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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Is it Easy Seeing Green?

November 3, 2015

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For all humans reading this, the answer is yes! Human eyes can perceive more shades of green than any other color. But why green? Shouldn’t we be able to see all colors equally? On a purely scientific level, our vision gives green more weight because two out of the three types of cones in our retinas—medium and long cones—are most sensitive to the part of the spectrum of light that we perceive as green. Short cones favor the blue end of the spectrum, but the other two overlap in the middle, which is the sweet spot for all things green. But basic biology aside, is there a reason that our eyes evolved this way? There’s more interpretive debate here, but most scientists agree that it’s because we evolved in predominantly green environments like forests and jungles where, Darwin would argue, our ancestors who could perceive more shades of green were better equipped to distinguish the tastiest food sources. So, with this high-def color vision, human eyes are pretty sophisticated, huh? Enter the mighty mantis shrimp, which has twelve types of photoreceptors (versus humans’ three), which allow them to perceive a wider slice of the EM spectrum. Also, unlike mere humans, the peacock mantis shrimp can punch with the acceleration of a .22 caliber bullet. That’s 50 times faster than the blink of a human eye. It’s enough to make people green with envy…

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