Obviously, it’s blue and BROWN

I was rather puzzled reading this story in The Washington Post this morning, about some huge social media controversy over whether this dress is white and gold, or blue and black.

When, of course, it’s obviously blue and a particularly muddled sort of brown.

Here’s the only explanation the story offered:

The answer involves how light enters the eye and the split-second decisions your brain makes upon discerning that information — without your even noticing. When confronted by an ambiguous situation like this dress, your brain may eliminate one color and focus on another. “Our visual system is supposed to throw away information,” University of Washington neuroscientist Jay Neitz told Wired.

And for whatever reason, whether it’s a skewed white balance or the lighting behind the dress, this image hits people in different ways. “So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black,” Bevil Conway of Wellesley College told Wired….

18 thoughts on “Obviously, it’s blue and BROWN

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I saw a photo of the dress in other lights, and it is deep royal blue with black lace. I cannot see that when I look at this photo, which seems filtered–I only see old gold and very pale pinky blue.

    1. Mark Stewart

      So if 70+ % of people see blue and black in this picture; do we not have imperical evidence that a majority of people perceive through magical thinking and a sort of concrete groundedness which is highly resistant to alternate explanations? It was very interesting to read that the dress is actually blue and black, but that does not change the reality that in the context of the photo, in that light and shadow, that these colors present as others in that moment. Which is “real”?

      I find it very interesting to see who perceives what in this photo. I showed it to my kids last night and was not surprised to hear what colors each perceived in the photo. Still, it was a bit mind boggling to read that what I only saw as pale blue and worn gold was in actuality a dress of different colors. Even knowing that now, unlike Susanincola, I still can’t see the blue and black – though it is obvious from the lighting in the photo that this is an image highly characterized by the light upon the dress.

      It isn’t hard to say, okay the dress is blue and black. But in the image, it isn’t.

      1. Doug Ross

        I’ve seen both sets of colors. First time was blue/black. I’ve seen it change as I was looking at it as well, shifting from the the white/gold to blue/black gradually.

  2. susanincola

    I can see it both ways, if I stare at it and concentrate on seeing the gold/white, or the black/blue, it will slowly switch from one to the other. Odd.

  3. Juan Caruso

    Bradwarthen.com readerswith Netflix access (for example) may wish to watch the first 5 minutes of Season 1 Episode 1 (2011) of “BrainGames” for very simple and surprising examples (you will actually see) of how our brains automatically provide the best colors for our interpretation of what we see.

    Bottom line: portions of the actual physical color spectrum we see individually to varying degrees are only the starting point for visual interpretation.

    “A tetrachromat is a woman who can see four distinct ranges of color, instead of the three that most of us live with. … A true tetrachromat has another type of cone in between the red and green — somewhere in the orange range — and its 100 shades theoretically would allow her to see 100 million different colors. …Mrs. Hogan can look out the windows of her Mount Washington home and tell the relative depths and silting of the three rivers at the Point by discerning the subtle differences in their shades.

    “I have a very hard time even giving names to colors because I see so many other colors inside them,” she said.

    Dr. Neitz, who conducts his research with his wife Maureen, said only women have the potential for super color vision. He estimated that 2 percent to 3 percent of the world’s women may have the kind of fourth cone that lies smack between the standard red and green cones, which could give them a colossal range.

    About 8 percent of the world’s men have color deficiency, which is the term vision researchers prefer to color blindness. Most of them inherit two red or two green cones along with the standard blue cone, making it impossible for them to distinguish between red and green peppers, or tell how well-done a steak is, or pick out matching clothes.”

  4. Doug Ross

    What I need is someone who will come to my home and sort my navy blue and black socks and pants for me. My wife patiently answers my frequent question: “Are these blue or black?”

    1. Norm Ivey

      I feel your pain. I have three pair of pants that all look the same to me, but my wife insists they are three separate colors ranging from khaki to gray. Last time I was formally checked, I had moderate red-green and mild blue-yellow deficiencies. Other than dressing funny the only time it’s been an issue is when I was working in a check printing plant in West Columbia. There were certain colors of check stock I could not tell the difference between, and I often had to ask my proofreader to check the color before I ran the job.

      Here’s a quick online test. I got 1/8 correct. I’m not taking a stance on the color of the dress.

      1. Doug Ross

        8 for 8 on the color test. Thanks, Norm. I did get smart and buy navy socks that have a light blue line sewn into the toe.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That’s what I do. I buy these thick, black cotton socks from Burlington. They call them “Cotton Fluffies,” but I buy them anyway.

        They’re like sweat socks, but I get away with wearing them with dress shoes. Very comfortable.

        I buy them in batches, so that all I have to do is put together pairs from that batch, without bothering to try to match them because they all match!

        Except the last time I ordered them, they screwed me up. I bought two packages of three pairs each. One pair was the regular size. The other pair was longer — like, completely over the calf.

        So when I’m going to put away my socks, I have to pick up three at a time, and roll together the two that are the right length.

        But I still don’t have to strain my eyes trying to make colors match…

        When these get faded to charcoal gray and start to lose their stretch, I’ll order six new pair and turn these into rags.

        It’s a good system…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      WHITE, white, white! Big white teeth. Run, run, run! Aaaah! Red! Too much red! That’s supposed to be on the inside! Aaaah….

      That was about it.

    2. Norm Ivey

      Although good color perception would have benefited the caveman by allowing him to more easily identify beasts that may be camouflaged in the jungle, I’m sure he was happy Raquel’s fur bikini, even in black and white.

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