Red Sensitive

How do we see different colors?

Which colors are our eyes most sensitive to?
Which colors are the "primary colors of light"?
Is their primariness a feature of the colors themselves, or of the human eye?
When we see yellow light, does is necessarily mean that yellow photons are entering our eyes?

The light-sensitive retina of our eyes contains individual receptor cells, called "cone" cells because of their shape, that are sensitive to three different bands of color. One set is most sensitive to red light, another set is most sensitive to green, and another is most sensitive to blue.

Different colors of light from the scenes we look at have different frequencies (color is nothing more than the frequency of light, as light is a form of electromagnetic radiation). Colors with a frequency close to red, for example, stimulate the red-sensitive cones a lot, and stimulate the green-sensitive cones a little bit, and hardly affect the blue-sensitive cones at all. When the brain receives a strong "red" signal, combined with a weak "green" signal and hardly any "blue" signal, it interprets that as a reddish color. Other colors work in a similar way.

The additive primary colors are red, green, and blue. You can recreate the appearance of any color by appropriately mixing red, green, and blue light. The color you produce won't actually be the color you see—it will still be just a mixture of red, green, and blue—but it will fool your brain into thinking that it is some other color. For example, you can recreate yellow by mixing green and red light. The light is actually nothing more than red and green light put together in the same spot, but your brain will interpret this as yellow. Real yellow light actually has its own frequency, but human vision cannot tell the difference between a pure spectral yellow (light of one frequency) and a mix of red and green light.

The additive primaries are used for TV screens, movies, theatrical lighting, etc.

The subtractive primaries are cyan, yellow, and magenta. You use these when mixing paints, color filters or other media that remove light from a scene. You can combine them in a way that produces the appearance of any color you want. Of course, as with the additive primaries, you're just mixing three fixed colors, but your brain can't tell the difference.

The subtractive primaries are used for printing on paper, color filters, paints, inks, etc.

The primary quality of these colors is a function of the way the eye is designed. To us, a mix of red and green looks yellow, but to an alien from another planet … it would just look like a mix of red and green.

No, when we see "yellow" light, we cannot be sure that it is really yellow. It could be yellow for real (yellow photons), or it could just be a mix of red and green. We have absolutely no way to tell the difference with our eyes. We need special instruments to look at the spectrum of the light in order to find out if it's really yellow or just a mix of some other colors.

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