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The Color Pink Does Not Exist (Really)

Baby pink. Carnation pink. Bubblegum pink.

The color pink doesn't actually exist...scientifically.

pink roses The color pink does not scientifically exist. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Think of Roy G. Biv -- the mnemonic you may have used in high school science to memorize the order of the visible light frequency spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet). Hmm, no "P" for pink.

visible light spectrum The visible light spectrum. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

But we can see what is considered the color pink, so what gives?

Melissa with the "interested fact" website Today I Found Out explained that the "answer lies in color theory." Here's a bit of her lengthy explanation:

At the back of your eyeball, sitting on the thin, light-sensitive retina, are millions of rods and cones. The rods (all 120 million) are all the same and each is sensitive, and only responds, to light or its absence. On the other hand, the cones (only 6-7 million) come in three types: red-, green- and blue- sensitive.

[…]

The three primary colors (RGB) are each typically detected by their respective cones, although green perception may also involve the blue and red cones (which helps explain color-blindness). When it comes to the other colors, though, it is a bit more complicated.

Consider yellow. It exists as a wavelength, but your eye lacks yellow-sensitive cones. In that absence, yellow activates your red and green cones, and, firing together, they send a message to your brain. There, your noggin translates the red and green transmissions into yellow. Likewise, blue cones work with green cones to produce cyan and with red cones to produce magenta.

pink Image source: Shutterstock

Sometimes, one type of cone is dominant and a second only partially activates. For example, violet fully activates blue cones, but only half-heartedly works on the red. Both orange and brown, however, have red as the dominant cone type with green only partially activated.

Furthermore, there are colors that require all three types of cones. White occurs when all cones fire completely, while black is perceived when no cones are activated. Grey happens when all three cone types react, but only partially.

Pink (light pink, not magenta) falls into this last category. To be perceived, it needs red cones to fully react, and both green and blue cones to only partially activate.

Michael Moyer for Scientific American took a slightly different approach the color pink issue in a blog post penned in 2012:

Color, on the other hand, is all in your head. “Color is not actually a property of light or of objects that reflect light,” wrote the biologist Timothy H. Goldsmith in his 2006 Scientific American article What Birds See. “It is a sensation that arises within the brain.” My colleagues at Scientific American Mindhave for years been elucidating the ways in which the optic system convertselectromagnetic radiation into color, a mysterious and fascinating process (and one that can go wrong in interesting ways). Recent research even indicates that people can be made to see “forbidden colors“—greens that are tinted red, or blues that appear yellow.

Pink is real—or it is not—but it is just as real or not-real as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Minute Physics also put together a video a couple of years ago that explains the non-existence of the color light pink in less than a minute:

Read more details about the science behind visible light and how we perceive color in the full post on Today I Found Out.

(H/T: Gizmodo)

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Featured image via Shutterstock.

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