Can Some People See More Colors Than You?

Remember that double rainbow guy? Can you
imagine his reaction if he’d seen A HUNDRED MORE RAINBOWS??? Hello visionaries, Julian here for DNews.
Your senses are an illusion; they’re all just ways your brain interprets your environment
and they leave a lot out. Like radio waves are basically the same thing as visible light,
they’re just so stretched out you can’t see them. But you can tune in to a radio station
and know they’re there. But what about invisible information in between
what you can see? Could there be more to sense hiding in plain sight? Absolutely. Most people can see about a million colors.
This is because inside of the typical human eye there are three types of cones that are
sensitive to red, green, and blue wavelengths of light. And each can differentiate about
100 shades. Which can be mixed and matched. So 1003 means there are a million possibilities.
This is why tv and computer screens use mosaics of red, green and blue lights to display images.
Digital cameras detect varying levels of red, green, and blue light when you take a picture.
It’s technology designed around our biology. Well, Most people’s biology, not all. Some
people have a genetic mutation which renders one cone inoperative, making them dichromatic
instead of trichromatic, or what we would call colorblind. Usually these people are
men, because the genes for cones are carried on the x chromosome, so colorblind men would
need just one mutated x chromosome while colorblind women would need to get two. So if it’s possible to effectively have
two functioning cones and only see 10,000 colors, is it also possible to have four different
cones and be able to see 100 million? That’s what Newcastle University neuroscientist Gabriele
Jordan had been searching for for decades, and in 2010 she finally found one. Jordan
was testing women who have colorblind sons, the rationale being the sons must have inherited
a mutated x chromosome from their mothers. So the women must have two different x chromosomes
and therefore four cones in their eyes. The women looked at three colored circles that
to most people would look identical, but one had just a little red or green mixed in that
would only be visible to someone with four active cones. And out of the 24 women who
took the test, only one got every single question right. So it’s rare. It’s estimated only about
1% of people have a fourth cone, and even then many don’t seem to use it. And even
when they do, how can they communicate what they see to us three-coned non-superhumans?
It’s the classic “what if my red is different than your red but we can’t tell?” question
all over again. So why are tetrachromats who can actually
use their powers so rare? The precise reason is still a mystery. According to Jameson it
may come down to learning to use that extra cone, informally called the Yellow cone. It
could be that even though some people have four cones, their brains are adapted for the
usual three, and taking advantage of those extra hues comes with repetition that makes
the brain rewire itself. Or maybe they just don’t notice the extra colors because no
one else is mentioning them. Jameson also notes that the difference between a tetrachromat’s
vision and a trichromat’s is not as dramatic as the difference between a trichromat’s
and a dichromat’s. If you are a dichromat, don’t feel left
out. Tons of animals are right there with you. Dogs are dichromats too and it’s a
myth that they see black and white. For more cool info on how your eye sees colors,
Julia’s got some deets on that right here. Special thanks
to the folks at Fig. 1 for providing the animations,
be sure to check them out here. Do you think you have a superhuman sense?
Tell us what it is and why down in the comments. Subscribe for more, and I’ll see you next
time on DNews


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