Hey, Fickle Readers! Our 24-hour search for an explanation as to why some people saw a picture of a blue-and-black dress as a yellow-and-gold dress is finally at an end! In his impressively timed and sometimes mind-bogglingly technical article, Adam Rogers of Wired explains that the reason why some people insist that they see one set of colors and others insist on another set has to do with what wavelength of light their brains think is being reflected in the picture. Apparently (and Rogers consulted a neuroscientist who’s devoted 30 years to studying how people perceive color, so you know he knows a little more about the phenomenon than the guy who credited one’s emotional state to the way one’s eyeballs work), whenever you look at an object your brain automatically takes into account the colors of both the object and the light source that’s illuminating it. Then your brain handily filters out the color of the light source and leaves you with the “real” color of the object. As with many brain functions, however, the system isn’t fool-proof. “This image…hits some kind of perceptual boundary,” says Rogers, and confuses the brain as to what kind of daylight it’s looking at: if your brain sees an image in blue light, it takes out the blue and leaves you with yellow and gold; if you perceive the image in gold light, your brain adjusts to blue and black.
One interesting possibility: Bevil Conway, another neuroscientist, speculates that the people who see yellow and gold would be used to seeing the dress under strong sunlight, and that he guesses “night owls are more likely to see it as blue-black.” If the Fickle-Spacetime household is any indication, he’s right. I was the only one in my family to see the dress as blue, and I regularly stay up way way way too late. The Inspector, an inveterate morning person, saw yellow and white, and Little Fickle, who goes to bed at 8:30, saw brown and white.
And something else I just noticed: in the Wired article, there’s a gif that flashes between a very light pic of the dress and a much darker one. If I just look at the very top of the high-white-contrast photo, I, the only stubborn bluesayer in the family, can see gold and white.
Will wonders never cease?