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The sky is not blue

Blue is a constant in our lives. Our jeans are blue. Our cars are blue. And of course, the sky is blue. But what if all that isn’t necessarily the truth, but rather a learned perception of the world? What scientists and researchers have found over the past decades is that blue is a fairly recent invention, and still does not exist for some people in the modern world. They found that, without a word for blue, it does not exist and people cannot differentiate between two colors that others might find to be starkly different. What it is about is the power of language and its vital role in how we see color.
This starts with Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” A famous English politician, William Gladstone, was a Homer fanatic. He read both “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” countless times before he decided to do a research project on them. He chose Homer’s use of color as his area of focus. Gladstone thought of Homer as the epitome of human writers. So, what baffled him was his use of color in describing objects or emotions. For example, he described “the wine-red sea” and “the green honey.” Since Gladstone assumed that Homer was not an idiot, he tried to find cues as to why such a smart and accomplished man would use such wildly misleading descriptions. In his research, he found a bewildering result. Homer used black and white both over a hundred times in his books. He used red, however, a mere 13 times and yellow and green, fewer than ten times each. What was most surprising, however, was Homer’s complete absence of the use of blue.
There is, in fact, no word used to describe blue in any of Homer’s poems. Or any other classic Greek text, for that matter. Gladstone also examined other Greek poetry and literature, finding an equally upsetting lack of blue. They described things like “her violet hair” or “his green face.” Finally, Gladstone concluded that Homer, along with all the other Greeks, was colorblind.
Other scientists heard this conclusion and mocked him, pointing out the proven fact that human color vision goes back 30 million years. At the end of all his research, no one really took Gladstone seriously.
However, many years later, a German philologist, Lazarus Geiger, decided to take up the same line of work as Gladstone. He examined not only Greek texts, but also Icelandic, Chinese, Vedic, and Hebrew. He found the same absence of a word describing blue in every single text. Even in the original Hebrew bible, blue is not mentioned once. Now this may seem surprising, considering the liberal mentioning of heaven in the Bible. But, what Geiger found was that the heavens were described as red or yellow, but never blue.
Jules Davidoff, a professor of neuropsychology at the University of London, conducted an experiment with a remote tribe called the Himba in Namibia. The Himba people have many words for color, but they have no word for blue. Davidoff brought a screen into the tribe with an image on it. The image was of multiple green squares in a circle with one circle being blue. He showed it to the Himba people, and they could not pick out the blue square. They stared and stared at the screen, and couldn’t find it. The study found that, because the Himba have no way to verbalize the difference between the blue and green that they see, the colors appear the same. In other words, blue and green have the same name in the Himba language, therefore they are not different in sight. But perhaps a disbeliever can claim that their eyesight is flawed or they are somewhat colorblind. This was also proven false. A similar study was done on Americans where a circle of green squares appeared on a screen in front of them. The Americans could not differentiate between the green squares and the one that was different. However, when the color gradient was clearly lain out before them, one was very obviously different. Americans did not have a word for the two different greens, so their minds could not see differences between them. When the Himba people were shown the same image, however, they immediately picked out the different square due to their multitudinous vocabulary for shades of green.
Both Homer’s and the Himba peoples’ lack of blue vision might be explained by the lack of naturally occurring blue objects in nature. Homer, along with numerous others in cultures across the world, would have encountered perhaps a blue flower once or twice in a lifetime. Most of the blue flowers we know today have been genetically engineered for beauty. However, this argument seems to have one gaping hole, a void in fact.
The sky is blue.
So Davidoff, the same man who conducted research within the Himba tribe, tried to better explain this gap in research by conducting an experiment on his daughter. Alma Davidoff was relatively cutoff from advertising and outside color education before kindergarten due to the absence of a television in the Davidoff household. So, her father had full manual control over her color education. He taught her using pictures of objects what each color was. The only thing he never specifically said was: “The sky is blue.”
So, when they went on walks, Davidoff would ask Alma to identify colors of natural objects. She could correctly identify the colors of leaves and flowers and trees. However, when he pointed at the sky and asked its color, she remained silent. To her, Davidoff was simply pointing at space. He was not pointing to an object, rather a void. After a few months of his asking, Alma finally gave him a color. She said the sky was white. Now eventually, Alma correctly and consistently identified the color of the sky as blue after identifying it as white, yellow, and purple numerous other times. What this experiment led Davidoff to conclude is that children don’t see the sky as blue until they are taught its color. Therefore, when Homer, other Greeks, and people throughout history without a word for blue saw the sky, they didn’t acknowledge it as a color.
What we can conclude through these countless accounts of “blueless-ness,” if it is allowed to make up a word for this phenomenon, is that language changes how you see the world. If a word for blue is absent from a language, is the color itself absent from the eyes of the language’s speakers? This then leaves us with an interesting query: what other colors and concepts can we not see due to the limited capacity of the English language?
NOTE: This article was written for humor purposes only. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tiger.

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