Seeing Is Like Believing: Unreliable

What color do you see? Is it red or is it blue?  Ancient people would have to say red.

Scientists have discovered that “Until relatively recently in human history, “blue” didn’t exist.”  They explain that “ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue — not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the colour, there’s evidence that they may not have seen it at all.”

At long last, we can understand why the ancient world seems to have been so ignorant and superstitious:  They simply lacked the words to bring about the ideas needed to think more like we do.

This breakthrough helps us to disprove many modern ideas about the ancient world.  For example, reasoning from these scientific truths, we now have proof that the Biblical story of creation is impossible.  It says that God commanded Adam to name all of the plants and animals in the garden, but, as they had yet to have words assigned to them, it was unlikely that Adam even noticed that they were there!  God was like, “Hey Adam, watch out for that tiger!”, and Adam was like, “Aw, snap!  I didn’t even see it!  Never heard that word before.”  Scientists now know that seeing things comes after they are named, not vice-versa.

Surprisingly, evidence for this breakthrough does not come from a laboratory, but from an ancient book.  Modern scholars have noted that Homer, an 8th century BCE Greek poet) described the sea in several places as being wine-colored.  Now, assuming that Homer was not speaking in some complex sense, it must be true that he was either (a) lying about the color he saw, or (b) unable to tell what color water actually was.  Scientists are not willing to say that he was lying, since they have no evidence of such, and are, therefore left with the only possible choice:  Homer, and all of the people who read his book in the ancient world were color blind.

“If you think about it, blue doesn’t appear much in nature — there aren’t blue animals, blue eyes are rare, and blue flowers are mostly human creations. There is, of course, the sky, but is that really blue?”

There’s no telling what we’re actually looking at every day. Scientists are working to figure that out.

An easy experiment to confirm this can be performed at home with a small child, preferably under age 2.  If you draw a number of colored circles on a piece of paper, you will find that if you ask the child to identify the “blue” circle, they will often point to a red circle, or even a green circle. Several years later, after you have taught them the word “blue”, you will find that they correctly identify the blue circle every time.  These experiments do seem to confirm our hypothesis that until the word “blue” is learned, human beings cannot see this color.

Before getting too excited by this fascinating discovery, one scientist warned, “We don’t know exactly what was going through Homer’s brain when he described the wine-dark sea—but we do know that ancient Greeks and others in the ancient world had the same biology and therefore, same capability to see colour that we do.”  Yes, the biology of ancient peoples is certain and therefore, our conclusions about why Homer did not describe the sea as “blue” must be guided to the simple reality, which we have seen many times over:  the ancient people, like Homer, were un-lettered, superstitious people who didn’t know what we our school children know today.  “Before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they didn’t know they were seeing it.”

This draws us to this great dilemma being examined by wise men today:  “If you see something yet can’t see it, does it exist?”

Wow, thankfully, scientists are working to provide us with answers to such important questions.  Homer’s error is a good reminder to us that nothing is necessarily what we think it to be and that determining what is true and false in this world is the business of scientists who have expensive, powerful instruments that allow them to actually see the world.


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