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Ancient people could not distinguish blue?

Ancient people could not distinguish blue 3

(ORDO NEWS) — Surprisingly, apparently, in ancient times, people could not distinguish the blue color (in any case, in many ancient cultures there was simply no designation for this color).

Human visual perception is amazing. Most of us can see about a million different colors, and it is still unclear whether we perceive this vast spectrum in the same way or not. Take, for example, blue – according to some scientists, in the past, people most likely did not see this color. How did the experts come to this conclusion?

As Kevin Loria points out in a 2015 Business Insider article, Homer is known to describe the “wine-colored sea” in The Odyssey (probably from the 8th century BC). In 1958, the scientist William Gladstone (who later became Prime Minister of Great Britain) noticed that this was not the only strange description of color in the work of the classic, while, as further analysis showed, black was mentioned almost 200 times, white – about 100 times, other colors – in general, it is quite rare (red – less than 15 times, yellow and green – less than 10). Gladstone also drew attention to other texts of those times – and found that the ancient Greeks did not use the word “blue” at all (apparently, such a word simply did not exist).

A few years later, the German philologist Lazar Geiger continued to research the issue and analyzed ancient Icelandic, Indian, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts. It turned out that blue was not mentioned in them either.

However, perhaps this may not seem so surprising, given that in nature, there is a distinct blue color in few places. The very first society that had a name for this color was, apparently, Egyptian – in this culture, they first learned to produce blue paint. Then, already the knowledge about the blue color has spread in the modern world.

However, were our ancestors really not able to see the color blue, since they did not have a corresponding name?

More than one study has been conducted to investigate this issue. For example, in 2006, Jules Davidoff, a Goldsmiths psychologist, collaborated with his colleagues to study the Himba people of Namibia. In the language of this people there is no designation for the color blue and there is no real distinction between green and blue.

To understand if this means that the Himba people are not able to see blue, the researchers conducted the following experiment: they showed subjects a circle of 12 squares, 11 of which were green and one was blue. It turned out that it was difficult for the representatives of the Himba people to cope with the task – to determine which of the squares has a different color from the others. Some – after a long time – still managed to select the desired square, although in general there were many errors.

However, interestingly enough, Himba has many more words for green than we do. In a similar experiment, Davidoff, together with his colleagues, showed a circle of 12 squares to English-speaking people: 11 squares were green in one shade, and one was green in an excellent shade.

As you can see from the image, it is very difficult to determine which of the squares is different. But the representatives of the Himba people, as it turned out, coped with the task with ease.

Another study published by experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2007 showed that Russian speakers are much faster at distinguishing between light and dark shades of blue compared to English speakers. This is most likely due to the fact that in our language, instead of one designation for blue, there are two – “blue” and “light blue”.


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