IAP 2024 Course

The phenomenon of Color: from Newton to Darwin

What is color ? Is it a physical quantity ? Is it an experience ? Do animals perceive color ?

The phenomenon of Color: From Newton to Darwin  is proposed as a series of three lectures which explore the phenomenon of color, and its significance in biological vision. Each session will be about 1-1.5 hours, consisting of a 30-40 minute lecture, followed by a discussion. Below, you will find the course outline and the logistical details.

Course Outline

Lecture 1. Color as substance
The material and anatomical origins of color

We will look at a simple, physics-based model of how light interacts with surfaces and retinal photo-pigments to produce “color”. We will explore the concept of metameric surfaces, estimate the dimensionality of the color experience, and discuss the idea of opponency signaling.

Lecture 2. Color as quale
The perceptual and cognitive basis of color

We will examine color illusions and illustrate how sensing, on its own, does not explain perception. We will discuss higher-order color experiences such as memory colors and color constancy. Finally, we will explore the interaction between language and color.

Lecture 3. Color as an emergent trait
The evolutionary and behavioral history of color

In this final session we will address the question: why color ? We will discuss the existence of color quasi-invariants, and how they may relate to our evolutionary history. We will explore the diversity in color sensing across species, and discuss color as a key evolutionary trait that has shaped how we experience and act in the world.

Course Details

None. However, basic notions of optics, linear algebra, evolutionary theory, and signal processing will be helpful in getting the most out of the discussions.

Tushar Chauhan

15, 22, and 29 January 2024

12.00-13.00 (13.30, depending on the discussions)

Building 46 (Room: TBD)

Please email the instructor at :  tchauhan AT mit DOT edu

Attendance Requirement
Participants must attend all sessions