Labels: My red, your blue

By Ellie Sotiropoulou


Our color’s perception may differ from person to person. It might be that my red, is actually your blue but you know it as red since this is how everyone else called it growing up!  So, let’s explore the science behind colors, starting with how we can see in the first place. The eyes are one of our primary sensory organs that allows us to see. Eyes collect light from the surroundings and process the information, then send it to our brain. The light gets filtered by the iris, goes through the crystalline lens and focuses on the retina. Photoreceptors located on the retina -rods and cones- work on shades, colors, shapes and size of what we’re “seeing”. Finally, the retina works on converting the wave lengths into information and sends them to our brain via the optical nerve. The brain creates the picture, which makes us realize that it’s not the eye but the brain that creates the image.

The possibility of two people seeing different colors is explained by what is known as “color perception”. Color perception is the capacity of your eyes to receive information from light. This concept has its origin from several theories. According to the trichromacy theory, three independent channels convey color information, derived from the three different types of cone cells in the eye. Another leading (and known as opposing to trichromacy) idea is the Opponent Process Theory. The theory suggests that our ability to perceive color is controlled by three receptor complexes with opposing actions. These three receptor complexes are the red-green complex, the blue-yellow complex, and the black-white complex.

Stepping away from the scientific analysis and entering the philosophical field, this topic is a great example of a quale. Quale, or qualia in plural are defined as individual occasions of subjective, conscious experience. Another example of a quale could be a cook that will not feel the heat that we feel when holding a hot frying pan because a cook is used to and has to hold a hot pan daily.

So, knowing that our vision is basically a transmission via our optical nerve, can my red by you blue and vice versa?

From this inspection, it becomes evident that putting a label on something eg. colors does not change its quality or the way we internally perceive it. In modern society, labels are used as a form of prejudice or discrimination against certain groups of people. From skin color, to appearance, to sexual orientation, to religion. And every time we use one, we risk spreading it to others who might hear or see us do so and adopt that same label for the thing or person in question.

Labels are inflexible. People very much are not. Labels indicate the “them”-vs-“us” dynamic, superiority or inferiority complex and a subjective point of view. Why categorize people in this way? Can’t people just love people? Shouldn’t we just live in a post-label world? And all of that, because someone’s personality, worth and overall quality is most certainly not determined by a sum of letters.