Describing colors to a blind man

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Radic, Oct 11, 2006.

  1. Radic

    Radic New Member

    English, Filipino - Philippines
    How can a person describe to a blind man the different basic colors?
  2. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I do not think that it is possible.
    There are idiosyncratic sayings revolving around this concept.
    "It is like trying to describe a rainbow to a blind man."
    This means that the task being described is impossible.

  3. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    I'm not sure what your question is, but I'll assume what you want is a way to do this?

    I would describe color as a temperature to a blind person. Red would be hot, blue would be cold, and other colors would be degrees between. Or work out a system that makes sense to you—would black be colder than blue? Would white be neutral? Just set up a system that seems logical and proceed from there.
  4. Radic

    Radic New Member

    English, Filipino - Philippines

    Thanks for the quick reponse. At least, I am somehow enlightened about this. Setting up a logical system (e.g. temperature, brightness, etc.) to describe colors to a blind man is an acceptable way.
  5. Strider Senior Member

    England, English
    I remember reading an article about this (in a Reader's Digest) - the writer compared colours to different sounds made by the instruments of an orchestra. (If I remember correctly, trumpets were yellow)

    I'm sure this article (or something similar) would be available somewhere on the web, have you tried googling the question?
  6. nay92 Member

    English, England
    Thats a good question! I have no idea thoguh how you would do that?
  7. maxiogee Banned

    Before you get that far, how about you describe the process of sight to him? :D
    When you've done that, get back to us.
  8. jinti

    jinti Senior Member

    I can sort of identify with this problem, although my situation is different. I have no sense of smell -- it's a hereditary thing -- and it's really impossible to explain smells to me in such a way that I will understand them as you do. But then, understanding them in my own way is good enough (and all I can do).

    I used to sell perfumes (go figure!), and customers would always ask me what certain scents were like. I had no idea, of course, but necessity is the mother of invention, and I did quite well just by describing the boxes the scents came in, on the theory that the perfume companies had spent a lot of money coming up with packaging that reflected the scent they were selling. You know, "bold / soft / earthy / fuzzy / glamorous / subdued / forceful / energetic / soothing ....."

    Maybe such adjectives are a way for a blind person to develop his own understanding of color, although it would not be the same as your understanding.
  9. maxiogee Banned

    I think that the sense of smell can be more easily described as being akin to taste. One can feel the air moving when one inhales through the nose and can, I imagine, understand the concept of that air having a "taste-like" sensation associated with it.
    And, both taste and smell are inherent qualities of a thing.
    Colour, on the other hand is not an inherent thing. It depends on light, and on the particular light involved, and on our eyes. Some people don't see all colours, but this doesn't mean that they don't see the thing - they just see it differently.
    Colour is virtually undescribable without reference to how our eyes work - and without the listener having at least some understanding of this process. I suppose that the first step is to tell the blind man that our eyes can have a reaction to some thing in much the same ways as our taste-buds, and that reaction affects how we experience any thing.

    Great story, jinti.
    I wonder if those who, having heard your description, then agreed with you when they experienced the actual scent.
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Being partially color-blind, I am often made aware that color is not a standard. :) However, I see variations in shades of certain colors that others have trouble seeing, so it's not just that I don't see colors that others do. I see them differently.

    It's a much more individual, subjective thing than we'd like to think it is.
  11. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    I agree with JamesM that color is extremely subjective. I can't tell you how many clients I've had who said they want a blue logo. There are so many different shades of blue, or even gray! That's why most graphic designers work with standardized color swatches that can be reproduced by specific ink formulas or percentages. I don't think you can ever assume that two people will see exactly the same color!

    I disagree that someone without a sense of smell can relate odors to tastes. I believe that 70 to 75% of our sense of taste—other than the crude bitter, salty, sweet, and sour flavors—actually come from our sense of smell.
  12. jinti

    jinti Senior Member

    Yeah, actually, I'm not so hot with taste either. Want me to cook for you? :D

    While I certainly agree with Maxiogee, JamesM, and RSweet that color perception varies according to the light, personal physical differences, etc., I'm not sure it matters in this case.

    I mean, for me, getting a crude idea of a smell (or taste) is sufficient. Tell me if it's bold, subtle, pleasing, acrid, whatever. Compare it to something I'm familiar with (my soft, fuzzy sweater or lightening at night). Beyond the understanding I glean from that, well, nuance is lost on me. (Imagine my savings on wine.;))

    I would think that for a blind person endeavoring to understand color, nuance is beside the point, too. It's too advanced. It's like calculus for someone working on arithmetic.

    As an aside to Maxiogee:
    Actually, I had a pretty good track record. When I missed the mark, I just memorized what my customer said and spit it back to the next customer. :D But I have to say, when I did that, I was sometimes met with disagreement from the next customer, too. And it seems to me after decades of asking people what xyz smells like or tastes like, it must be as subjective as color. There's disagreement from one person to the next, as well as answers that seem like they've got nothing in common (at least from my limited perspective) or that seem unrelated to whatever's printed on the bottle. Could be people pulling my leg, of course, but I've always been amazed at the lack of agreement between answers to my "What's this smell like?" questions.
  13. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    I don't think this goes too far from the topic because it involves describing a sensory experience most people will never have first hand. I just watched an interview with the first woman "space tourist," who paid 20 million dollars to live in the International Space Station for 10 days. There is apparently a very distinctive smell to space that you can perceive only when you first arrive before you get used to it. Okay, space smells like a burnt cookie! :) Wow, the pressure of describing this for the earthbound masses!:D Maxiogee, I wonder if it smells like American chocolate chip cookies?
  14. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    My father was red-green colour blind and saw all shades of red or green as brown.
    There was nothing we could do to explain red or green to him.
    We would say that green is like grass and he would say that grass is brown to him.
    We would say that red is like watermelon flesh and he would say that it is brown.
    We are a very verbal family but the concepts of red and green were simply beyond him.

  15. squeezed90

    squeezed90 Senior Member

    Arabic - Palestine, English - Canada
    I remember reading "The Giver", where people don't recognize colors, and the narrator described red as a "nondescript shade". I like the idea of using temperatures to describe the color but i think that only works for cold (blue) and hot (red), because a degree in between would mean that the color is purple or some shade of it. I also like jinti's way. I notice that in magazines that describe perfumes as "musty" or "woody" or "crisp" but when i imagine the scent that is being described, it has nothing to do with the actual scent of the perfume. Black, i think, is also quite easy to describe.. the color you see when you close your eyes. White can be described as pure. The rest must be left to the imagination. :(
  16. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    I thought the touch sense was the one which replaced the most part of the sight for blind people, as for reading or feeling sculpture for instance. Maybe comparing each color with the feeling of something to touch is an idea. I think of an old movie (don't remember the title, I saw it about 20 years ago I think) where a teenager made a blind man feel the color that way. But maybe it's merely cinema. :p
  17. petereid

    petereid Senior Member

    selby yorkshire
    I am colour blind. I can see colours (eg orange and green can be identical) but I can never understand what colours my friends see no matter how well they, or I try.
    To a blind man it must be impossible.

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