My brother, who gave me this facetted rabbit asked me to take a photo of it creating rainbows. Though tiny, you can see them there on the bottle behind it.
I was surprised by the interest in this photo. Perhaps I should not have been. Rainbows capture our attention. Whether arching out in nature or resulting from light dispersing through objects, we are delighted by their ephemeral beauty.
Our ability to perceive rainbows can also be thought provoking. Color vision is a mysterious part of our highly sensitive but limited apparatus to sense what is out there. Other animals’ vision can be quite different.
At a fundamental level the colors we can see are a function of how our human eyes and brains work. In most humans, three types of cone cells are triggered by different wave lengths of light and the results are combined by our brains so we can distinguish at least a million colors.
Color blindness results from having two normal and one mutant cone cell. The daughters of color-blind men may be born with a fourth type of cone cell and in theory, these tetrachromat daughters can perceive many millions of additional colors. However, it may take practice for them to activate this ability, and the natural world may not provide many opportunities for such practice.
The study of color vision involves many disciplines and the elusive nature of personal subjective experience adds to the challenge. Associations matter, and color preferences can differ by culture. That, however, takes nothing away from the wonder we feel when seeing a spectrum array of colors, however we perceive them, laid before us in a rainbow.