tumblr_nkcjuq8Tdr1tnacy1o1_500By now you’ve probably seen #theDress and have strong views on what color it is (white and gold).  Don’t worry, this post isn’t exactly about the dress. There’s already been enough discussion, including on the philosophical issues.

Instead, I want to draw your attention to something related, something that we can use to help explain to students what philosophy is and why it’s worthwhile. It has to do with the fact that most cultures in human history couldn’t see the color blue. Or to be more accurate, they did not recognize it. Naming and recognizing blue is relatively new.

imgresJules Davidoff (Goldsmith, University of London)
conducted experiments with the Himba tribe in Nambia. These people have no word for blue and do not distinguish it from green. So when presented with this image, Himba tribespeople typically couldn’t pick out which square was a different color.


However, they have a lot more words for green than we do in English. When shown this image, they could readily pick out the different square. Can you?

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 3.58.34 PMTo be honest, I had a hard time picking out which one was different. I had a guess, then after 30 seconds or so changed my mind. In the end, I got it right in the end, but wasn’t easy. I’d likely have missed it completely if not asked to find one that was different. (Follow the “most cultures…” link above to see the answer.)

I plan on using this example as part of my start-of-term lecture this fall. The point is that we already can see plenty of distinctions easily. But there are plenty that we miss too, simply because we don’t have the words or concepts at hand to notice them. Part of what philosophy does is (a) inform you  about important distinctions you’ve not seen before and (b) teach you how to make new distinction on your own.