My indigo colorblindness

The long and non-winding Ludlum road takes me back …
The long and non-winding Ludlum road takes me back …

About a year ago I discovered that I did not have the cognitive-perceptual handicap I always thought I’d had.

The scene: I’m a fifth-grader at Alexander Montessori School, located at 14850 SW 67th Ave. At the end of a road that is straight, flat, and goes on forever, and I still dream about it.

Walking from Dodger’s house to Ludlum Road.
Walking from Dodger’s house to Ludlum Road.
Driving from the Devonwood exit to Alexander Montessori.
Driving from the Devonwood exit to Alexander Montessori.

Alexander had a play area with a zip line—which was strung across a Hobbiton dale!

I met Aryn Rothfield behind the West Building every day to kiss her—and we both knew we were going there to kiss—but chickened out every freaking time. She brought me my first joint, to Spanish class, in a ornate Native American leather box. I smoked it with Dodger and didn’t feel a damn thing. And for the next three years, every time I smoked pot, I felt nothing. Until one time Dodger and I threw pebbles into the air and tried to dodge them on the way down in the Zeppa’s front yard. But that could have been placebo.

Aryn’s parents were cool. Along with Roger Miller, they were the coolest parents I’d ever known. They slept inside a glass pyramid. They smoked pot with Aryn. And they did the est training. I remember when Aryn told me about it:

My parents did the est training! Have you heard of it? You sit inside a room and can’t leave to pee and they call you ASSHOLES. It’s really great. You realize things that you do that fuck up your life and become transformed.
The Targ game was the greatest achievement of humankind up to that time (1980).
The Targ game was the greatest achievement of humankind up to that time (1980).

The next year, Aryn and I—along with another hot couple, Tor Hyams and Michelle Rabell—went to Washington DC. We took a train, and played spin the bottle along the way. During our trip, John Lennon was shot. That was December 8, 1980.

We held a seance and communicated with him. And later his ghost threw a sock from the bed into the sock drawer. I cried my eyes out—not from fear, but from the fact that our seance worked and that John cared enough about us and noticed us. When John Lennon’s ghost visits you and moves objects, you feel important.

And we saw A Christmas Carol, in winter, in Washington, with a stellar cast, and I was totally blown away!

And the hotel had the Targ arcade game! A Targ Mini, actually. (Read about the great Targ here, and play the actual original game via emulator by clicking the Targ screenshot below!)

Click the image to play. Type 5 to insert coin, 1 to start, and then use arrow keys and CTRL to shoot.
Click the image to play. Type 5 to insert coin, 1 to start, and then use arrow keys and CTRL to shoot.

Anyway, that was 5th grade. It was also in 5th grade that I finally learned about Roy G. Biv. It was my first mnemonic device and I was ecstatic. The second I heard it, it was locked in forever. Why can’t all things worth memorizing be so sticky?

But knowledge of Roy G. Biv also created a problem: How the fuck is indigo any different from blue? Because it’s “dark?” That’s what our teacher, Mr. Smaller, told us. But we couldn’t trust him. He wasn’t the brightest sloth in the swamp (his HR file listed his IQ at 98) and he infamously spelled energy ENERY. But when he told us about this color we’d never heard of, he called it a “dark band on the spectrum between blue and violet.”

That made no sense. Is there a gap in the spectrum between blue and violet that lets in anti-light from an occult dimension? Was this post-blue partly invisible, like ultraviolet? Indigo looked either blue or violet—therefore, there is no indigo.

Well, here are the bands from the gold standard of all color spectra, the Apple Color Picker. Here are the dark blue and dark violent placed side-by-side:

Indigo is supposed to be between them. But wait—we’re already cheating by adding darkness. We should be using normal colors and find the halfway point between them. Dark is not a valid ingredient for making colors on the spectrum. Indigo is either a creature of wavelength only or it does not exist.

OK, let’s go halfway between these. We’ll need the color wheel to do this. Here are the same colors on the wheel, placed side-by-side. Blue is 240° and violet is 270°:

So indigo should be halfway between them—at 255°:

This must be indigo!
This must be indigo!

How the fuck is this another color? Orange is surely not red and not yellow; it is it’s own distinct quale! Violet, also, I am sure is not blue and not red. I am sure of it! Green is the biggest winner of all the non-primaries. Green is nothing like yellow and nothing like blue. If I handed you blue and yellow and told you to “go between them in your imagination” and you’d never seen green before, you’d be screwed. But indigo—as you can plainly see—is a joke. It’s no different from dark blue.

How does indigo belong as a letter in Roy G. Biv? How it is as valid as green, orange, and violet? We already have there primaries and three secondaries: red [orange] yellow [green] blue [violet] (red again). Indigo is not a secondary. It is not distinguishable. It is on a par with yellow-green and reddish-orange. If we include indigo in our palette of Distinct Name-worthy Colors, then we have to include red-orange, orange-yellow, and so on. These are the tertiary colors and have their own names:

Tertiary color names
Fancy NameHyphenated Name
Vermilionred-orange
Amberorange-yellow
Chartreuseyellow-green
Tealgreen-blue
Indigoblue-violet
Magentaviolet-red

The three primaries, three secondaries, and six tertiaries. They call indigo violet here, and violet purple.
The three primaries, three secondaries, and six tertiaries. They call indigo violet here, and violet purple.

… which would rename Mr. Rainbow as Rvoayc Gt. Bivm.

The fact that indigo was supposed to be distinct enough to earn its own name had me worried all my life. At least once a year I would reflect on my inability to detect it. Everyone else, I thought, had indigo in their experience. I figured I had indigo colorblindness, and often mourned my handicap. I would stare at indigo color swatches and try to see something besides lame dark blue. I would stare and stare and try to force the presence of some non-blue or non-violet but my indigo awareness never awoke.

So you can imagine how happy I was last year when I discovered that nobody can see indigo. It doesn’t exist. Newton, whose primary interests were alchemy, astrology and other poetic-metaphorical treatments of natural domains, added indigo in order to have the number of official colors add up to seven. Just like Kepler tried to reconfigure his and Tycho’s observations to match his expectation that planetary motion must be circular. (The supralunar realm was not only timeless, but also symmetrical. This suggests, by the way, that our innate notion perfection is derived from our idea of zero.)

Indigo owes its false existence to the Procrustean Bed of Seven. Now you know.

One last thing. While researching this epoch-making post, I saw this graphic on Wikipedia:

The three light primaries, RGB. If you stare at the green sector long enough  you will see that the yellow area really is red overlaying green.
The three light primaries, RGB. If you stare at the green sector long enough you will see that the yellow area really is red overlaying green.

If you stare at the green sector in the above photo long enough you will see that the yellow area really is red overlaying green. It will really happen. Just keep staring.