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michelle's picture

You See what I See?

I can’t help but check my thoughts and question my perceptions of the world every time I leave class. Leaving class today I began appreciate the scenery of Bryn Mawr just a little bit more than usual. I felt like I was actively embellishing what was already there. I (my brain) decide what the different wavelengths of light should look like. It is crazy to think that our brains could have perceived these different wavelengths of light in any way, but they choose to interpret them as something visually aesthetic. The world is so beautiful because we make it that way by adding color to it.

Other things I began to notice is that a majority of the things in nature are green, blue, and reddish (brown), which may explain why our cones have only the ability to detect green, blue and red. The sky and ocean are blue, plants are green and the soil is somewhat red.

Although there is an obvious evolutionary advantage to being able to detect colors, there seems to be a more aesthetic appeal to it. This idea got me to question the usefulness of all the senses because we seem to take advantage of their pleasurable qualities more so than their practicality. For example, we as humans listen to pleasing music and sounds, we like to smell flowers, perfume and things baking in the over, we like to admire beautiful artwork, we like sweet and salty foods, and we like to feel soft, smooth things. I could understand how the pleasurable responses to some senses are evolutionarily advantageous, like being attracted to sweets and salty foods because carbohydrates give the body energy and salt helps regulate membrane potentials. However, why do we find pleasure in some of the other senses? Is it something we as humans have learned to do over time i.e. make the best of what we were given, or is it important to succumb to these pleasurable urges in order to satisfy our biological needs?

I also began to wonder why then does the world cater to our “false” perception of the world if our idea of color is something that is made up by the brain. For example, a lot of different animals have the ability to camouflage them. If animals can’t perceive colors quite the same as we can, why do they disguise themselves but changing their colors to match their surroundings if only we can sense the colors of the animals and their surroundings. I looked into what animals can actually see and found this response online from Dr. Ziesmann:

Many animals have the ability to see colors. This ability is based on the types of visual pigments in a cell. There are animals known with 2, 3, or 4 different pigments or visual cell types. Humans have 3 different pigments and can differentiate about 200 colors. Most of this analysis is done by the brain, not the eye. Therefore, it is difficult to tell how many colors an animal can differentiate based on the number of their eye pigments alone.

Many fish can see colors (e.g. Phoxinus, Crenilabrus). Some amphibians can see colors (frog: Rana temporaria, toads: Bufo bufo, some salamanders) and they usually have two pigments. Most reptiles can see colors (snakes, turtles). Birds: general rule: birds that are active during the day can see colors, but birds that are acitve during the night cannot. Mammals are generally bad in color vision. Examples of color-blind mammals are rats, hamsters, rabbits, and dogs. Cats are weak, but can see some colors. Mammals that are quite good are guinea pigs, sheep, zebra, horses.

Also some invertebrates are able to see colors. Some Cephalopods (e.g. sepia, but not octopus). Crabs are generally good in color vision. Many insects (all beetles, hymenopterans (bees, wasps, ants), homopterans (ture bugs), and all flies. All insects are unable to see red light (only known exception are ants), but some are able to see UV (ultraviolet) instead. The color vision was determined by training an animal to respond to a color or by measuring the electrical response of single visual cells or the whole eye.

The majority of animals that have the ability to camouflage themselves are usually fish and amphibians, which now makes sense because they can see colors as well. Therefore humans aren’t the only organisms that “make up” things in their brains. This new information furthers my belief in the existence of a reality that is the average of what we, organisms of the world, perceive.


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