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Holi Special: A scientist demystifies colour

Ahead of Holi, we get scientist Arnab Bhattacharya to share some startling facts about colour

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Mar 03, 2017 17:41 IST
As told to Soma Das
Arnab Bhattacharya

Colorful polygon, geometric lightbulb design with wire as creative thinking and idea concept.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Colour is all in your head. It is based on what the brain makes of all the different signals coming to it from the colour-sensing cells in the eyes. So, different people perceive the same colour differently. It is not unusual that what you think is purple is violet for someone else. Here are some interesting facts about colour.

> Men and women see the same shade slightly differently. Neuroscientists have found that women are better at distinguishing subtle distinctions in colour. It’s possible that this is evolutionary, but we don’t know why.

Read: A beginner’s guide to black holes

> Colour plays an integral role in evolution. In the natural world, colours helps in the pollination of flowers, hiding from predators, attracting the opposite sex, and as a tool of warning and signalling.

> Movement or strong contrast can make us see colours where there are none. Many bizarre optical illusions arise not because of a malfunction of our visual system, but because the brain is hard-wired to make sense of the world around us only under normal viewing conditions.

> The colour pink doesn’t actually exist. One of nature’s masterpieces is the coloured arc of a rainbow. Light playing on water drops, dust or ice crystals produces this spectacle. But why is there no pink in a rainbow? It depends on how one mixes colours. While you can surely have pink pigments, and hence pink flamingos, there is no light that is coloured pink. The sensation of pink is thanks to the brain blending information from the receptors in our eye for red and blue wavelengths.

> Unlike other colours, the colour orange gets its name from the fruit and not the other way around. The English word for the fruit comes originally from the Sanskrit word ‘narangi’ via Arabic (naranj), Italian (arancia) and Old French (pomme d’orenge).

Scientist Arnab Bhattacharya

Bhattacharya is a scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and founder of the Chai-and-Why? series of science lectures.

Lights, Colour, Action! a Talk on Perception of Colour, will be held on March 5, 11am
At Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Vile Parle (W)