Saturday, February 28, 2015

It is not merely the color of the dress. Everything is an illusion. Maya!

"Maya" is a profound thought in Hindu philosophy.  The philosophy offers plenty of metaphors to get us regular folks understand it.  In semi-darkness, we might mistake a rope for a snake and freak ourselves out.  Out in the desert, the mirage of an oasis has us rushing there for water.  Maya is that philosophical idea that such incorrect perceptions of reality lead us to nothing but immense unhappiness and misery.  It is all an illusion.

Even with my half-baked understanding of maya, it makes sense.  It has always made sense.  The discussions of a "creator" that follows all those are where I walked away from the faith.

The latest trending story to break the internet--what is the color of that dress?--is another metaphor along those lines.  In case you missed it because unlike me you have real work to do, let me first brief you on it.  Consider the image below:


What's the big deal, you ask?
Not since Monica Lewinsky was a White House intern has one blue dress been the source of so much consternation.
(And yes, it’s blue.)
The fact that a single image could polarize the entire Internet into two aggressive camps is, let’s face it, just another Thursday. But for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe. And neither side will budge.

In that image, the original is in the middle.

So, what gives?
Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the “real” color of the object.
What we see is not what we see until our brains tell us what it is that we are seeing.  So, how do we know for sure what we see is what is really out there?  You "see" how this dress color controversy is serving as a metaphor for maya?

The colors that we see are illusions themselves.  Is that red apple really red?
"The agreed-upon technical definition of color," says Fairchild, "is that it's a visual perception."
He should know; "Mark Fairchild, who studies color and vision science at the Rochester Institute of Technology."

A visual perception, which we think is the reality.  That is nothing but maya!
"I could change the color of illumination on that apple and make it look green or blue or something completely different," he says. "The redness isn't a property of the apple. It's a property of the apple in combination with a particular lighting that's on it and a particular observer looking at it."All three of those elements are critical to the idea of "red" or any other color, he says. "You have to have somebody looking at that in order to combine all that information and produce a perception."
It is all an illusion!
If two people are looking at, for example, a construction worker hat, and both saying, "This is yellow," are they really having the same subjective experience?
"I think we have no way of knowing. I think it's not known," says Brainard. "Each of us is essentially stuck inside our own brains with respect to the nature of that experience. So your yellow could be like my blue, your yellow could be like my experience of sound, and my experience of sound could be like your experience of color."

So, get going. Search for that whatever that is beyond what you think you see.

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