Our ability to see the incredible color in the world around us is amazingly complex. We don’t actually see color with our eyes. We see color with our brains.
Most humans have trichromatic vision. Our eyes only detect red, green and blue. If our eyes detect a lot of red and green but not much blue, our brains decide that we are seeing yellow. When our eyes register equal amounts of red, green, and blue, our brain decides that we are seeing gray. If red and blue are present, but not much green, our brain decides we are seeing purple.
Some of us do not have red or green receptors in our eyes, especially people with XY chromosomes (males). We call it color blindness, but in reality, our eyes just don’t see one particular set of wavelengths. Some of us with XX chromosomes (females) may have tetrachromacy which means we see more than the three primary colors.
In the animal world, color is produced by many different techniques. The wings of the Morpho butterfly appear to be blue or violet depending on how the light strikes them. This is due to light-scattering scales that cover the insect’s wings. Dragonfly wings look similar to the Morpho wings, but the dragonfly’s color comes from waxy crystals that cover layers of the pigment melanin. We call the method of color production in these insects “structural color” because it is produced by the structure of the material rather than by pigments. Cameleons also use structural color using nanocrystals in their skin. They can tune the nanocrystals to reflect different colors. In this way, they can match the color of their environment or their mood.
We use color in many different ways such as camouflage, disguising foods to avoid their natural look, and to identify things. Much of the color that we see in the world has no practical value. For the most part, beauty is not a survival attribute. Evolutionary models attempt to explain some of the coloration we see around us, but in many cases, color is not a survival factor. Incredible color may be simply an expression of God’s desire for us to see the beauty and the majesty of His creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017