A question regarding the relative perception of color.

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A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Individual » Thu Jan 15, 2009 4:48 am

Why does the human eye seem to break up the color spectrum into arbitrary bits?

To see what I mean, here's a picture of the color spectrum and the size of the relative frequencies of the various colors:
Image

In there, indigo isn't indicated, but indigo could be added... I should mention that I just noticed that I have difficulty really defining "indigo," because it's not a color I heard about much often when I was a kid. When I see indigo, I don't know how to distinguish that from blue or purple.

In the Abhidhamma's forty objects of meditation, the four forms of color meditation are:
  • nila - Blue, green (sometimes I see this translated as just "blue", do they mean cyan?)
  • pita - yellow
  • lohita - red
  • odata - white

With white, it's pretty obvious where it would be in the color spectrum (all the colors combined), but is there any objectivity to the three colors selected there? Why are these particular colors enumerated and not others, and could anyone possibly give a specific description of the color frequency (not just a vague metaphor)?

In the Buddhist flag, there is manjestha (scarlet), but it's not clear why this wouldn't be included as an object of meditation... And it's not really clear to me why they call it "scarlet," and yet it appears to be orange!

Image

And when they say prabaswara (the mixture of nila, pita, lohita, odata, and manjestha) in the suttas, exactly what color is that?

To give you an analogy of where I'm coming from: I took a look at Eastern music theory and am similarly perplexed. All western music divides the frequencies of sound into absolute pitches, into patterns of 12 (the chromatic scale). But in certain types of music theory in the East, a scale is arbitrarily decided with a root frequency, which can be made-up entirely on spot, and everything else is developed mathematically relative to that root frequency. And also, the frequencies of sound can be divided into more than patterns of 12, meaning that notes can be separated by quarter-tones or less... And it is interesting, because I can hear the difference between one quarter-tone and another, so it's not clear why western music should divide music in this way. In fact, it's not clear why there should be 12 notes in the chromatic scale and not 13, or 14... Or why the color spectrum should be divided one way and not another way...

...And yet... when I look at the color spectrum, if I divide it in a new way, it just doesn't seem right. And if I try to play music in weird scales, outside the chromatic scale, it just sounds like noise!

But there doesn't seem to be any justification for why I can't see colors in a new way, or any justification for why music in strange scales should sound like noise.

Oh, and also: Does Abhidhamma associate colors with any particular moods or virtues? Is there any particular ground for associating colors in this way?
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:44 am

Greetings Individual,

For a start, colour is a lot more complex than the pure spectral colours, which are just the outer edge of the Chromaticity Diagram. For example, you can make "white" from many combinations of two spectral colours. Current fluorescent lamps commonly use three.

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIE_1931_color_space
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hb ... n/cie.html

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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:29 am

i am completly lost.... what exactly are we talking about in relation to the dhamma? :shrug:
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 15, 2009 11:25 am

white is a tertiary colour made up of all the primary and secondary colours! but any time I have seen the flag described it has always stated orange for orange, and not scarlet which is red and the 3rd colour from the left of the flag!
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby thecap » Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:17 pm

Individual wrote:Why does the human eye seem to break up the color spectrum into arbitrary bits?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RGB_color_ ... C_and_blue

And what does this have to do with Dhamma? :shrug:
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Ben » Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:36 pm

Hi thecap,

thecap wrote:
Individual wrote:And what does this have to do with Dhamma? :shrug:


The original question by Individual was in relation to the significance of colours used in kasina meditation, in the buddhist flag, and whether the abhidhamma attributes virtues or moods to colours.


Hi Individual,
Sorry I haven't responded. I have been a bit busy to dip into Bhikkhu Bodhi's 'A comprehensive manual of Abhidhamma' to answer your question relating to the attribution of virtues or moods to colours. I don't recall a connection being made but my memory is a bit rusty. As for the significance of colours in kasina meditation, there maybe something in Buddhaghosa's Vissudhimagga. It won't be until the weekend when I get a chance to get time for a thorough look.
As with the buddhist flag you reproduced, my understanding is that there are two main versions of the same flag. There are some other sect/regional differences:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_flag
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Individual » Thu Jan 15, 2009 2:48 pm

jcsuperstar wrote:i am completly lost.... what exactly are we talking about in relation to the dhamma? :shrug:

In my thread, there's several specific questions there. To put them in a list and re-write them a bit, to make them easy to follow and more relevant to Abhidhamma, my questions are as follows:
1. Why does the eye-organ and eye-faculty seem to break up the color spectrum into arbitrary bits?
2. Is the color "nila" blue, some kind of "blue green,", or is it cyan?
3. Is there any particular reasoning for choosing the four particular colors (nila, pita, lohita, odata) as objects of meditation (kammatthana) in the Visuddhimagga?
4. Can the colors named in the suttas be described more precisely? This question especially includes manjestha and prabaswara.
5. Does Abhidhamma associate colors with any particular moods, virtues, or anything? If so, is there are any ground to this classification or is it just a convenient labeling, a mnemonic device?

Ben wrote:I have been a bit busy to dip into Bhikkhu Bodhi's 'A comprehensive manual of Abhidhamma' to answer your question relating to the attribution of virtues or moods to colours. I don't recall a connection being made but my memory is a bit rusty.

You know, now that I have money in the bank, I should probably go out and buy that book. :smile:
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby gavesako » Thu Jan 15, 2009 4:51 pm

"And why do you call it 'perception'? Because it perceives, thus it is called 'perception.' What does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. Because it perceives, it is called perception."


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.079.than.html
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jan 15, 2009 11:00 pm

Hi Individual,
Individual wrote:1. Why does the eye-organ and eye-faculty seem to break up the color spectrum into arbitrary bits?

To put my previous point more clearly, the colours of the spectrum (rainbow) are only a fraction of the colours that we perceive. There are many colours that are mixtures of those "pure" colours.
For example, you won't find purple in the rainbow, it's a mixture of violet and red. You won't find brown either.

How the eye-mind breaks them up has to do with the three colour sensors (cones) in the retina that are sensitive to three ranges of colour.
Image
http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/gbssci/P ... 12l2b.html

If you want to relate the colours used in kasinas, etc, to the science of colour you need to know a little about the latter...

On the following diagrams the "rainbow" colours run around the outside curve from 400-700 nm (violet to red).
The second diagram attempts to render the actual colours. The first simplifies them to make it easier to label.


Image
Image
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hb ... n/cie.html

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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 3:09 am

In the realisation of emptiness, are there are no colours? Is this the meaning of voidness? :reading:
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Re: A question regarding the relative perception of color.

Postby Individual » Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:51 am

I did find an exact description of the colors used. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta says that for color meditation, the colors are...

Yellow, like the christmas plate tree's flowers (pterospermum acerifolium)...
Image
Blue like a flax flower...
Image
Red, like a hibiscus flower...
Image
White, like the surface of Venus...
Image

It's entirely possible that the colors of these flowers have changed of course, that there might be a variation among different strains of these flowers, and also, up close, Venus isn't really white.
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