yellow on Flickr.
Another great color feature from the BBC: Future site, which also brought you the feature earlier today about whether we all see the same colors. This latest piece asks where the names for colors come from.
Unlike so many other language-based classifications (like having dozens of words that describe snow, or not having a word for “war”), colors are thought to be arise from a natural need to classify a sensory input. In other words, the spectrum is the spectrum and we all see it … every language should have to fill in the names, right?
Wrong. Not only do some cultures just not recognize certain colors (like the fact that blue and green are often not differentiated in Vietnamese), but pre-literate languages seem to adopt colors into their lexicon in a very particular order! Looks like you can’t get a word for “green” without several other steps happening first (like black, white and red).
A fascinating look at where the cultural and neurological aspects of language intersect.
blue on Flickr.
In his second year of neuroscience grad school, Greg Dunn was moonlighting with a different kind of experiment: blowing ink across pieces of paper. The neuron-like pattern it formed was instantly recognizable to him as a neuroscientist. “Ink spreads because it wants to go in the direction of less resistance, and that’s probably also the case of when branches grow or neurons grow,” he says. “The reason the technique works really well is because it’s directly related to how neurons are actually behaving.”
Dunn calls this the “fractal solution to the universe,” which he sees as the “fundamental beauty of nature.” He’s fascinated that this branching pattern holds true across orders of magnitude, whether that’s nanometers for neurons, centimeters for ink, or meters for a tree branch.
Since graduating with his PhD last fall, Dunn has continued to spend his days with neurons—big, golden ones ten thousand times the size of neurons in your brain. The former University of Pennsylvania grad student now creates paintings of neurons for a living.