Category Archives: Senses

The Illusion of Colour

How ‘real’ the things we perceive are has always been a big philosophical questions. How can we really know if what we see if truly there, and if what we see is the same as what others see? We can’t, really, but on a day-to-day basis most people end up going along with the idea that what they see must be real – it all gets a bit complicated otherwise.

One of the questions which often gets thrown in with this lot is the ‘Do other people see the same colours as me?’ question. Colour is something which is a matter of perception – it isn’t an exact quality of nature, it’s do to with the wavelengths of light that we perceive, and how we perceive them. Colour is a property of our brains, not the outside world.

Okay, but, you know, at the very least, we do have something that we can use to signify colour in a scientific way, right? Well, kind of. As I mentioned above, in science, if you’re talking about ‘red’ light, you’re talking about light with wavelength of about 650nm; ‘green’ light has a wavelength of about 510nm; and ‘blue’ light has a wavelength of about 475nm. All in all, the colours we all see range in wavelengths from about 400nm to 700nm, with red being the longest, and violet being the shortest, as can be seen on the spectrum below.

Colour Spectrum!

Have a good hard look at that spectrum. See anything strange? I doubt it, but if you looked good and hard, you might notice something. Pink is missing. Now, I’m talking about true pink, that deep magenta shade, not the baby pink you get from mixing together red and white. And no, it’s not hiding anywhere – it isn’t on the colour spectrum. There is no wavelength that corresponds to pink.

So, how do we see it?

Well, first let me fill you in on something. All the colour in the spectrum have a complimentary colour, an ‘opposite’, so to speak, which lies an equal (but opposite) distance from the center (or green bit) of the spectrum. If you look at a dot of colour for a while, then look at a white piece of paper, you should see that complementary colour. As green is in the middle, it doesn’t have a complimentary colour – both red and violet are an equal distance from it.

So, when your eye detect a mixture of ‘red’ and ‘violet’ wavelengths, it has two options as how to form a colour. It can either try and ‘average’ out the wavelengths, giving you green (which doesn’t really resemble red or violet at all), or it can create a ‘complementary’ colour to green, and mix the red and violet together. And tada, you have pink!

So, well, pink doesn’t exist. Or does it? In reality, pink isn’t the only colour not to appear in the spectrum (I mean, there’s no mauve or brown, for instance), and there’s even talk that it’s possible to see strange, bizarre colours such as reddish greens, and yellowish blues. At the end of the day, every single colour we see is a kind of optical illusion, as they only come into existence within our brains. Still, I think that pink has even less claim to validity that most colours, given it doesn’t have a representative wavelength on the light spectrum. So, the next time someone compliments you on the brilliant colour of your magenta suit, just tell them that it’s an optical illusion.


Well, it’s been an age since I last posted, and I’m truly sorry. Things got hectic, and I got caught up in other research (which I hope to post on here at some point) and general life. Back to normal soon I hope however. 

I was first informed about the invalidity of pink through a brilliant Cracked article (which now, somehow I can’t find), and found out a little more from the brilliant minds at Scientific America, and also worked out a lot of the bits and bobs through my own scientific education.

Bit of a shout out to my dad – his ridiculously colourful fashion sense has definitely influenced the way I think about pink and other colours. He can be found here (with a ridiculous amount of puns) on Twitter! 

“Linear visible spectrum” by Gringer – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Aromatic Identities

Our sense of smell is a truly astonishing thing. Although humans have fewer olfactory receptor genes (so, basically, genes which allow you to smell a greater range of scents) than most mammals, because of our higher brain power, we’re still damn good at smelling what is what. In fact, what makes scent amazing and interesting is how little it has to do with our nose, and how much about our brain. Of course, without noses we’d be unable to smell anything. But that’s just pure mechanics. Where things get really interesting is how those smells get processed by the brain. The signals from our noise when we smell stuff terminate right next to our amygdala, which has a large role in how we process our memories. This means that scent is very strongly linked to memories for us – with memories evoked by scent often being far more emotional and evocative than that of memories evoked by sight or sound. Even more interesting, the memories evoked by scent often come from the earliest years of our lives – so it really goes back all the way, bringing back experiences which are often unreachable through sight and sound.

Because of all this, it’s interesting to see how scent can define us. Can a personality profile tell us what scents we’d like; or vice versa , can the scents we like reflect our personalities? This is, in essence, what Fragrance Lab at Selfridges is attempting to do – find your perfume prescription based on primarily on a personality profile, and secondarily on your reactions to a kind of “scent adventure”, culminating in the ‘fragrance garden’, where you’re guided through a number of rooms filled with different fragrances. You’ll smell things you love, and never want to leave (I was so wrapped up in smelling books that I got completely lost for a few minutes!), and odors you’ll hate so much that you’ll wonder how anyone could like them. Yet some people still do – the fragrances you like can define you in a way your favourite colour or texture never could, because of their strong link  to memory.

I had the very lucky chance to go through the Fragrance Lab – the Immersive Experience, as they call it, when you do both the personality profile and get to go on a “scent adventure” (my own name for it, because that’s basically what it felt like!) which culminates in an amazing “fragrance garden” (theirs). From this, you get your own fragrance prescription (which you get a bottle of), which is built up mainly from your personality profile. The fragrance prescription even influences the kind of bottle your fragrance comes in – which it’s modern, or classic, or something else entirely!

I actually had two fragrance prescriptions, the first being simply from my personality profile. This was intensely modern, and unusual – something that would easily stand out of the crowd. However, my “scent adventure” revealed that however modern and unique I may think I am, I’ve got a massive soft stop for antiquity. My second (and final) perfume prescription – number 147 – was incorporated that as well.

Modern and outgoing, but with an immense sense of nostalgia for the old. Pretty much me – I’m forward thinking, and very much ‘out with the old and in with the new’ when it comes to pretty much everything, but then I’m a sucker for beautiful antiquity. Give me a massive wooden library with leather chairs and stacks of old books over a shiny new iPad or eBook anyday. To quote, the key fragrance notes are ‘antique wood, whiskey, and fern’,  seeming to have a hint of spice to it, and coming in a classic glass bottle – it’s a scent which brings me back to curling up in the corner and reading books, while my Mum burns frankincense in the next room, which just slowly makes its way towards me. It’s also very different from my other perfumes, my favourite of which is very clean cut, and fresh and androgynous. This is far more deep and dusky – a scent I’m very glad to be able to add to my shelf – something more comforting and which I can just relax into. I often use scent as a way of projecting elements of myself which are perhaps not as strong otherwise – this is a more rounded fragrance which I could say expressed all of me. It’s strong yet understated, confident get still slightly reserved, with a hint of the unusual.

To see yourself profiled through fragrance is a very unique and wonderful experience – I may have taken hundreds of online personality tests, but this really reveals something deeper, especially  on the “scent adventure”. The Fragrance Lab was a truly amazing experience, something I’m so pleased I was able to take part in, and something I’d recommend to others quickly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to smelling my perfume (it’s addictive, but that might just be the high alcohol content!) and daydreaming about massive libraries and old books.  – oh Alexandria, how I mourn you!

First, I have to thank my sister Tiffany for getting me my spot in the Fragrance Lab – I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience it! Also, thanks to everyone who worked on and built the Fragrance Lab, creating such a unique and interesting (and also revealing!) experience, and also Selfridges for hosting it. 

I never realised how much scent meant to me – how much I hated certain smells, and was comforted by others. Yes, I knew about the fact that it was the most evocative sense, but I had never really experienced it for myself up till now. Fragrance Lab really opened up my nose, so to speak. 

What does smell mean for you? Are there certain smells which disgust you, but others love? And what makes a fragrance beautiful, and makes you want to wear it – does it have to evokes memories, or maybe project an image? Or do you try and find scents that fully evoke yourself, and nothing else – not something to hide behind or blur the corners, but to fully outline yourself, and nothing else.