The above image is of #TheDress, the fiercely debated internet meme of Feb 26, 2015. I know the discussion about whether the colour of the dress is white&gold or blue&black is ancient history now, 4 days later. But, I’ve realized that the colour of The Dress has messed with more than my eyes. (I see white&gold, BTW, but the manufacturer of the dress indicates it is made in blue&black)
What we see with our eyes is a major part of how we view reality and frame our understanding of the world. Maybe it’s the largest part, at least for me. There are some people out there who won’t believe anything unless they see it with their own eyes, and that most everything else is a conspiracy or hoax. And while I’m not a conspiracist by nature, I admit that when I first saw this dress and claims by some people to see the colour as blue&black, I first thought it was some elaborate internet in-joke or hoax being played on me and half the internet, or that something was going on with my screen.
When I realized there was legitimate debate going on about the colour, I then started to doubt my own vision (which is also admittedly not razor sharp). Then that led to a bit of existential angst, because I realized that if two of us are standing together looking at the same thing, and seeing two completely different things, how can we trust our own perception of reality? This feeling is magnified even more so because the object that I am looking at (colours of a dress) is so trivial. If I can’t trust what I see about something so trivial, how can I trust what I know and see about more complex and important matters, like love, joy, disappointment, or meaning?
Then to extend further, if two people can’t agree on something as trivial as colours of a dress, how can we have any hope to agree on foundational facts to build towards agreements in conflicts over government policy, religion, our rights, or priorities? We can’t just “agree to disagree” on every single thing, that just leads to greater inertia where nothing changes. I was starting to get down on these despairing kind of thoughts, so of course, I went to look at this dress business some more on the internet.
There are several scientific explanations of what is happening (like here and here), which is comforting to know what is likely going on with my eyes. I am also taking some solace in reminding myself that this debate is over a digital image. Digital images that are at the mercy of the digital sensors for capturing the exposure and white balance, and that can be altered in a myriad of ways in post-production. It’s another reminder to be wary about anything we see on the internet.
So I guess if I think about it that way, I am someone who would have to see it in real life to truly believe it. Huh. Who would’ve thought.
Image source: Tumblr / Swiked