8/1/08

The Color Of Water

I had a debate today over whether water has an inherant color. After I won, it occured to me that this isn't just a trivial thing. Most people define the color of water by what it's reflecting. Blue ocean reflects the blue sky, grey lake reflects cloudy sky, etc. But despite how translucent water is, it still has an inherant color caused by selective absorption and scattering of the light spectrum. If you put a glass of absolute pure H2O in a totally white room and look at it, it would be a tiny bit blue.

This is important to realize when you perceive your environment. Everything is partially reflective, partially refractive, and partially absorptive. Just as the blue sky reflecting on water effects how you perceive that water, every object in the environment effects your phenominolpogical perception of other objects. Maurice Merleau-Ponty said a fire truck is red only because people call it red: words define an object just as an object defines a word. So what is red? It’s our perception of an object’s interaction with light as augmented by its context. If we call water colorless, we might as well say it doesn’t exist, and of course it exists. So therefore we can’t call it colorless. The difference is a fire truck absorbs more light than water. The firetruck may stand out, but the ocean has more light to offer.

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