Apr 262019

I had always thought Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” was kinda cheesy, due to a lack of scientific knowledge. Like, while the concept of a new, gross color that no one has ever seen before and therefore can’t describe in words is nicely creepy in principle, it just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get over that color is just frequency of the EM spectrum, and we see all the frequencies in our visible range. There is no unused frequency of light that a color could be hiding in which we’ve never seen, so the idea just kept kicking me out of the story.

This was another example of “a little knowledge is worse than none.” Because it turns out that there IS an alien color. One which we see, but which doesn’t correspond to any frequency of light in the visible spectrum. A color out of space actually exists!

We’ve even known it was special, different from all other colors, on some sub-conscious/psychic level. This is demonstrated by the fact that this color has, through much of human history, been reserved only for the ruling elite. It’s known as the royal color, and protected as such. Any lesser humans that dared to wear it could be punished, and in some places even executed.* Even to this day there are people who have such a powerful unnatural attraction to this color that they define themselves by their love of it.

That color is Purple.

Seriously, I had no idea that there is no wavelength of light that corresponds to purple, and it is an interpolation of our brains.** Our brains are freakin’ magic.

Which means “The Colour Out Of Space” is easily salvageable. Same psychic properties that drove people insane also messed with the cones in their eyes that created unique activation patterns which didn’t match any wavelength of light. Solved!

Yes, this was all a fancy way of sharing a cool video about how we see color, your welcome. :)


* the alternate hypothesis, that purple dye was very hard and costly to produce and so only the most powerful/wealthy could afford it, and in time it became a status symbol of that power/wealth and so lower classes were legally prevented from using it even when they could afford it, and has nothing to do with psychic phenomena, is clearly ridiculous and will not be entertained here.

** I also had no idea that violet and purple aren’t the same thing. This is why I’m not an artist of the color-using variety.

  7 Responses to “The Colour Out of Space IRL”

  1. I’m still a little scared to read HP.Lovecraft. He is so built up I am worried that I’ll read him and simply be confused as to what the big deal was about. I don’t need another LOTR in my life.

    People define themselves by a love of people kicking bits of plastic around a field. Not even doing it but watching others do it. I don’t think that people defining themselves by a thing is a comment about anything other than the person defining themselves. Keeping the special thing to yourself and making it a symbol of how awesome you are is a super common human activity and once again doesn’t comment on the things so much as the people.

    There might be something weird about the colour purple but I don’t think its use as a royal colour or people freaking out about it really indicates very much.

    • He’s also, like, and asshat. But because he was massively influential, you can spend the rest of your life reading works that are “lovecraftian” in tone, nature, setting, context, whatever… without having a negative experience of reading the actual words of a dude who had some very problematic (yes, even at the time) views about race.

    • You already know everything you need to know about HPL from cultural osmosis. To be honest, I don’t consider his actual works all that good. Some of them are pretty neat, but they are very repetitive. And, more importantly to me, they’re written in a really old style (like, it was old even in HPL’s day, he was emulating an older style *at the time*) which focuses on very slow story-telling and lots of physical description. This is understandable for a society without photography I suppose, but is very tedious to read.

      That being said, I love the genre of horror that he helped launch, and which now bears his name. So props to him for that!

  2. Color is even more complicated than that. It’s not activation in different types of cones per se; it’s how your brain interprets that. This is why you can have things that are literally called impossible colors. There is no way for something to be stably colored an impossible color (you ca;n have purple paint, but not impossible-color-paint), but a lot of Lovecraft is impossible, and impossible-color-paint doesn’t seem the most far fetched.

  3. So, I’m colorblind. Which effectively means that my receptors are slightly misaligned, (and I think one may be “weaker”, I still don’t have a solid grasp on the science of my (minor) disability) from those of most people. I have trouble distinguishing between lots of colors that people have no trouble with. Like, yes, violet and purple are indistinguishable to most people, but I have the same trouble with certain shades of green vs orange, red vs brown, etc etc.

    I can imagine somebody with a mutation in the other direction, maybe having a 4th receptor, being easily able to distinguish between purple and violet, and even see a bit into the IR or UV ranges.

    Anyway, just some musings on color as I have a fairly unique experience, or at least non standard, as I think ~10% of men have some form of colorblindness.

  4. Most of the colors we see are mixtures of wavelengths.. the leafs of a tree are green because the chlorophyll filters out mostly two specific wavelengths… and the remaining colors are perceived as green. The only difference is that for a lot of colors there is also a corresponding wavelength that looks the same to us. But not all of them, brown, white, purple and black (the absence of color) come to mind.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.