vision, possibly because I'm trained to notice variations in brightness more than hue. And with Photoshop, I can still do color artwork by working with the digital color numbers. People manage as best they can.

Remus Shepherd <remus@panix.com>
Creator and holder of many Indefensible Positions.
[ Parent ]
appeal to pity (4.80 / 5) (#9)
by klamath on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:03:31 AM EST

When you're done, take a bit to imagine if you had never seen the blue of the sky, the green of grass, or the red of a fire engine.
That's not really accurate. The case here is that the Swede was never able to see colors: the scenario you'd have us imagine is 'how would we feel, having seen all this stuff, if we could no longer see it?'

What if I said: imagine if you could never see the beautiful microwave radiation coming from your microwave? Wouldn't that be a devastating loss?

See what I mean? If you never have something, you adapt. But that's completely different from having something and then losing it. We're accustomed to having color vision, and depending on it -- this Swede is not. It's tragic and I'm sure it has made life difficult for this person, but the scenario you propose is inaccurate.

Loss of colour isn't the worst thing? (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by DoubleEdd on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:09:16 AM EST

Note that he can't observe in ordinary daylight easily, and he has lost a vast amount of visual resolution due to his macula not having the usual high density of cones - it seems he does not have the extra rods to compensate.

Essentially this poor guy is partially blind. It would be one thing to observe the world in black and white, but it is quite another to have your resolution cut by a factor of ten, and having an inability to observe well lit scenes with ease.

[ Parent ]

Videogames (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by ucblockhead on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:09:53 PM EST

My former brother-in-law was colorblind and where it seemed to get to him the most was in videogames. (Or maybe that's just the thing we ended up talking about.) Some were nearly unplayable. For example, "X-Wing" used red dots on the radar to represent the enemy, green dots for wingmen. Obviously a problem for someone with red/green colorblindness. Quite a few other games were like that, causing varying degrees of playability losses.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
Only Recently Relevant (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by Waldo on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:05:17 PM EST

We still have so much to learn about color-blindness, since people have only been able to see in color for, what, 60-odd years?

That's just something I saw on TV.


Re: Only Recently Relevant (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by Teehmar on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 11:15:50 PM EST

They converted the whole world from black and white to color, but still can't convert the US to metric...

[ Parent ]
My experience (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by christianperfect on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:59:25 AM EST

I'm very colour blind (or so the optician says), but it's not as bad as this scientist's vision. I can differentiate between the primary colours when they're really bright and I get to look close up, but beyond that I can't see different colours. Because of this I've *always* drawn in black and white, and when told to use colours, I end up getting them completely wrong :P

One example of this having a really annyoing effect on me was in an episode of Sliders when the team go to a world where all the colours are wrong - the sky is purple, the grass red, etc. I didn't notice anything was wrong, until the main character said "what happened to the sky?" and I asked my brother "what did happen to the sky?" After a bit of laughing, he told me it was purple, then went on to tell me the rest of the colour changes.

Normally I can get on fine if I ask people to pick colours out for me, but when I can't, I get them wrong. My website was pink for 6 months until my brother looked at it and decided to tell me. As you can see, it's now all grey, and low on graphics :)
I've asked my parents, grandparents etc. and none of them say that anyone else in the family has had colour blindness, so I have no idea where it came from, but I have been colour blind all my life.

We are all blind in some ways (none / 0) (#23)
by Eccles on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:05:34 PM EST

The BBC had an article about a woman who had what one might call four-color vision. Most of us see color as combinations of RGB from our rods and cones, but this woman could distinguish between what the rest of us would perceive as identical colors. Remember that our monitors create colors from weighted combinations of red, green, and blue, when really colors come from a full spectrum of light.

Then there's this woman, who sees sound.

We already have external vision modifiers; binoculars, infrared detectors, and so on. Perhaps one day we'll be able to have them built-in?

Brilliant. (none / 0) (#24)
by keyeto on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:40:53 PM EST

What an astonishingly good piece of writing. I don't think I've ever seen such a clear description of what it's like to have a certain disability. It reminds me very much of Aldous Huxley, who only had the use of about a quarter of one of his eyes, and would take the trouble to do things like scan back and forth across a painting with a magnifying glass, reconstructing the entire composition in his mind.

It's a shame that it has clearly been scanned from a printed copy using some kind of OCR technology, but then not properly proof read. You can tell because "m" characters have been misread as "rn", "d" as "cl", and many other similar kinds of error. It's so good I almost feel like taking a copy and fixing these mistakes.

"This is the Space Age, and we are Here To Go"
William S. Burroughs
one man's story of being totally color-blind | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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