Does the Color Pink Exist? Scientists Aren’t Sure

First Pluto, now this? Science takes all the fun stuff away.

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In a blog post, Robert Krulwich of the public radio show Radiolab noted that there is no pink in the colors of the rainbow. Pink is actually a combination of red and violet, two colors, which, if you look at a rainbow, are on the opposite sides of the arc. Remember the old colors of the rainbow mnemonic ROYGBIV? The R (red) is as far as it can get from V (violet). That’s where the trouble lies. Pink can’t exist in nature without a little rainbow-bending help, which would allow the shades of red and violet to commingle. This is leading scientists to believe, as Krulwich puts it, that “pink is a made-up color.” Krulwich explains:

I know, of course, that all colors are just waves of light, so every color we “see,” we see with our brains. But what this video says is that there is no such thing as a band of wavelengths that mix red and violet, and therefore, pink is not a real wavelength of light. That’s why pink is an invention. It’s not a name we give to something out there. Pink isn’t out there.

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So there you have it. Pink, the color, is just the wishful thinking of our brain blending the red and violet wavelengths together to create the color of many little girls’ birthday parties. But as compelling as Krulwich’s argument is, there are plenty of scientists (and probably My Little Pony fanatics) who disagree with him. In a blog post aptly named Stop This Absurd War on the Color Pink, Scientific American blogger Michael Moyer points to research that indicates that all color, whether in the rainbow or not, is a fabrication of our brains. He quotes biologist Timothy H. Goldsmith as noting that, “Color is not actually a property of light or of objects that reflect light. It is a sensation that arises within the brain.” He concludes by stating that, “Pink is real—or it is not—but it is just as real or not-real as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.”

We will leave the debate over the color pink to the experts, because we know one Pink who definitely still exists. (Although she has been going by her given name of Alecia Moore a lot lately. Perhaps she knows something we don’t.)

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15 comments
IncognitoJay143143
IncognitoJay143143

Speaking of Pinkie from My Little Pony that could explain why she has recognizable blue in her fur.  Then again I watch on a computer monitor so maybe it's just me discerning the blue pixels that make up the pink.  So when we look at a rainbow the sliver of pink above red is an illusion?  Fascinating. 

JordanWilliams
JordanWilliams

Actually, the color pink as we know it is the same as the color violet, there is just so much ignorance surrounding the last two colors of the rainbow that they are commonly interchanged. Violet is hot pink, and indigo is dark purple. Get your facts straight.

ChristopherFagundo
ChristopherFagundo

This article is grossly incorrect. Just a few few items:


1.) the color described in this article is magenta, not pink

2.) if magenta is not a color, then by the same principals explained, neither are cyan, brown, and actual pink.


3.) our brains process color like an RGB printer-- in fact, our eyes are equipped with cones that ONLY see the color green, red, and blue. The colors and variations we see are created through ratios in which these cones fire at the same time. when all cones fire at once, we  perceive the color white, for example.


4.) theres an article on gizmodo that explains it better than i do. 

knowledge is power. fight the stupid. please.


briand1995
briand1995

That's why its called a color wheel not color line.... The ends connect back

SavarioFerrara
SavarioFerrara

um what about rainbows on a sphere, ie soap bubble.... doesn't it make sense that on a sphere red and violet would be close enough to overlap... I'll even wager that most refracted light is done on a sphere in nature... nature doesn't create in linear lines...

thetitaniumdragon
thetitaniumdragon

Really the fundamental difference between blended colors like pink and "pure" colors (the ones we get straight out of the UV spectrum, rather than a combination thereof) is that, if we were to take creatures with different means of measuring light, different peak absorbances, the UV spectrum would "look" similar (they may not see the colors exactly the same way we do, but we would expect the spectrum to be at least recognizable - we are experiencing the same things, albeit in somewhat different ways) but the blended colors may end up being perceived wildly differently based on how their eyes interpret them because of different weights on blending and different peak absorbances.


So when the aliens find our broadcasts of MLP, they will be horrified by the gaudy monstrosity that is Pinkie Pie.

RedSidedGarter
RedSidedGarter

Pink is just a combination of wavelengths. Just like magenta. The reason we don't see these colors when light is diffracted is simply because diffracted light will separate colors as pure colors. (in the rainbow). Pink and magenta are unsaturated colors. Just because it is not found in the spectrum, doesn't make it a nonexistent color. It carries multiple wavelengths since its not a pure color.

legion_bunny
legion_bunny

or it could just be the light waves intermingling from two separate sources that are creating a new wavelength  so while pink may not exist in actuality, it is not a fabrication of our minds, but a color created as a wavelength, but never existing as a whole.

Aaron
Aaron

I will have to disagree, because if pink doesn't exist and isn't out there, then how come their are pink roses. Or pink diamonds? or even sapphires? Pink is a rarity, but it still exists. There are other ways to make pink other than red and purple. In fact the most common one is mixing pink with white. So really all you have to do is make red lighter, which technically, is in the light spectrum. 

thetitaniumdragon
thetitaniumdragon

@IncognitoJay143143 There is no sliver of pink above red in the rainbow.


As for Pinkie Pie - there are no blue /pixels/. What you're actually seeing is the fact that each point on your monitor is made up of three colors, which shine in various intensities - if you are sitting close enough to your monitor, it is possible to make out the individual components of light. The higher the resolution of a monitor is in terms of dpi (dots per inch), the closer you have to be to resolve the individual colors which make up each dot.

KyleLamb
KyleLamb

@briand1995  not in the electromagnetic spectrum...

jtrdfw
jtrdfw

@SavarioFerrara Well what's going on here is that there is no wavelength that can be called "pink". For every other color, if you could simply create a wavelength, would "exist". Red and blue really make green, which is a wavelength. So when on your soap bubble they overlap it will appear green to our brain. 

However when both red and blue wavelengths are simply present at the same time our brain creates a color that doesn't have any wavelength. As in, if you could produce a light wavelength, pink is not a color you could create that we would perceive. You would have to produce both red and blue wavelengths at the same time. 

The fact that colors are just how we perceive wavelengths basically means pink exists just as much as other colors. However from light's perspective, that's not what's going on.


IncognitoJay143143
IncognitoJay143143

@thetitaniumdragon We can't see UV though.  I think you mean visible light spectrum.  Don't worry about aliens, the odds of intelligent life evolving are so remote and if it does happen they're very likely to still be cavepeople (we were for most of our existence).  Assuming they have more cones than we do they'll find our trichromatic entertainment kind of fascinating, in the same we we'd find colorbind television fascinating since we'd be looking at things from a different perspective. 

kl3mta3
kl3mta3

@Aaron the flaw in your statement is that in the spectrum of light which is what they are referring to there is no white light. White light is the whole spectrum blended together. That said you can not mix the whole light spectrum with a band of the red wavelength of light and expect to get pink. Things in nature that appear that way, do so because they are actually illuminated by a wave spectrum you actually cant perceive and your brain substitutes pink in its place.

thetitaniumdragon
thetitaniumdragon

@IncognitoJay143143 @thetitaniumdragon First off, technically, we actually can see some UV light if we suffer specific types of eye damage; while it is ordinarily filtered out, we are, technically, sensitive to part of the UV spectrum, it just isn't ordinarily relevant because it cannot ordinarily get that far into our eye.


However, there's nothing special about visible light; visible light is merely a part of the EM spectrum, as is UV light, and there's no reason that some aliens couldn't be sensitive to it; there are animals on Earth which can see into the UV spectrum or into the infrared spectrum, which are merely defined by what our eyes cannot see, and we can ourselves "see" into that spectrum by shifting it into the visible light spectrum.


As for intelligent life - we have no idea what the odds of the evolution of intelligent life are. Right now, we have exactly one planet with life on it, and that planet developed intelligent life. However, per the anthropic principle, we can draw no useful conclusions from that. It means that the odds of intelligent life arising are unknown.


As for the idea that they'd still be cave people - highly unlikely, actually. We're vastly more likely to find technologically advanced civilizations than cave people, simply because they're much more visible. They cause significant changes to their biospheres, they have cities which glow at night, they spill out all sorts of unnatural signals into space - they're much more highly visible. Finding cave people is hard; finding advanced civilizations is easier. That's not to say that cave people are rare in the universe, but it is harder to find them.


That being said, while humans were primitives, the reality is that it is hard to say how long our own civilization will last - if our civilization is eternal and never dies out, then we'd actually be more likely to find old civilizations than young ones. And indeed, existential threats to our civilization are pretty questionable.


As far as colors go - the reality is that they are unlikely to have receptors which peak at the same points in the spectrum, so even if they were trichromats, they might see colors wildly differently, and perceive pink as a very different color than we do.