What Are Colours?

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K Tempest Bradford on twitter linked to an post of hers from a few years ago, Mental Noodling About Color, Ancient Peoples, and Alien Races, which got me thinking.

The fact the spectrum of colours we use to describe the world came about fairly recently (really recently when talking about the whole span of the human species) and before then people talked about colour in very different ways. The author Kameron Hurley linked to this page on Ancient Greek Color Vision that says how for the Greeks the words they used to describe colour were more than just about the tone as it were. It was about the qualities they associated with that colour, the texture of it, shadow and many other elements.

Obviously this isn’t something we think about much as we take it for granted that we have this vast vocabulary of words to paint the world around us in. But what if we didn’t? Or, perhaps more interestingly from the perspective of a budding sci-fi writer, what if that changed in the future?

It’s got me thinking about how I talk about the details of the settings in my books. Colours not only describe the world around us but also use them to define it. In stories set a thousand years in the future, where the galaxy as been colonised and interstellar travel is common, wouldn’t our concept of what colours mean have changed?

With space itself being so freaking big, and so black for the most part, I wonder if the old dichotomy of light = good and dark = bad would remain. I’d hope not given the current worrying implications it has towards skin colour but then our society as a whole still needs to deal with the racism that exists today which is something people far more qualified than me have talked about with far greater authority.

It strikes me as a possibility that with a greater part of the population being exposed to space, and with all the changes that spreading across the galaxy would bring, that a new language around colours and how the world is described might evolve, existing words used in new ways to define the world around us.

Definitely something I’m going to think about more and try and develop, but I thought it was interesting enough to share.