Van Gogh - Altered Visionary
I recently stumbled across a rather stunning idea. After visiting a design exhibit that modeled the visual experience of people with colorblindness, Kazunori Asada noticed that the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh on display had entered a new light, so to speak. Under the chromatically filtered light, Van Gogh’s more striking and curious color choices suddenly became natural and warm. It was if this was how they were meant to be viewed, Asada thought.
Did Vincent Van Gogh have a color vision deficiency?
Those of us with normal vision are able to differentiate the full range of visible wavelengths thanks to three different types of cone cell photoreceptors that, together, cover the range of the spectrum we are accustomed to seeing. Although they are most sensitive to blue, green and yellow-green light, they are termed “blue”, “green” and “red” receptors. This is known as “trichromacy”.
We probably all know someone who is colorblind, right? My dad is. There are three main classes of common “color-blindness”. These are termed “dichromacy”, since they are due to the lack of one photoreceptor. Protanopia is the lack of red receptors (their ROYGBIV rainbow looks like the one above), deuteranopia is the lack of green receptors, and tritanopia (the rarest) is the lack of blue receptors. What’s important is that these aren’t all-or-nothing situations. Someone’s vision can land on a very wide range of those deficiencies.
Asada developed a color vision simulation program that can convert any image to a close approximation of what colorblind people would see. You can play with it here, which I STRONGLY suggest you do. He also developed a free iOS and Android app that can take your photos through the eyes of the colorblind. I’ve played with it, and it’s awesome.
When you look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” above, the left side is the unchanged painting and the right side is moderate red receptor loss. Some of the more reddish and orange hues in the “normal” lefthand version become even yellows on the right, as we may expect for stars and moonlight. I think the contrast between the shadows and sky becomes more striking in the filtered version, too.
It’s definitely a matter of opinion, to some degree. Who knows what Van Gogh saw or intended us to see? But some paintings, like his sunflowers series, are even more striking in their differences. SImply put, they look more like actual sunflowers. Go and read Asada’s full analysis, complete with a bunch of side-by-side comparisons, and see for yourself.
Here’s the colorblindness simulator for you to play with your own images at home. Either way it’s the most interesting look at art through the lens of vision science since Monet’s ultraviolet eye.
The biggest 3D map of the universe, ever – the Sloan Digital Sky Survey captures 200 million galaxies. The spectra and motion collected in this ongoing project are like a lens into the early days of our universe.
Albert Einstein, one of artist Noma Bar’s brilliant minimalist portraits of cultural icons
I think there’s some personal blogging philosophy in this somewhere.
Stephen Fry’s fantastic essay on language, animated in kinetic typography.
Also see these 5 essential books on language.
AHAHAH!!! SO GOOOOOD!
Famous Physicists as Children
From left to right:
Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) - Most well known for Hawking radiation and theorems involving gravitational singularities. He suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease - and is one of the most well known scientists of our time.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (b. 1958) - Currently the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, Tyson is one of the leading science advocates in the world - and was one of the men who supported the demotion of Pluto.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996) - One of the most successful science popularizers of all time, Sagan was also the bestselling author of Cosmos, one of the most popular science books of all time. He was the first to propose that Jupiter’s moons Titan and Europa may hold liquid components of water on them.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) - The most well known genius in history, Albert Einstein was a boss. During his career, he revolutionized almost every area of Physics, including quantum mechanics and he effectively founded the study of Cosmology. His theory of general relativity has been wildly successful, despite ‘attacks’ by neutrinos.
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) - His most important contributions came via his path integral formulation of quantum mechanics and development of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED). Plus, he was a total badass.
This week a small gnome called Kern will be extremely honoured to visit CERN in Switzerland.
Why am I so excited about visiting CERN?
CERN is the world’s largest particle physics lab and is the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). On 30th March 2010 the LHC successfully smashed two proton beams travelling with 3.5 trillion electron volts of energy, resulting in a 7 trillion electron volt event. This event started us on the path to the expected discovery of the Higgs boson.
Why does the Higgs boson interest me?
The Higgs boson is a hypothetical, massive subatomic particle with zero electric charge. It is postulated to interact with other particles in such a way as to impart mass to them.
In easier terms, all objects are hypothesised to have mass as a result of a field called the Higgs Field. Fields are made up of a class of particles known as bosons, so the Higgs Field is composed of groups of particles called Higgs bosons. A particle accelerator such as CERN can smash particles together at near light speed to try to create the correct conditions to isolate Higgs bosons so that they can be detected. If they are detected and their properties match those predicted by Peter Higg’s hypothesis, then we will have an explanation for why matter has mass.
For a gnome studying weight, precision measurements and gravitational fields, all of this is fascinating. I am looking forward to talking to some of the scientists at CERN about their important research.
CERN was also the birthplace of the World Wide Web through an internal project called ENQUIRE in 1989. Thank you for your fine work Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau.
Now please excuse me if I don’t blink for the next few days. I won’t want to miss a moment of this visit!