Your gold is not my gold!

ColorShades_I have often ended up at the losing end of long discussions where my point of view is hopelessly out of synch with the other person (or people, more often than not).  I am sure this is a fairly common occurrence – the precursor to much tearing of hair and snorts of disgust. You have a point of view, you extrapolate and expect the other person will see it the way you do and when that doesn’t happen you have a problem. Now that’s the easy part. But what happens when the person does see the same thing as you (literally or figuratively) and still doesn’t quite?

Take something as simple as the colour gold – here’s the dictionary meaning.

gold: gəʊld/ noun [noun: gold; symbol: Au; plural noun: golds]
1.    a yellow precious metal, the chemical element of atomic number 79, used in jewellery and decoration and to guarantee the value of currencies.
2.     a deep lustrous yellow or yellow-brown colour.

Let’s break down the yellow. Can you? If you want to really nitpick (or are an electronics engineer and like to nitpick) you could say its the colour formed when you mix two of the primary colours red and green. But its just the same thing so lets stick with yellow. Now go to any self respecting paint shop and they will have shade-cards. There are dozens and dozens of shades of yellow and they all have names (gasp!). Lets say we pick canary-yellow. You say that the shade of colour in that tiny square on the shade card is the same shade as you see on the bird. I look at the square and nod in agreement. Indeed it is the same shade I have seen on the bird. But does that mean I am seeing exactly what you are seeing? From the stand point of physics – yes (again if you don’t nitpick about the angle of reflection of the light etc).

When you say canary yellow my brain is effectively doing two lookups (to borrow a term from excel) – one for canary and another for yellow. There is a memory there which it maps against and then confirms. That memory itself has been formed by an interpretation of the shade by the passing of light through my eyes and the firing of neurons when I learnt that a particular shade was canary-yellow. This reference might be actually very different from what you have stored in your brain. Now because of the unique way the photo-receptors in my eyes, the nerves, and my brain is constructed every time I see the same shade as I think is canary-yellow.

And I am not hallucinating: Read more here and here

So maybe when you look at the metal with atomic number 79, you might be seeing something that I don’t which makes you want to buy tons of it. I totally get it. But it would really help everyone if you changed the colour shade a bit so you don’t get so excited about what at the end of the day is just a metal. (Now go read the latest Financial Stability Report published by the RBI (Dec 2013), just for kicks – especially sections 1.12 through 1.18)

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