August 28, 2014

The Colorblindness Simulation Image Filter Is Kind of Depressing

After writing We All See, Smell, Hear, Taste, and Feel the World Differently, I have been running different exercises and simulations in my life to add to my knowledge of other people’s perspectives; how they go through the world and how those input filters influence cognition.  One of the tools has been image filters to see websites and photographs as approximately 1 out of every 12.5 white men sees them.  

It’s just too depressing.  The post I put up a few seconds ago about the Elder Scrolls Skyrim pickaxes and flowers?  The images on the left are how normal eyesight sees the flowers.  The images on the right are filtered through a lens that simulates Deuteranope colorblindness, which is a form of red/green color deficit or colorblindness.  To a colorblind person, they should appear nearly identical depending upon the severity of the deficit in their personal genetics.  

Colorblind Simulation Images 1

Colorblind Simulation Images 1

Colorblind Simulation Images 2

Colorblind Simulation Images 2

Here I am, debating which shades of flowers, plants, and furniture cushions to introduce and cross-referencing them with psychology studies that show how various colors influence mood, and a lot of people on this planet can’t even see the difference.  I look at the images on the left – the vibrancy, the bursts of oranges, pinks, purples, and reds, and to think that someone with color deficit color blindness has never seen – not even once - these colors?  They have no frame of reference; no understanding of what the rest of us are seeing.  It just sucks.  

Maybe it makes me upset for them because I’m hypersensitive to sensory inputs such as colors, scents, tactile exposures (e.g., my passion for certain shirting fabrics) so to be deprived of something that brings me so much joy is unthinkable.  

Couldn’t we fix this with stem cells?  If the problem isn’t in the brain, but rather in the sensory input mechanism (in this case, the retina), couldn’t we create eyes with fully functioning color sensors to cure colorblindness?  Shouldn’t we be working on this?  As far as disabilities go, it would suck big time but then you get into the paradox that you don’t know any differently, so would you not care because you have no idea the wonder you are missing?

As everyone has seen the images and the stark difference between them, an informal poll started around the office that had everyone evenly split between whether they would rather be born without one of their hands or be born with colorblindness.  No one has answered quickly, but deliberated about it for some time then declared their preference.  The deciding factor seems to be whether you were aware of the colors you were missing or had never known any better … 

  • Crabhooves

    I don’t see this as a big problem – you can’t miss what you’ve never had. Do you walk around all day craving heroin and thinking about how dull and lifeless life is without it? No, I don’t think you do – considering you’ve never tried it. But a heroin addict feels that way and his/her life would probably feel empty without it – while in the same situation someone who’d never tried heroin would be perfectly content.

    • Joshua Kennon

      Well said; great analogy.

      • Biscuit68_

        Actually, you can imagine what you’re missing.. I’m a graphic design student with red/green colorblindness and I always tend to make my colors way too vibrant for people with normal vision. When I see these pictures and read the descriptions it’s depressing that I can’t see truly vibrant colors all the time and now realize that everything I’m seeing looks grey and dead :(

        • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

          This … makes me sad. I’m sorry. Someday, science will fix it. Hopefully, in our lifetime!

        • fjfjaklka

          hm i dont see colours in infrared or ultraviolet. that does not make me feel sad

        • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

          If 11 out of 12 men and 199 out of 200 women in the world did, and talked about how beautiful they were, the military had studied the influence they have on happiness and psychology, Walt Disney had entire theme shows revolving around them at their parks, work software utilized them to display information (e.g., train traffic control programs or stock market data), and even video games used them to convey information so that you couldn’t play a significant percentage of the games released each year, or you found yourself unable to match basic clothing because you couldn’t figure out which pieces were complementary, it’s safe to say you would realize the extent of your loss.

          Therefore, your example isn’t analogous.

        • Jennifer A. Nolan

          Too bad! I’m one of those lucky color-normal people who can spot the tiniest bit too much or too little a block away! I have been going on various color-vision Websites (especially Colblindor; kudos, Daniel Flueck!) for the last 3 weeks or so; seeing things the way you do (or at least so-so simulations of it) really opens my mind up! I sure hope your professors are (or were) helping you out with your over-vibrant, lay-on-the-color problem. Perhaps somebody could teach you to work with just the colors you CAN see?
          Best of luck in any event!

    • Shiggity Shwa

      I got addicted to hitting myself on the head with a hammer and my life feels so empty without it.

  • Martel

    Funny you bring up gene therapy for colorblind people. My girlfriend is colorblind, really enjoys art, and somewhat feels like she’s missing out due to her condition. Out of general curiosity I did a little research. Some folks at the University of Washington have successfully induced full spectrum vision in naturally red/green colorblind monkeys through gene therapy. Essentially they took a virus, modified it to carry particular genes for red/green vision, and injected it into the eyes of the monkeys. Some of the cones within their eyes changed into the type of cone needed for red/green sight. It took a while for their brains to account for the new sensory input, but full spectrum vision was verified through simple picture tests. The monkeys seemed to suffer no side effects to boot (I think this was done in 2009).

    • Joshua Kennon

      HOW COOL IS THAT!? Thanks for sharing; I’ll have to read more about it!

  • Evergreen

    My husband is color-blind and I’m very color-oriented; I frequently refer to see him as “disabled” as it does seem very sad to me all the things he can’t see.  One interesting thing though, people with this type of color-blindness are actually better at seeing through camouflage (which is probably why it exists/is so prevalent).

    • Joshua Kennon

      That is an excellent point.  I imagine it is an evolutionary adaptation.

      • Jennifer A. Nolan

        Nice idea about the “evolutionary adaptation”! That may be why more men than women are colorblind, too: so more cavemen could see prey or predators hiding in the greenery. Bright “reds,” “oranges,” “blues,” and “purples” can be suc a distraction sometimes, especially in the wild where you must be on the ball.

        • crabhooves

          My understanding is that it’s due to the existence of the sex chromosomes.. To simplify it down – colour blindness is a recessive mutation on the X chromosome, men only get one X chromosome so if they have the rare defective gene they are automatically colourblind – but women have two X chromosomes so they need two copies of very rare genes to be colour blind.

        • Jennifer A. Nolan

          Actually, for males, it’s not that rare. The best authorities think that as many as one in every twelve males is at least partially colorblind — and as many as one in fifty is severely colorblind; for women, the rate is one in 200 for partial colorblindness and less than one in 500 for more complete colorblindness (depending on who you consult). The two more common forms are protanopia (blindness to red light) and deuteranopia (blindness to green light). Both of these cause the much-noted red-green color confusions among frustrated schoolboys and art students. The really rare forms are tritanopia (blindness to blue light) and monochromacy; These aren’t linked to X-chromosomes and are even-Steven between the sexes. Actually, one source has it that tritanopia is an overwhelmingly female affliction — but still as rare as the golden egret, which is why it’s not high on the women’s health agenda.

          Don’t make it out to be rare. If one in every fifty little boys is colorblind, that’s a lot of innocent little kids who can’t get their color identifications or terms “right.” Parents and educators would do their charges a power of good by bearing this in mind!

        • crabhooves

          Thanks for the clarification Jennifer. I didn’t realize it was that common and will definitely be keeping it in mind. Like all things genetic it seems much more complicated than commonly thought. Although I can do without the chasisement. Somehow I think the little colourblind boys of the world will survive my offhand comment on a personal website.

          The weird and interesting thing to me are that the three forms of colourblindness you mentioned are named after the three hydrogen isotopes, protium, deuterium and tritium. I haven’t seen that convention used anywhere else. I wonder why that is…

        • Jennifer A. Nolan

          Sorry to be so snippy; I just feel a little sorry for these people when I see those simulations.

          As for the names we use for the syndromes, they’re from the Greek language. They mean “first one doesn’t see” (protanopia), “second one doesn’t see” (deuteranopia), and “third one doesn’t see” (tritanopia). Those prefixes: “pro-”, “deuter-” and “tri-” always mean the same things: first, second, and third. The isotopes you mentioned are named the same way because scientists have found THREE, not two, or four, or eleven, of them. Too many more of them and the naming artists would have had to search the Roman or Nordic pantheon or the roster of famous scientific achievers.

          Or maybe the Saturday morning cartoons of the ’70′s.

  • Spingus

    Eventually there likely will be a treatment for colorblindness and other so-called deficiencies.  Mentioning stem cells strikes near to my own heart, and career.

    Stem cells, embryonic, induced and otherwise have a lot of potential.  At this point it is in fact potential and not pragmatic reality.  Keep in mind we do not have FDA approved therapies using stem cells, with the exception of some recently approved cord blood applications.  There is a LOT of testing going on and most of the legitimate news of treatments we read about is in that vein.

    At the risk of sounding elitist, there are other things we have to address ahead of colorblindness:  diabetes, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and of course degenerative diseases of the eye to name only a few of the debilitating conditions on which we’re attempting to sic stem cells.

    It’s a slow process.  We’ve been able to culture stem cells for nearly 15 years but we’re still a long way from your doc sending you to the pharmacy or clinic to take care of that pesky diabetes issue.  I say this even though we now generate material that can regulate glucose in animal models –there are lots of things to do before the FDA will give a stamp of approval for both safety and efficacy.

    I’m not saying this to be gloomy, quite the opposite.  I am laying out that this is a complex series of challenges, and that we’re working on it, hard.

    I do take issue with Crabhooves analogy. I’ll substitute my own:  You can miss what you don’t have.  Children born without the physical capacity to ever walk can certainly lead lives of great joy and satisfaction.  However, I suspect that given the opportunity, at least some people in that condition would take legs and to learn to walk if only to experience what others talk about.  I fully believe that we should try and give them that opportunity because we have a potential means to do so.

    TL;DR  Yay stem cells, boo dengenerative disease and functional deficiencies.  Yay science and medical research.

    • Joshua Kennon

      Best TL;DR ever.  I vote for “yah” and “boo” systems in the future.

  • Randi

    I also agree. I am an artist, and my boyfriend is colorblind. I love color and feel as if it really does affect mood and atmosphere of a room. It makes me upset to know that he cannot experience the beauty of color. Hopefully gene therapy will be available to us soon, and the colorblind will be able to me cured.

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    I know this is an old post now: you posted it before St. Patrick’s Day of 2012, and now it’s Thanksgiving of 2013, but I’ve been looking at these simulations on the Web for a few weeks, and I think these different types of color vision are fascinating, more than anything else.
    I have to say, one thing about each of the three types of colorblindness (apart from total monochromacy, whereby the patient lives in a grayscale world like an old movie) is that it’s a blindness to a part of the light spectrum which the rest of us can see. Tritanopic patients can’t see blue light; they effectively live on the Planet Purple. Protanopic patients can’t see red light; deuteranopic patients can’t see green light. This effectively dulls and dims their world; each type misses a third of the light the rest of us get to enjoy. So, for us with the good fortune of typical color vision, their color spectrums and world views are dull and depressing. We’re just not used to them. Colorblind people are. I imagine successful gene therapy will leave some of these people overwhelmed and reeling for a while; it will be to them as 1969 at the Haight-Ashbury was to a few of us.
    Children grow up playing with the hands they’re dealt.