Colour Literacy Forum #6: Evolution of Colour Vision

  • 29 Sep 2023
  • 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
  • virtual


Registration is closed

The Colour Literacy Forum is an international, collaborative effort to align university-level colour education with current design needs in the culture. The goal of the Forum is to connect faculty, students, and administrators with interdisciplinary professionals to provide cutting-edge research, curricula, tools, and resources.

The Colour Literacy Forum is a virtual gathering featuring presentations and discussions related to updating and expanding colour education in art and design programs at the university level. The forum convenes for three events per year to share information and offer dynamic networking opportunities for participants.

Register using the button at left. For complete details visit Colour Literacy Project.

Talk 1: Color Vision Evolution: In the Blink of an Eye

About 550 to 520 million years ago, there was literally an explosion of life forms, as all the major animal groups suddenly and dramatically appeared. Although several books have been written about this surprising event, known as the Cambrian explosion, none has explained why it occurred. Indeed, none was able to. Here, for the first time, Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker reveals his theory of this great flourishing of life. Parker's controversial but increasingly accepted "Light Switch Theory" holds that it was the development of vision in primitive animals that caused the explosion. Drawing on evidence not just from biology, but also from geology, physics, chemistry, history, and art, In the Blink of an Eye is the fascinating account of a scientist's intellectual journey, and a celebration of the scientific method.

The Speaker

Andrew Parker (University of Oxford)

After qualifying as an artist and a biologist in the UK then Australia, Andrew Parker came face-to-face with the brightest colours found on coral reefs and in rainforests. He completed a PhD at Macquarie University (Australia), worked in USA including spells at the LA County Museum, MIT and the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1999 he moved to Oxford University to further study the science of the natural ‘technologies’ behind these colours. He even placed them into the designs of our own products – a subject known as bio-inspiration – and became selected as one of the top eight scientists in the UK by The Times and The Royal Institution (London). He wrote the popular science books In the Blink of an Eye and Seven Deadly Colours based on his “Light Switch Theory”, which conceives that the evolution of the eye triggered the Big Bang of evolution. After finally perfecting “Pure Structural Colour”, and taking out the world-wide patent, Andrew returned to his art studio and now produces unique artworks containing this type of mesmerising colour. This has become part of the Light & Space movement of California. Andrew regularly speaks at literary/arts festivals as well as scientific and political institutions.

Talk 2: In some ways, we see colors remarkably the same; in others, we are remarkably different

Imagine looking at a vibrant sunset; while it might seem that we all witness the same breathtaking hues, the truth is more interesting. Perception of color is a dynamic interplay of genetics and experience. At the genetic level, differences that determine the types and quantities of photoreceptor cells in our retinas are astonishingly widespread, contributing to an array of color perceptions observed across individuals. However, the story of color perception doesn’t end with genetics alone. Our visual system is remarkably adaptable and shaped by our individual life experiences. This malleability means that even though our genetic differences might set the stage for diverse perceptions, the shared nature of our visual experiences can bridge the gap between us, leading to a surprising convergence in how we see the world around us.

The Speaker

Jay Neitz (University of Washington)

Jay Neitz holds the Bishop Professorship in Ophthalmology at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. He works with his wife, Maureen, to answer questions about the biological mechanisms responsible for vision. They are interested in how neural circuits process signals initiated in the cone photoreceptors to provide vision, control axial growth of the eye during development, and modulate activity rhythms and mood. They use a multidisciplinary approach that includes molecular genetics, electrophysiology, light and electron microscopy, and psychophysics.

Talk 3: Is human color vision scalable?

This talk shines light on the ways that color vision is continuing to evolve, and the implications of this research to our lives, drawing parallels to non-human primates and delving into the possibility of tetrachromatic vision in humans. It begins by framing tetrachromacy as the logical progression from monochromacy to dichromacy to trichromacy. The discussion then shifts to the evolutionary prevalence of dichromacy and trichromacy among non-human primates, emphasizing the adaptability of visual pigment genetics to changing environments. The talk also explores the impact of this genetic diversity on human color perception. Empirical evidence reveals measurable impacts on color perception in some individuals with potential tetrachromatic genotypes. However, it reassures that this diversity does not lead to chaos in linguistic cultures or color-dependent industries. Ultimately, the talk underscores the adaptability and scalability of human color vision, driven by genetics and environmental demands. It highlights the importance of investigating visual processing variation and alternative observer models for medical, industrial, and design applications.

The Speaker

Kimberly A. Jameson (University of California, Irvine)

Kimberly A. Jameson is a cognitive scientist conducting research at the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Color plays a prominent role in her empirical and theoretical work, which includes research on the mathematical modeling of color category evolution among communicating artificial agents; individual variation and universals in human color cognition and perception; empirical work on the genetic basis of human color perception and the correlated sensory consequences; and comparative investigations of the ways the world’s cultures name and conceptualize environmental color. She directs the Color Cognition Laboratory at UC Irvine, and is the lead researcher responsible for the preservation, transcription, digitalization, and public-access dissemination of the ColCat Research Platform that includes the Robert E. MacLaury cross-cultural color categorization archive.

The Inter-Society Color Council advances the knowledge of color as it relates to art, science, industry and design.
Each of these fields enriches the others, furthering the general objective of color education.


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