Saturday, February 28, 2015


On Thursday evening, my husband called me over and asked what colours this dress was.

A photo of a dress that could be a blue and black dress in bright light or a white and gold dress in deep shadow.

I thought it was obviously blue and black and said as much. He said he saw it as white and gold and then showed me the conversation on Tumblr about it. Apparently a lot of people see it as blue and black and a lot of people see it as white and gold. We were lucky enough to be able to rule out room lighting, monitor quality, and a bunch of other things, by virtue of us being in different  'camps' while looking at it together.

We were confused, so we googled for an image editor (pixlr, because apparently there are no e's on the internet). We took samples, one from the bit that looked blue to me and white to him, and another from the bit that looked black to me and gold to him. What we found made the whole thing make sense to me. The blue / white bits were a very light shade of blue, the black / gold bits were a very dark shade of gold. So the blue bits were so light he saw white, and the gold bits were so dark I saw black.

This white-balance illusion hit so hard because it felt like someone had been playing through the Monty Hall scenario and opened their chosen door, only to find there was unexpectedly disagreement over whether the thing they'd revealed was a goat or a car.I thought this was very interesting and posted about it on Facebook. Around about the same time, many, many other people saw this and wanted to share it. When you come across this, you're going to want to get as many opinions on it as possible, which is a great way to makes a thing go viral, which it promptly did. Just under my post on Facebook, someone else was talking about it. For a while there seemed to be almost nothing else on Twitter. There were Buzzfeed and Wired articles. It was on Reddit. There were interviews with the people that originally posted it, and with colour scientists. There was an XKCD comic.

I wasn't surprised that it got shared around so much. I was slightly surprised that for some people, it seemed to change colour, as it never did for me. But I was very surprised how vehemently some people were arguing that people who disagreed with them were wrong. I've seen people stating that there's obviously something wrong with the monitors of people seeing it the other way. I've seen people call the people stupid, or colour blind*, or 'deficient in some way' because their perception differed. So many people were saying that the dress was 'clearly', or 'obviously' the way they saw it. Many people wondered if every single person claiming they saw it the other way was lying, in some sort of gigantic internet troll conspiracy.

There were #TeamWhiteAndGold and #TeamBlueAndBlack hashtags on Twitter. Personally, I'm on #TeamCantWeAllJustGetAlong**. Now, I like a good argument as much as the next person, but I don't see the point in arguing with someone if there's no chance either of you will change your mind. Because, the dress is blue and black***, the only argument left to have is what colour people see it as, and expecting to change what the other person sees by force of argument is madness.

Another thing I've heard a lot of is people say is 'it's just a really badly taken photo, get over it'. But it's not about whether or not the photo accurately represents the dress (it kinda does, but only to some people). It's about how it divides people, reasonably neatly**** into two groups. It's an opportunity to realise that we all suffer from the typical mind fallacy. We all trust our own perceptions too much, and we don't trust what other people tell us about theirs enough. Most of the time, what two people perceive is close enough that we don't see the cracks, but this is a rare opportunity to do so. It's fascinating, but it's not really about the dress.

* Not that I think it's anything offensive about being colour blind, but someone isn't necessarily colour blind because they don't see a colour exactly the same way you do!
** Though this would be a terrible hashtag really. Most of your tweet is gone on it.
*** No, really, I'm not just saying that because that's the way I see it. The person who took the photo said that in person there is no doubt. Also, there are photos of the dress for sale. (You should read the reviews).
****I've met a few 'blue and gold' people, as well as a few other varients.

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