What it's like to see 100 times the colors you see


No. It will indicate that the brown is the same for you both. But it can help you actually see the difference she claims against the other, identical brown hue on the other shoe she insists to not be matching.

The objective and measurable is the important and easily achievable part here. The subjective can be determined by comparative testing, if it is worth the time - it’s certainly more effective use of the time than a philosophical discourse.

There are only very few areas where such color-differentiating ability has a significant meaning (and that’s mostly a quality control area in mfg plants and there it’s better served with a machine). I have mine somewhat impaired, comparing to the average, but not to a level significant enough to cause any problems. And if it was more important for survival, it’d be a more common trait in the gene pool.

Give me a near-IR fourth cone instead and I’ll be happy.

Reasonable sounding language from the Popular Science:

“The difference between [the color dimensions perceived by] a tetrachromat and someone with normal vision is not as dramatic as the difference between someone who is colorblind and someone with normal vision,” according to Kimberly Jameson, a cognitive scientist at the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California in Irvine.

As translated by the tetrachromat:

People who have been around me find it very obvious that this special vision ability, in combination with my own intelligence, has made me a little above other people.

Then she talks about how other people with their poor colour-coordination and Crayola palettes overwhelm her, even though her paintings are super-saturated and I’ve seen porn stars who have subtler hair and makeup.

I’m color, color, color girl. I put different colors on each of my nails way before it was trendy. I loved fluorescents. People always comment on my style because I am so coordinated.

I might comment on her style, but not because she’s coordinated. Maybe she gets a lot of euphemistic comments?

The phenomenon is interesting, but there are a lot better spokespeople for it than her. Like Mantis Shrimp. Or the doctors quoted in the PopSci piece.


Style is overrated. Substance should go over style just about every single time. If you want the style anyway, the substance can become the style and serve both duties.

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I will never be able to unsee the armoured hamster now.

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When someone says style is more important to them, I just believe them. I can’t see the world through their eyes better than they can, but I can watch them recede in the rear-view.

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Hey, she talks extensively about her style, and style basically is her substance (or proof thereof).

When color is involved, I’m almost like a computer. I make decisions very rapidly. For example, I can arrange a stunning floral arrangement in seconds. People from a magazine once came to my home to film it and when they entered the front door the stylist put her bag down and said, “Well, there’s nothing for me to do here.” She said that had never happened before. They didn’t need to stage it or make it look pretty because it was all done.


Coordination is key. I’m very particular about everyone’s wardrobe. My kids’ rooms are styled and we all wear a lot of white.

Sometimes the very emptiness can be a form of a substance. Vacuum technology is like that.

Show me a high-stake situation where the ability of color-coordination of a flowerpot or a wardrobe is actually important.

Maybe in printing industry (and even there in rather special cases, in most cases you can get away with just few basic spot colors to convey the information needed), but that’s why handheld colorimeters exist; as a bonus they take away the unreliable, subjective aspects of the job.

Subjectivity and binary systems are notoriously incompatible.

So, basically you’re saying she’s not doing anything important or in high-stakes situations, and her talent is about as valuable as a colorimeter. Yet she seems to think it’s pretty darn important and that she’s pretty darn amazing (even more so than the researchers working with her). So I guess you can see why I think she comes across as a bit of a blowhard.

It can work, but you need a wide enough range where you can clown with the thresholds.

Binary logic is called binary because there are only two states: the high, the low, and the hazard state.
– a digital circuitry designers’ proverb

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I can imagine some fringe situations where I’d find her useful, but in all of them she’s also replaceable with said colorimeter.


On the other hand, we all need our little delusions of importance. Helps with scraping out the will to live through another day.

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The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.

Trin Tragula — for that was his name — was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.

And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.

“Have some sense of proportion!” she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.

And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex — just to show her.

And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.


One would have to respect the subject, ask enough questions, be willing to not predict the answers, and once offered them, one would have to be able to trust.

Other wise it would just be trolling clowning.

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Trust, but verify.

She may well have exquisite colour sense, and be able to perceive many more colours than chromotypicals can, but unless she’s got as many different colour receptors as a mantis shrimp then it isn’t down purely to her tetrachromaticity. More influential, I think, is likely to be her training as a visual artist.

Tetrachromics aren’t that uncommon, after all, and you don’t hear any others rabbiting on about how they can see “hundreds” times more colours than trichromatics. And that’s because it isn’t true. If you’ve got RGBV, say, rather than plain old RGB cones in your retina, then you’re likely going to see a couple of extra colours in a rainbow — I could imagine maybe four more depending on the specific mutation — but that’s it. And really that’s enough to be envious of if she wants to big herself up, there’s no need for exaggeration.

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Ok, so it’s not true that she is saying it’s down to her tertachromaticity, the way you said she said it is, so that you could say she couldn’t be believed for saying such things as what you actually were the one, who said.

Stop disagreeing with what you’ve read into things? We can’t agree on fact if you’re making things up.

That makes sense - in this picture you can see the colour change in shadow from white to blue in the snow and tan to darker brown on the benches.

So, basically a human mantis shrimp?

That doesn’t tell you anything about the subjective experiences (the ‘qualia’) of the two people viewing the same colour.

Imagine that the nerves connecting the red and green cone cells in their eyes to their brain were ‘wired’ in opposing ways- they’d agree on the names of colours, but their experience of those colours would be completely different.

Perhaps yes, but you cannot reliably share that sort of experience, so you cannot compare it, so it is kind of pointless to spend much time on musing about it.