Is pink a real colour?
Forget rose-tinted glasses, you can thank our brains for remixing information received through our peepers for the pink colours we can see.
Light consists of electromagnetic waves, and colour depends on the wavelength. If colours were simply a naming scheme for wavelengths then pink is not one, because it is made up of more than one wavelength (it’s actually a mix of red and purple light). If you took a laser and tuned it across the visible wavelengths, from infrared through to ultraviolet, you would not pass pink on the way.
However, colours are not simply names for wavelengths – colours merely label our perception of light, once it has passed through our eyes.
Our eyes contain sensors favouring red, green and blue, the signals from which are remixed in our brain. Our brains and eyes are smart enough to reliably pick out the mix of wavelengths we call pink, and give it all kinds of cultural associations. Considering all of this, it can be easily argued pink is a real colour.
- Do we all see the same colours?
- Why do our eyes come in different colours?
- Why do we have favourite colours?
- Where does the colour go when a material fades in the Sun?
Asked by: Tim Ellam, Bath
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Jon is a Professor of Physics at University College London. He works on the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.