I want you to do me a favor. Take a long hard look at that circle right there. Now I want you to tell me what color it is.
If you said pink or magenta, you’d be very wrong. In fact, it’s not a color at all. “Poppycock,” I can hear you say. “That’s a load of bollocks!” some of you have surely cried out (if you were English, I guess). “It’s not black or white, therefore it must be a color!” In any other circumstance, I would have your back with that one, but this is a special case.
Before you get out your pitchforks and start calling me a witch (wait, is witch just the feminine form? What’s the masculine version?), I’m going to prove to you in a couple of different ways how the color magenta is really just a figment of your imagination. No, this isn’t one of those stupid jokes where some idiot uses a bunch of circular logic to make you believe something stupid like whales don’t swim or something; well OK, I may be an idiot, but this is very real and based on physics.
Proof #1: Staring at a computer screen for fun and profit
Stare at the above circle for about a minute, focusing on it the entire time. After you finish your minute of silent staring while your co-workers wonder if you’ve finally lost the last of your marbles, stare at something completely white (e.g. a sheet of printer paper). What color is the circle that happens to appear on said sheet of paper? If you said green, you’d be correct.
But wait, shouldn’t green be complimentary to red?
“What gives,” you ask. The truth is, the complimentary color to red is actually turquoise (a.k.a. cyan). Our elementary schools have been teaching us the wrong goddamned art theory, and I for one have had enough! Whose streets? OUR STREETS!!! *ahem* I apologize for that. Anyways, complimentary colors are actually defined by their position relative to each other on the ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) color scale.
Proof #2: Color spectrum fun
If you take any color, and go exactly half way backwards/forwards from where you are, you’ll find that color’s complimentary. For example, you’ll notice that the brightest red appears at about the 20% mark. If you go half way across the chart (to the right), you’ll find that thin line of turquoise. Orange? Half way up is blue. Purple? Half way back is blue.
Here’s the point where you should be asking: “But where does green fit in in all of this? How can something in the middle have an opposite? Wouldn’t that be black?”
You see, magenta on a computer screen is created using a circular color wheel model. You add a little red and a little violet, and presto finito: magenta. The problem is that in reality, you can’t have light coming from both ends of the spectrum at the same time. The longer wavelength (the color red) would mix with the shorter wavelength (violet) and effectively cancel a portion of each other out, and we’d end up with… green.
So how are we able to see the color magenta even if it doesn’t exist? Well, it’s a combination of a few things, but mainly it’s that our brains seem to intuitively know that we have a penchant for infinites. Whether it’s the fact that round things seem to roll better, that we ourselves live in an infinite universe, or even just that we like donuts, our brains just seem to “know” that we like fully circular concepts, so it somehow tricks us into believing that the color wheel can exist, even if in reality, it’s not circular at all; it’s actually more of a plane (and by plane, I mean flat and extending; not shaped like a 747).
You still don’t believe me? Ok, where do you think the names “ultraviolet” (as in ultraviolet/UV rays) or “infrared” (as in your TV remote) come from? One is just below visible red in the wavelength scale, and one is just above violet. And the scales continue on in both directions too; the colors we see are just the visible wavelengths. X-rays? Same thing. Just lower frequency. Sound? You got it.
Now that I’ve shattered your childhood dreams of ever being able to research the color magenta and how it could potentially be a source of infinite energy for your master’s thesis, feel free to delve into the art of sandwich creation; I could really use a pizza sub right now.