The fact that a coloured object absorbs all colours except the one we see arises an interesting philosophical question. Do we see a negative picture of reality? Do we see that which is not rather than that which is?
Complicated? Let me give an example.
A sunflower is viewed as yellow. That is, what we perceive is yellow. It also means that the pigment of the flower reflects yellow and absorbs every other colour.
Yellow is what it rejects! Wouldn't it then be right to say that it is not yellow, but every colour except yellow? Isn't what it absorbs a part of it, and what it rejects not a part of it?
We see yellow so we say it is yellow, a convention of language which is practical, but do we mislead our thinking by this practice? Are our nervous system and perceptional senses shaped in a way where we perceive a negative view of what's around us? Do we perceive only what-is-not?
If we can say that this applies to our colour vision, how far does it apply to vision in general, or to other senses of perception, or perhaps to our whole mental organisation? Perhaps reality, in a metaphysical sense, consists of everything we do not perceive!
If true, would such a system be more efficient or in some sense economical, than one where we would perceive the positive reality?
When it comes to colour, yes. We need to perceive only the yellow, not all the other colours. This saves resources since what-is-not is less than what-is, while the factual information we derive from it is the same. However, colours provide a special case, since all colours of the visible spectrum are involved in every visual perception of colour.
Absorbed colours + reflected colours = all colours of the visible spectrum.
Since the sum of colours of the visible spectrum is known and constant, we can obtain the same resulting information whether we know the absorbed or the reflected colours. It saves resources to observe and record the one that requires the least bandwidth for us to perceive.
Is it possible that nature develops such a system only for colour vision?
Possibly so, because it is economical for colour vision, but without exploring this idea in depth, we should not take for granted that it is limited to colour vision, or limited at all. However, it is hardly economical for everything, not even for all senses. On the other hand, so far I have not delved deeply into that question.
The thought of us dealing with a negative image of reality might be analogous to the view of apophatic theology, which tries to describe God by defining what he is not. Adherents to this negative theology claims that a positive definition would be limited; his greatness and perfection can never be understood in positive terms. That is a way to view the Divine by understanding what it is not. Apophatic thinking exists to some extent in all major religions, although not in all branches of those religions.
Even for a non-believer, perhaps reality is too complex to perceive in positive terms so it will be necessary always dealing with negatives without realising it. Our mind is limited, our brain and nervous system are as well. We don't know if reality is limited or not, but even if it is so, its limits are meaningless to us, because it encompasses much more than our minds can ever comprehend. For practical purposes we can consider it unlimited.
Perhaps it is a general principle that what-is-not is always less than what-is, and that that which-is-not is limited, but that which-is is unlimited.
Thought-provoking, isn't it?
(This article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo and in my e-book "From Vision to Visual Music".
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