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  • Writer's pictureHeather Simmons


Please prepare to have your mind BLOWN. As in, you'll never be the same. As in, you'll start looking at everything around you through a different lens. This happened to me a I listened to Radiolab's podcast on Colors. If you haven't heard of Radiolab yet, stop reading this and immediately subscribe via that little purple icon on your iPhone. You can thank me later. This is literally one of the most intriguing things I've ever heard in my life, and that's not just because I'm a geek about color. I promise you that anyone with a small modicum of intellectual curiosity will find this pod fascinating.

I'm dying to blurt out every little detail in a high-pitched voice, but don't let me spoil it for you. Click on the hyperlink in the word "Colors" above and have a little listen. Then continue on if you want to listen to me fangirl out.

So guys. I can't even tell you how obsessed I am with all of this glorious new information! The only yikes moment for me was in the very beginning with our boy Isaac. I actually had to hit pause when they mentioned he poked his eye out. I got woozy. I didn't think I could go on, especially if more injury was involved. I mean I like color and all... but not to the point of maiming myself. I guess I'm not as dedicated to the study of color as I thought I was. Also I've taken the online tests for tetrachromatic genes, and according to Google I've got it! That would explain why color is so much more vivid to me than your average Joe. There is research that suggests that people who work with color or paints on a regular basis also develop a keener sense of color differentiation, so that may well be the case too. Either way I'm thankful to see things in a rich way.

The butterfly part and the shrimp part were super interesting and thought provoking, but I'm gonna breeze right past that and get to my mind-blowing moment. Can we please talk about William Gladstone's obsession with Homer and how that eventually led researchers to discover that not all colors (not even the eight basic) were identified in the olden days? That the Bible in original Hebrew doesn't have the word blue in it AT ALL?!?! That the Chinese were the first to "discover" red, but that it has been present since the beginning of time? Just let that soak in. No one saw these colors until they had developed more as a civilization, and there is still to this day a tribe that does not recognize the color blue. The sky has no color for these people, because the sky doesn't NEED to have a color for their intents and purposes. Colors (in a anthropological sense) don't have a name until they NEED to have a name.

This leaves me with so many questions. 1) Are there colors that are currently right in front of us that we don't see, and one day in the next 200 years someone will see a version of ultraviolet light and suddenly it will be added to Pantone's index? 2) Are all the colors already discovered? I certainly hope not. 3) We've only explored a fraction of the ocean's depths -- are there more colors down there that we haven't yet seen? 4) Did the naming of colors within each civilization coincide with the introduction of art and creativity, like basket-weaving, ceramics, artistic building, and poetry? I mean Homer wrote an epic novel, so it's not like he was out hunting and gathering his food. What shifted in medieval society to change how they perceived color? 5) Did anyone ever get run out of town or burned at the stake for identifying a color that most people could not yet recognize? Was color intelligence considered to be heretical, or were only "scientists" in charge of naming things?

My list could go on and on. In fact, if you've seen me in person over the last three weeks, you've been patient enough to listen to me run through all my thoughts on the matter. I hope you enjoyed this pod, and would love to hear your thoughts about all of this. Leave them in the comments below! Now give yourself some time to digest all of this, and then listen to the incredible story of Oliver Sipple, also produced by Radiolab. It's as crazy, unbelievable, and tragic as it gets.

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