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Skeptical Sunday: Your Lyin’ Eyes

August 9, 2009

Take a look at the following image. What do you see?





















Unless you’re in the color-blind portion of the population, or your monitor is malfunctioning, you and I see the same thing: an image with two spirals, one green, one blue. But what we see is incorrect, because the green and blue are actually the same color. 

You don’t have to take my word for it — and in fact, in the spirit of Skeptical Sunday, you shouldn’t. Save the image to your own computer and test it out, load it up in Photoshop or any other image-manipulation software and sample both colors. You’ll find they have the same color values.[1] Or, in Photoshop, you can select the “color range” tool and see how regardless of which color you click, it highlights both. 

The reason you see green and blue is that your brain interprets color by comparing it to surrounding colors. This is why it’s important that any time you do color work for film, you do it in a neutral environment, and also why the two spirals look different. Check it out: 




















You have the orange stripes going through the “green” spiral, and the magenta stripes going through the “blue.” As a result, your brain interprets them as two distinct colors. 

As I pointed out above, this is actually one of the first SS post topics that is actually applicable to a discussion of filmmaking, but the reason I bring it up is to emphasize the limitations of human perception, and the reason that anecdotal evidence is highly suspect.

Looking at the original-sized image, I literally cannot perceive that the two spirals are the same color (although I can see hints of green in the blue spiral around the edges of the image). Accepting that I’ve “seen it with my own eyes,” I would declare that they are two different colors. The majority of those around me would agree, as they too would see two different colors. And we would all be wrong.[2] 

What we see is not the world around us. What we see is our mind’s interpretation of what is around us. We can fail to perceive things that are right in front of us, and we can collectively perceive something that is incorrect. The only way to discover for sure that the colors are the same is to examine the image closer, manipulate it, approach it from a different perspective. 

This is important to keep in mind, as it’s the whole reason a healthy skeptical attitude is important. Your senses lie to you. They don’t mean to, but they do, because they can only present their best guess as to what’s going on around you. They’re prone to inaccuracy, and downright making stuff up sometimes (aka hallucination). The only way to determine what is reliably accurate information is by investigating what you think you saw, heard, or experienced, with an aim to find out the truth and not just to affirm what you want to believe. And this goes double for when someone else reports on their experience. 

Just a short one for today. Got some cool RED shooting going on this week but I’ll try to post up some reviews of some books I’ve been reading the hell out of lately. 


  1. Specifically: 0,255,150.
  2. Ironically, someone who is blue-green colorblind, considered a perceptual “deficiency,” would not be able to perceive a difference, and thus would have a more correct perception of the image than someone with “normal” color perception.

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