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Colour philosophy

Colour philosophy is a term used to describe how humans perceive the visual world and its objects. The colours are essential in identifying objects, locating, remember and re-identifying. It is an individual language, and colours represent various meaning in religion, philosophy, art and culture. One of the problems is fitting our knowledge about colours into the scientific language as colours are light (energy) and disappear with darkness.


The subjective language of colours

The truth is that objects such as the sky, heaven, sounds or heat are colourless. Nevertheless, our mind perceives colourful. The study of colour falls within the fields of physics, physiology and psychology. The view of colours in objects according to science is subjective.  Palmer, cognitive scientist and psychologist, write “People universally believe that objects look coloured because they are coloured, just as we experience them. The sky looks blue because it is blue, the grass looks green because it is green, and the blood looks red because it is red. As surprising as it may seem, these beliefs are fundamentally mistaken. Neither objects nor lights are actually “coloured” in anything like the way we experience them. Instead, colour is a psychological property of our visual experiences when we look at objects and lights, not a physical property of those objects or lights. The colours we see based on physical properties of objects and lights that cause us to see them as coloured, to be sure, but these physical properties are different in essential ways from the colours we perceive”(source Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).


Use all our senses

Consider vision as a paradigm for the transduction process of all our senses. For example, the fruit bowl is a yellow grapefruit. Using all our thoughts to find out what is truly going on with the fruit. We cannot create a concept of the fruit as it is. What our eyes see is white light. The light quanta strike the grapefruit and reflected us. All wavelength radiation from a source such as a sun or a lightbulb hits the surface of the grapefruit. Because of the molecular structure absorbs all the light spectrum. Except for the wavelengths between 5600 to 5800-angstrom units, which reflects our eyes, we experience yellow. What we see is only the light reflected from the object, not the object itself.


The lightwaves

The light “waves” are waves of electromagnetic radiation travelling at approximately 186,000 miles per second. They radiate at extreme wavelengths, from short gamma rays to long radio waves. These wavelengths are without colours. However, the human retinas possess three kinds of cones, which are sensitive, respectively, to three essential wavelengths, the wavelengths we interpret as red, blue, and green—the three primary colours of light (source Philosophy an introduction to the art of wondering editor James L. Christian. Published 2009 by Wadsworth Cengage Learning). See Colour Index (CI), Structural colour, Bioinspiration, Light reflectance, Chromic materials, Structural colours, visible light


Primary colours

  • The term primary refers to a colour not made from other colours. Red, yellow, and blue form the primary triad.

Secondary colours

  • Secondary colours are the result of mixing two primary colours, for example, blue and yellow mixed to produce green. The secondary triad consists of green, orange, and violet.

Tertiary colours

  • Tertiary colours result when a primary and an adjacent secondary colour are mixed.

Sources and useful information


  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Colour in art, design nature editors C A Brebbia, C Greated and M W Collins. Published by WIT Press 2011
  • Philosophy an introduction to the art of wondering editor James L. Christian. Published 2009 by Wadsworth Cengage Learning

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