Monday, May 22, 2017

I bought color vision glasses and I'm going to see green!

I’m home with my family and the Enchroma color-vision-correction glasses have arrived! Tomorrow I’m going to put them on. I hope I get to see green like everyone else does.

I hope to usefully answer people’s questions about how I sense colors before and after using the glasses. Here I want to record some previous thoughts on the questions. It might be a useful check on cognitive penetration issues raised by former student Eugene Yao in a Facebook post a month ago.

On to some answers! People suggested many questions and I selected the ones I thought I could answer the best.

Claire Zabel:
“If there are some differences between green and brown, can you currently imagine what it would be like to go more in the green direction, you just can't see it in the real world, or can you not imagine it?”

This is the question I’m most interested in. I can try to imagine colors that are more in the green direction starting from a dull green, but I don’t think I succeed. I just end up adding yellow or sometimes blue or even white instead of green. Amy Kind is interested in this question too, and I’ll put up a blog post for her in June discussing it.

Bryce Huebner:
“I'd like to know 1) how long adaptation takes, and 2) whether it ever seems like you're seeing something new. I tried them out two summers ago, but didn't get any color shift. But that was before I realized that there's an adaptation period (which, uh, of course there is).”

Thanks for telling me about the adaptation period, Bryce! I’ll wear the glasses for some time over the week-plus that I’m home. Probably I’ll write down the answers at the end of that, though I could do it before if the effects are faster.

Geoff Pynn:
“I wonder whether you will experience any effects on tastes. Will avocado and broccoli taste ... greener?”

My mom has used her spectacular cross-cultural cooking powers to make dolmas from the grape leaves in the garden! I’m about to have some for lunch today and I’ll have some after I put on the glasses and see if they’re different.

Bryony Pierce:
“Does the colour you now see, when you look at it, seem to have the associations it has for those who can easily differentiate green from brownish colours (e.g. fresher/less murky than brown, brighter than grey, more soothing than red), or does it have a similar feel to brown, say, or perhaps some other colour?”

I have positive associations with the concept of green because I like trees and nature and elves. I’ve always liked the way sunlight glows through leaves. (Sunlight through grass is on the cover of my recent book, and I like that.) But I think for me it’s what you’d call a bright amber. I have positive associations with that amber color. Maybe after the glasses, I’ll feel like I’ve been invited to Lothlorien?

Stephanie Hoyle Dorton:
“After wearing the glasses, does it make someone more acutely aware of what they're missing? …Do people wish they'd never found out what they're missing?”

Will the green I see after always strike me as a dull imitation of the green I saw before? Some people say that the glasses can actually train your brain to pick up on green if you use them for a long time. That would be surprising and completely awesome. I hear that the visual system is pretty complicated and I’m not going to rule it out. If I end up really missing green I guess I can wear the glasses everywhere and look like a dork.

Jim Moskowitz:
“If you open up an image in Photoshop (or equivalent), and then use the "adjust colors" slider to increase the saturation just of the green part of the picture, how does it change the image's appearance?”

To simplify, I’ll just use this RGB slider instead of a full picture:
If blue is at zero, upping the green slider adds yellow. If I set red and blue to zero, the image goes from black towards yellow but doesn’t get all the way. It stops at something that I guess is bright green. If I set red to maximum and blue to zero, the image goes through amber to primary yellow, which is probably my second-favorite color behind primary blue.

If blue is at max, upping the green slider makes things whiter. If I set red to zero and blue to maximum, the image goes from primary blue to a bright but pale blue. If I set both red and blue to maximum, the image goes from bright magenta to white.

Lauren Chris Horne:
“what things that you thought of as being the same color, and did not expect were actually different, are there? what things that you thought of as being different colors are actually the same?”

I’ll see! I hope there are some cases like this. I have some internet hex-color cases in response to Toby Ord's question at the end.

Claire Zabel:
“Do you think these glasses will give you a subjective experience of greenness that's similar to that of a person with normal color vision, assuming inverted spectra aren't a thing?”

That's what I think! But I guess it's possible that Enchroma is running a scam where they make someone have a totally different experience and they're like "wowwww Greeen!" Still, if the glasses give people totally new experiences, they’re getting their money’s worth.

Alexa Forrester:
“The question I want you to answer is not one I think you'll be able to answer, which is, when you see green while the glasses are on, are you seeing the same color green as me?”

I probably won’t be able to answer this! But my guess is that I’ll get closer to how you see it. Too bad I can’t directly compare our experiences.

Mirja Annalena Holst:
“Will you learn a new fact when you see green for the first time?”
I think so. The fact could be stated as “green experience is like that”. Hard to talk about simple phenomenological components without demonstratives.

Ann Pearl Owen:
“Let us know if the glasses make you feel any differently about green politics and/or the Green Party.”

I don’t know what green politics is, but it sounds nice. But the only real effect of the Green Party is to help Republicans win elections and impose horrible policies on America. I'll let you know if my views change!

Jamin Asay:
“I want to know if you see "the dress" differently.”

White-and-gold before…

Chase Hamilton:
“Do you see what you think is green in afterimages now? Will that change after putting on the glasses for a long time?”

I don’t think I see green in afterimages now.

Laurie Paul:
“can you see green, but not well? Or can't you see it at all? If the former I'm not sure why you think you'll see green for the first time.”

Sweet to have a question from the mother of transformative experience research! I think I can see green, but not well. How would the glasses then help me see green for the first time?

Perhaps the levels of green-cone stimulation I can have don’t allow for vivid green experience. I can have a little green-cone stimulation, which is enough for a range of dull green experiences. Maybe the experiential simples that make up dull green aren't sufficient to construct vivid green. So I need the glasses to hyperstimulate my cones into generating a new experiential simple that makes for vivid green.

Toby Ord:
“I'd also love it if you made a computer image (like the one linked in your FB post) whose two halves look to you (while wearing the glasses) like the before and after.”

I’m just in the before stage now, but I can identify some pairs that look very similar. There’s only a slight flicker of variation when I toggle between tabs with these colors. If I focus on the text in the box with the color background and shift back and forth between the pages, it’s hard to notice the colors changing. (I can see differences more easily if I look at the screen from above, but the colors look basically similar seen straight-on, or at the slight below-tilt of a pushed-back monitor.) I’ve given the RGB values in decimal form too:


Darker blues:


The general idea seems to be that you can make up for a little loss of green by upping the red significantly from a low value. This isn't how I would've thought of it before, but I guess that's how it works.

Ben Blumson suggested a paper for me to read on the Frege-Schlick view. I’ll read it this evening and tomorrow I'll put on the glasses!

[Update:] Here's a blog post I put up for Amy Kind after trying on the glasses. The effect wasn't dramatic, but I think I saw a shade of green with more depth than I could've imagined before!