Nature has not been kind to blue compared to other colors.
It has got a tiny window on the vast spectrum of colors.
Blue sits somewhere between violet and green on this spectrum. It reaches human eyes between the visible light wavelength of 450 and 495 nanometres, which is a very brief span. Red has the longest wavelength at around 700 nanometres.
Blue is scattered everywhere in the form of hues and a mix of other colors.
Scientists claim that blue is rare. Its pigment is hard to find.
Where is The Blue Pigment?
Still, you see blue plants such as morning glories, bluebells and hydrangeas and few blue flowers. This blue color comes from a red pigment called anthocyanin. Plants mix it with other pigments to produce blue.
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Fascinated by the various colors of plants, Botanist Prof David Lee decided to investigate it. In his book Nature’s Palette: The Science of Plant Color, he pointed out that fewer than 10% of 280,000 species of flowering plants produce blue flowers.
This is not because of the blue pigment.
This rarity doesn’t end here. It goes on in animals and bird’s kingdom.
Scientists (Lepidopterologists) have found that only a butterfly produces a blue pigment. Its name is ‘Olivewing.’ And much in not known about this creature. Research is still on.
Other animals and birds too exhibit blue on their fur and feathers. But this is not because of the blue pigment but a reflection of light. When light passes through their feathers, it bends itself at a certain angle, and that causes creation of blue color to human eyes. The perfect examples are blue jay and peacocks.
Scientists could identify red, brown, orange, and yellow pigments in birds and animals. These color pigments come from the diet of animals and are responsible for the color of their skins, eyes, organs.
But this was not the case with a blue color. Scientists confirm that blue, as we see in plants and animals, is not pigment at all.
First Blue Pigment of The World
Finding natural blue pigment is practically impossible. Physics and biology confirm that.
This was possibly the reason Egyptians started to synthesise blue color using other natural material or chemicals. Not only did they make blue dyes, but they coined a specific word for blue. And this was over 4500 years ago when no other language had a clue about blue.
Calcium copper Silicate was extracted after a complex process, and this pigment got named Egyptian blue. Ancient Egyptians produced it by grinding sand, copper and natron, and later heating them.
The purpose was to use it in funeral objects in the pyramids. It was the world’s first synthetic pigment.
For Homer Blue Was ‘Wine-Dark’
But how did we notice that ancient languages did not have a word for blue? This story has roots in 17th century England.
Britain’s former prime minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809–98) was an ardent reader of Homer. He had been four times Prime Minister of England and was a prominent parliamentarian.
One day reading through ‘Iliad’, he realised that Homer had described colors weirdly nobody in the modern world use. Also, he could see that Homer used unfamiliar terms for simple colors of objects. For instance, the ocean is ‘wine-dark’ to him.
Now again, Gladstone went through both ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’. He further realised that violet is iron for Homer. Not merely that, words denoting colors appeared in different frequencies; black 170 times, white 100 times, red only 13 times, green under 10.
And there is no word for color blue in any of his poems.
After all of this, Gladstone concluded that Homer was color blind.
Years later, German philologist (language researcher) Lazarus Geiger came in contact with Gladstone’s work on Homer. He followed it up.
A professor in Frankfurt, Geiger started charting the origins of words of colors in original languages like Hebrew, German, Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Icelandic, etc.
It astonished him when he discovered no mention of the word blue in any of the ancient language. Instead, this quest took him to another direction. He discovered the order of words in which ancient languages understood each color, and invented the words. This order was — black and white, red, green, yellow, and later blue. It was same for almost all ancient languages. Every ancient language got black and white first.
Ancient cultures did not count ‘blue’ as a separate color, but the shade of green.
But story did not end here. There are cultures and languages still today; those do not have any awareness and word for blue.
In 2006, working with the Himba tribe from Namibia, psychologist Jules Davidoff found that the tribe had no word for blue and no real distinction between green and blue.
On the other hand, MIT scientists found that Russian has two words for blue; light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy).
In his book ‘Blue: The History of a Color’ Michel Pastoureau has revealed the critical milestones of the association of blue color with Christianity, royalty, politics and military, literature, romance and the music.
Still a debate going on between linguists that — do you ‘see’ a color if you don’t have a word for it? If you can’t perceive it, does that color exist?
Why Sky & Sea Appear Blue
This is another fundamental question?
The theory is simple for any object that emits a specific color. Water absorbs longer wavelengths of red and other colors. Thus, the shorter wavelength of blue scatters and reveals itself for our eyes. And we perceive the sea as blue.
When sunlight passes through our atmosphere, oxygen and nitrogen molecules scatter blue wavelengths. Then blue sky comes into being and reaches our eyes. This is Rayleigh scattering effect.
One more thing. When objects are away from the viewer, they appear bluer, like mountains.
Color Is Nothing, Just a Perception
Isaac Newton observed that colors are not part of the objects. Color doesn’t have its existence. The brain is the repository of color. Only the brain recognises it by the perception language provides in a context.
When light rays fall upon the surface of these objects, larger wavelengths are absorbed, and shorter scattered. Then we know the color of that object in our language.
A neuroscientist at University College London, Beau Lotto says, “A color only exists in your head.” He asserts, “There’s such a thing as light. There’s such a thing as energy. There’s no such thing as color.”
Blue is nowhere in nature. It is only an imagination.
It exists in the light spectrum, in our language and mind.