Monday, May 5, 2008

Arno Motulsky and Color Vision

On April 29th, I read an interview article in the NYT about genetics pioneer, Arno Motulsky. He is currently doing research in color blindness, and has discovered that 50% of males with normal vision have the amino acid alanine in the red pigment in their retinal cones, the other 50% have the amino acid serine at the same site. Read the article here.
The implications for artists seem interesting. Years ago, the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, asked the question, here paraphrased: How do I know that when you see red, and when I see red, we are seeing the same color?
This research answers that question by saying that, no, we don't see the same color, or at least, males with "normal" color vision don't see the same color, due to their genetic makeup. 
Many artists have assumed that people "see" through a sociological and cultural lens, e.g. how viewers interpret perspective, and that much of seeing is a learned process. Those who have their vision restored after a life-time of blindness need to re-learn how to negotiate their environment based on their new visual information. But we had thought that those with normal vision objectively would see the same color. I'm not sure what we can do with this new information, but it certainly kicks away our previous assumptions, and may create a new challenge for artists.

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