Friday, December 18, 2009

Of colors, palettes, tones, shades, hues and what I see

Have you ever faced any of these?
  • Getting into arguments about what color a certain thing is
  • Have a strict list of preferred colors to use every time and you seem to always prefer only certain colors.
  • Terrorized by crayons with different shades of colors.
  • Your dress selection is sometimes looked at as a bit odd or a tad drab or consistent. :-)
  • Avoiding the Chemistry lab like plague especially when you have to do titrations for chemical reactions and pH measurements via color strips or identify those wonderful color combination names that the scientists come up with, to detect if a trace of x or y compound is present.
  • In Electronics, you do not want to use the multi-color LEDs which can blink different colors and shades.
  • Certain shades of color in flowers, leaves and  trees categorized as beautiful by others, do not seem so to you. They just look like anything else.
I have faced almost all of the above and that qualifies me as a candidate with "color deficient eyesight" or "color-blindness". No "tch tch tch" sentiments over that. Almost 7-12% of the world population could be potentially color-blind according to rough estimates and especially men are more at risk (Women-0.05% chance). :-) [Ah! now you ladies understand, there could be one more reason why men keep off the dress selection regimen; the multitude of hues and shades and colors you see and discuss may make little sense to them, but they just shake their heads and nod. Went for a quick mission last Saturday, and there it was, all the color combos of red, green, orange and yellow left only to imagination, and I sauntered off to the handbags section which had the drab colors of leaf green (or was it?) and black. :-)]

The sad truth dawned a few years back when I got shortlisted for some applications programming position at BEL after acing the entrance test and an interview. During the medical test, after a battery of the usual height, weight, blood and X-ray tests, the doctor at BEL gave me a book (the Ishihara Test for color-blindness), which consists of colored plates) to look at, which had lots of colored bubbles, and then tell him what numbers or lines I could see or trace out. For a few plates, I could see things clearly, for a few, nothing and for 1 or 2 got it wrong. The doctor dropped the bomb, "You are color-blind and have a red-green deficiency and hence you fail the medical test". Retried the test again and tried squinting, tilting heads, changing the plane at which I saw the plates and other gimmicks, but a problem is a problem. I was disappointed that for an applications programmer who was going to do RDBMS programming or data management, color knowledge was a key criteria to get in. It was good providence in a way that I didn't get in there as I wouldn't be what I am now. (-:

Even before this, I had difficulty in color identification between shades of green, orange and yellow, mild reds, shades of green and brown and self-attributed it to an under-developed knowledge of names of colors, but alas! it wasn't. It doesn't bother me anymore, now that I am aware of what I cannot do and should not do. I still have a problem with those blessed multi-color LEDs however. No clue, whether it is glowing red, yellow, orange or green. They all look almost yellow (or bright green, I am confused) to me. :-) Red looks like darker variant, but I would still be confused what is glowing. I have to look for additional cues.

For starters, color-blindness is not a disease. It is a deficiency. There is no cure for it (no amount of eating orange carrots would cure this, but those carrots are still good for your eyes, Vitamin A, you see) and is 99.99% hereditary. It is not true that those who suffer from color-blindness cannot see colors at all and see the world only in shades of black, white and gray. It is the most irritating perception about color-blind folks. Color-blind people can see colors, but the separation of certain sets of colors or shades is not possible. I can clearly see red, green, blue, yellow, orange and identify them, but give me one of those mixed shades where the green is closer to yellow or a shade of brown or some mix of those overlaps, I blink and fall flat. Blue and related shades are easier to identify. I still have no clue of how to identify a color as either Prussian Blue, Violet, Purple, Indigo, Aquamarine Blue, Magenta, Pink, Sky Blue or the other zillion variants as I don't know how to narrow it down. I have the most common form of color-blindness, the red-green deficiency, which probably afflicts 95-99% of the color-blind folks.

This deficiency doesn't disqualify me from doing a majority of jobs though a few would automatically be closed. I cannot be a train engineer (train drivers are called so, and one of the goals of my childhood was to be one, :( and mind it, it is not easy to become one, and it is a high paying job in India), or a pilot, or a doctor (maybe) or join the military signal corps or any industry like paints that places a premium on the need for color identification / knowledge.

One of the things I don't do is to give children any advice on colors. I have been laughed at multiple times and it is fun for them to see me struggle with placing colors as they doodle and paint. My counsel stops on the pencil outline. On signal lights, when I say that the green looks to me like a jaded or dirty white, the others say "what white, it is green!". One good thing with signals is that the position of each of the lights is always constant, red on the top, amber (yellow) in the middle and green at the bottom or if they put it sideways, it would be left to right, red to green. If there was only one single light which changed colors for everything, then I'd have had the time of my life, especially with the hues of red and amber. In railway signals in India, interestingly red and green are inverted from their road counterparts; the red light is at the bottom and green on the top. But from a distance, it is all the same to me, red or green. (-:

So what else?
  • You can go to this site [Ishihara Test for color-blindness] for looking at some of the test plates to diagnose color-blindness.
  • There is also this site, [Color Vision Testing] which has a different set of plates for diagnosing color-blindness and which also has a few Ishihara plates as well.
  • Don't brood, if you diagnose yourself to be color-deficient. Welcome to the exclusive club! Hey, You may be one of them who can look through enemy lines, as color-blind people can see through camouflage that cannot be seen by people with normal vision. :-)
  • And last of all, if not the least, read the wonderful Wikipedia entry, [Color Blindness] for reference.
Even if you aren't color-blind, you can always know about it, its symptoms, understand and empathize (not sympathize!) with those who might have a color deficiency, especially kids. 

Have a lovely colorful day!!!

Image courtesy Wikipedia on the topic of Rainbows.


gils said...

ithuku thaan neria telugu padam pakanumnu solrathu

RamMmm said...

adhu sary. Ramarajanukku appuram indha sidela heroes avvalavaa examples illai. aana telungu desaththila innum color coloraa jigu jigunnu dress pottukittu thaan varaanga. :-) :-)

zeno said...

எங்களுக்கு எல்லாம் அப்படி இல்ல! எனக்கு தெரிஞ்ச கலர் வேற :)

RamMmm said...

Nenachchaen. ippadi oru meaning irukkuradhu marandhu poachchu. Unakku ippo oru pazhamozhiyai sabikkiraen. கொள்ளும் வரைக்கும் கொண்டாட்டம், கொண்ட பிறகு திண்டாட்டம். :-)

zeno said...

என்ன செய்ய, Uncles will be uncles, boys will be boys :) :) :)
உங்கள் சாபம் பலிக்க பிரார்த்திக்கிறேன். முதலில் கொண்டாட்டம் வரட்டும்.திண்டாட்டத்தை பிறகு பார்ப்போம்.

RamMmm said...

PL's quoteai copyrighted trademark panna sollu. :) :)

savitha said...

Nice galore of info, Rammmm. I went to both the sites and had myself tested. I passed!!

I really don't understand why some government organizations ask for a eye test to be passed, for scientists who'll spend most part of their time before computers!!Anyway, glad to know you love the job you are in now!

RamMmm said...

@Savitha - That was longgg back just as I started by career. Lots of water has flown under the bridge till now.

I don't disagree with BEL. They are a defence organization and obviously have their own rules. I am still not sure if there is so much awareness in India about this. I have been vision tested a few times after that and included color tests as well(and obviously I tell them I have a color deficiency) and I don't think that has ever come in anywhere in blocking my career or choices again. :-)

Glad you found the info useful and you know about it and where to look for some info against it or to relate against as well. :-)

Uttara said...

Interesting. They found this test particularly useful in Royal Airforce and the disease came to prominence only during second world war, when a lot of young men were rejected to join the RAF because of this. It is totally genetic. If I remember properly, the females are carriers and their sons are bound to have it. Autosomal dominant.

The entire concept of colour is kind of shady. I mean , what I see as blue cannot be proved to anyone else as the same blue as what I think it is. There was an AWESOME Sujatha story based on this (the one i wanted to translate, but lost enthu). The protogonist, is a well educated young blind man. He is travelling with the author in Brindhavan express. He starts talking and asks the the author to explain colours to him. The author tries to equate colours with the music's octaves.Actually that is a right interpretation, as the colour that falls on the cones of the eyes is kind of transduced in to equivalent electrical impulses and sent to brain. There are three kinds of cones, that perceive each colour separately sends kind of equivalent voltages to the the brain. In the left brain, the mixing of pixels is done and you start seeing the equivalent colours.

So what causes the colour perception is the variation of wavelengths absorbed by certain pigments. In case of colour blindness, the genetic factors will inhibit the production of certain pigments, and hence that particular colour would not be absorbed :-) . So as you said, it is a deficiency. In other non genetic cases, the trouble might be left brain damage, where the mixing is done, or there might be a trouble in the nerve.

Now, you really need to appreciate the beauty of how the brain works. Imagine, the amount of signals that gets processed every nano second. All photo electric conversion via chemical process is done, transmitted via the cable, the proper mixing done in the brain, with a mechanism so delicate that it would be a totally different shade of green if the equation is changed even a wee bit than it ought to!So, one of the symptoms of stroke would be when one starts seeing a scene before them, assume a post card and start seeing pink as not pink, but seperate pixels of red and white, meaning the left brain has shut down because of the stroke and one is in serious trouble.

You have heard about this De ja vu concept right? Like you walk in to a place and feel that you have been there before. Some studies say it is because, visual details enter in to one eye, a nano second later than the other. So processing is done so fast and the detials are registers, before the processing from the other eye is done. Which means when the information from the other eye reaches the brain, it is compared with the memory bank and then the brain says, "Oh, we already have this data. Which means you have been to this place before"! AMazing right?

Sorry, this is a huge rant :D, but brain is so amazing!

RamMmm said...

Amazing piece of info in the comments, Uttara. Thanks for putting it in. Deserves a separate post by itself. :-)

And interestingly, Sujatha worked at BEL. He was a close friend of my uncle and had come to his house when he was retiring. I think I peeped in and saw him. My neurons aren't firing enough to recollect. :-(

I read that deja-vu delay because of delay in stereo processing somewhere. Thanks for that jog back. Brain IS complex. Dunno how long it might take to master at least half of it.