How Impossible Colors Work

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Author's Note: How Impossible Colors Work

Let's take a moment to appreciate the miracle that is color vision. The animal kingdom has evolved the biological technology to detect subtle variations in the energy wavelengths of reflected light and translate that data into 3-D color images. It's estimated that humans can see as many as 10 million different colors. Why in the heck did we evolve this ability; so Crayola could release a 10 million pack of crayons? Some evolutionary biologists believe trichromate color vision evolved in primates to help us spot colorful berries. Other animals have eyes and brains that can see beyond the visible spectrum. Honeybees can see in infrared. Butterflies and some fish perceive ultraviolet light. The existence of impossible colors makes you wonder what else is out there that we can't see ... yet.

Related Articles


  • Billock, Vincent A.; Tsou, Brian H. "'Impossible' Colors: See Hues That Don't Exist." Scientific American. February 2010 (May 30, 2015)
  • Nassau, Kurt. "Colour." Encyclopaedia Britannica (May 30, 2015)
  • Pantone. "How Do We See Color?" (May 30, 2015)
  • Wilkins, Alasdair. "Train Yourself to See Impossible Colors." io9. Dec. 9, 2010 (May 30, 2015)
  • Wolchover, Natalie. "Red-Green & Blue-Yellow: The Stunning Colors You Can't See." Live Science. Jan. 17, 2012 (May 30, 2015)

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