It is one of those days where you’re craving tranquility. You are sprawled across a lush green meadow while admiring the pristine blue sky. The sharp contrast of a stunning green parrot catches your keen eye as it makes its flight to the vast sky. Your friend beside you is witnessing the same scene. Now think about this – what if they saw a yellow parrot instead of a green one? What if their idea or interpretation of a textbook “red” is actually orange? Do others see the world the way you do? Now this raises a thought provoking scenario. What is real and what isn’t? Don’t worry, we have an answer for all the questions running through your mind at this moment.

A lot of people are colorblind to some extent — about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. However, most people are unaware of the different reception offered by their eyes to different settings. If you spent your entire life believing that the color green is a bit monotonous, you can’t possibly tune in to the brain of another human to verify the correct projection of that particular color.

If someone argued otherwise, you’d probably pass it off as a matter of preference rather than considering the possibility of special vision on your side. Things finally come to light when you end up buying a grey bag instead of a green one. Even if it is revealed that you see green differently than everyone else, you’ll never know exactly what the non-dulled hue looks like. This all comes down to the idea of consciousness, which can’t be shared between two individuals. Neither can color vision.

Keep in mind, we’re not just talking about people who have biological mutations that affect their color vision. This discussion is inclined towards the interpretation of colors and settings by different individuals. Simply put, how would two individuals with perfectly functioning color vision experience the color yellow when they are made to look at a mango? They’d both recognize the color to be “yellow” but that doesn’t explain the true nature of their vision.  What if one grew up with a brain that transformed everything orange into the experience of blue, and vice-versa, there might never be a way to say for sure if you and your friend aren’t as similar as you think. However, new evidence is starting to seep in suggesting that maybe colors really are a highly individual experience.

Like colorblind humans — and most other mammals — squirrel monkeys only have two types of cone cells, which are sensitive to blues and greens. As a result, the monkeys can pick out blue and yellow dots from a field of gray ones, but they can’t tell red ones apart from green ones. In a 2009 study to probe the limits of colorblindness, a few squirrel monkeys got an optical upgrade. They were infected with a genetically engineered virus that caused one specific, strange effect: It would randomly target green-sensitive cells and transform them into red-sensitive cells — a type of cell no squirrel monkey is wired to process.

This resulted in an astounding discovery. The monkeys that received that particular mutation were quickly able to pick out all the red and green dots they wanted, even though absolutely nothing had been done to their brains to give them a context for what “red” looks like. The monkeys’ brains clearly adapted to this new input of information with ease — but what were they actually witnessing? It almost certainly wasn’t “red” the way you see roses.

A squirrel monkey that has undergone gene therapy.

As color vision scientist Joseph Carroll explained “The ability to discriminate certain wavelengths arose out of the blue, so to speak — with the simple introduction of a new gene. Thus, the [brain] circuitry there simply takes in whatever information it has and then confers some sort of perception.”

Through all these mind racking discussions, the intriguing aspect of the brain is that we see all colors. At some point in our lives, we experience the pristine blue, the warm yellow, the gloomy grey and the dashing red. However, our associations and perceptions of these colors might be highly varied to the next individual. Our yellow might be their green! Essentially, your brain decides what you see. It can be said with absolute certainty that we don’t see the same colors, and that’s fascinating and peculiar to say the least!  

Ever wondered what other peculiar things your eyes can do? Check it out here!

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