Alex stood in entrance of a mirror observing himself. “What colour?” he inquired of nobody particularly. He stared at his reflection a bit of longer earlier than repeating the query: “What colour?”

Alex was a grey parrot bought from a pet store by psychologist Irene Pepperberg in 1977. Thus far, Alex is probably the one animal to ask a seemingly existential query. (The feathery genius, whose identify is brief for “avian studying experiment,” discovered that the reply was “grey” after being advised six instances.)

Usually, after all, colorcentric ponderings are distinctive to people, and the queries are limitless: Is the blue you see the identical blue that I see? And the way do you describe blue to somebody who’s by no means noticed it? For many, these debates come up solely in Philosophy 101. For color-blind individuals, although, this line of questioning is lifelong and impacts all the pieces, whether or not it’s navigation, doing house repairs, make-up utility, or selecting an outfit.

Coloration blindness, a trait mostly brought on by a mutation on the X chromosome — which means you might be more likely to have it for those who have been assigned male at beginning (a one in 12 shot, versus one in 200 for these assigned feminine at beginning), notably for those who’re of Northern European ancestry — is shrouded in myths and misconceptions. The massive one: All colour deficiencies are roughly the identical or manifest as a gray-scale view of the world. Truly, these with colour blindness nonetheless often see loads of colour, they simply expertise it otherwise. 

Greens might seem muted. “Reds might look greenish or inexperienced might look brownish,” says Muriel Schornack, an optometrist with the Mayo Clinic. Different colours — blue and inexperienced, yellow and crimson, purple and crimson — could also be difficult to tell apart, or utterly unidentifiable. A whole or near-complete absence of colour, known as achromatopsia, is uncommon, affecting only one in 30,000 individuals; however on the tiny Micronesian island of Pingelap, this price skyrockets to as a lot as 10 p.c of the inhabitants. Bear in mind how we stated it was genetic?

Bettmann/Getty Pictures

We took a picture of
Marilyn Monroe (higher left) and used a digital simulator to point out how various kinds of colour blindness may affect the best way you see it  —  although “it is unattainable…to completely respect what colour deficiency may seem like in any particular particular person,” says the Mayo Clinic’s Schornack.

However biology is just not the one contributor. A pair of similar twins would virtually actually possess the identical type of colour blindness, however a life’s price of experiences may imply they see colour otherwise every single day. “Genetics [only] enable us to foretell what anyone is ready to see underneath managed circumstances, like in a laboratory,” says Robert B. Hufnagel, an ophthalmic genetics clinician-scientist on the Nationwide Eye Institute.

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