For the vast majority of us, the world is emblazoned in millions of colors, from intense solids to the most subtle shades and blends. While it is impossible to describe color to another person in absolute terms our color sense is consistent enough that to most of us stop signs look red and lines in the road are yellow.
Our perception of color is the perception of wave lengths, of course. The structure of our retina includes three types of specialized “cone” cells each of which perceive specific wave lengths; one red, one blue and one green. The brain receives and mixes these signals to produce what we see as full, living color. There is no movie screen in our heads upon which an image is “projected,” just information processed by electro-chemical signals in billions of eye and brain cells.
Though nearly every animal has eyes, not all of them see millions of colors; why human beings see the world in such a colorful way remains a matter of some speculation. Among the explanations, the acclaimed neuro-scientist and physician V.S. Ramachandran posits a theory of “ripe fruits and red rumps.” He believes that in our transition from primitive primates to homo sapiens, our color sense evolved specifically to find colorful ripened fruits and to receive sexual signals from flushing. These two activities consume and continue to consume an enormous amount of human energy; if you harbor doubts about this just watch an hour of commercial TV and keep track of the number of food and sex-related commercials.
It’s easy to forget that the colorful world we see, hear, touch, smell and taste is actually internally generated. Our ability to interact in harmony with the environment is so exquisitely refined and immediate it seems as if a fixed reality exists. Despite this persistent illusion, everything exists in the mind. This is not to say that a candle flame that burns is an illusion; conventionally things seem to exist, but it is mind that separates, observes and names a candle flame. Without an observing mind, language and the discrimination that arises from it, does a thing called “candle flame” objectively exist? If so, how is this proven?
Many neuro-scientists believe that self-consciousness is “emergent,” meaning that such awareness spontaneously arises out of the physical assemblage and processing function of the brain’s 100 billion neurons making trillions of synaptic connections. Naturalists long thought that human beings alone were self-aware but it has become increasingly obvious that other animals are also capable of this quality of mind.
On the deepest level, we are all quantum beings, which is to say the almost infinitely small quantum “bits” of which we all comprised operate within a set of probabilities only partially understood. Einstein called this realm “spooky,” and famously rejected quantum physics with comments about God not playing dice with the universe. In the quantum realm things both exist and do not exist at the same time and are connected across great distance faster than the speed of light.
While mechanically we may be ultra-sophisticated “ripe fruit and red rump” primates, consciousness may reflect a deeper reality having nothing to do with brain structure: a quantum-entangled universal all-pervading phenomenon, and each of us subtle self-knowing oscillating interconnected energy fields always at one with the universe.