Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pink light doesn't exist...

... well kinda:

h/t: Andrew Sullivan

So, if "pink" is actually "not green", then does that make Komen's Race for the Cure (aka, the pink ribbon campaign) actually anti-environmental (since environmentalism is based on the color green)? Or does it mean that environmentalism is somehow against breast cancer?

Obviously not, since our associations with the color pink with breast cancer awareness and green with environmentalism are completely social constructions that don't actually have anything to do with the physical properties of color. In fact, Michael Moyer points out - and if you remember your basic physics about the electromagnetic spectrum - there is no such thing as a "color circle" (sorry artists):
The classical electromagnetic spectrum extends from a wavelength of zero meters all the way up to infinity. How is one to connect those two ends? And even if one could, adding two (or more) invisible wavelengths together would never produce something visible. Infrared light plus ultraviolet light is just that—a combination of infrared and ultraviolet. They do not average out to yellow.
Furthermore, Moyer makes the scientifically astute point that all colors are actually just interpretations of physical stimuli:
On a more fundamental level, however, Krulwich is right. Pink is not out there, because no color is really “out there.” The world is full of electromagnetic radiation, and the only intrinsic properties that this radiation possesses are physical ones such as wavelength and intensity. Color, on the other hand, is all in your head. “Color is not actually a property of light or of objects that reflect light,” wrote the biologist Timothy H. Goldsmith in his 2006 Scientific American article What Birds See. “It is a sensation that arises within the brain.”
Not as romantic a notion as Krulwich's idea of color (and - presumably - the idea of color drawn from history), but technically correct. However, whether we can draw humanizing and creative understanding about ourselves and our universe from such explanations is - IMO - what the humanities ought to be doing, instead of trying to fit physical phenomena into historical ideas of human perception. (Still, doing it this way is very tempting, and the next time I see a pink anything, I'll be thinking, "not-green".)

BTW, if someone wears pink on St. Patrick's day, does it negate the green that he or she might also be wearing? (I mean, does green and not-green equal zero?) ;-)

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