I find color to be an incredibly complex issue. Society in many ways has created an ideology of color. It teaches us color in terms of a pastel, two colors mixing together in art to form a third. Even as we grow older than this mode of thinking - color politic, you might say - still influences us; while some think it marks progress, wavelengths have only come to replace the role of paint in mixing together perception. In order to permeate all this, I venture to go to the source of color - the brain. Here much of metaphysical value - long shadowed in assumption - may be found.
Sight is unique in that all other senses when not used disappear. While laying on our beds at night with eye lids closed, vision still persists in the form of darkness (the color black). Other senses only seem to exist as we need them; the nose does not smell some default odor when not used.
All this has lead us to associate the color black with nothingness. Since sight plays such an important role in man’s interaction with the environment, perhaps this association proves useful insofar as it warns us that we are vulnerable. The absence of any kind of association - the complete cessation of sight in darkness - would by virtue of how sensation disappears necessitate the diversion of thought away from sight. To understand this, consider hearing. After a while of laying docile in your room, the sound of the AC exits the realm of your consciousness. If that AC were to shut down suddenly, you would not notice. Your inattention to the sound and that sound’s absence appear the same to you. Only after emerging from daydreaming to check your surroundings would you realize that something has changed. Now think of the same situation, but with sight in question. If the lights went out while daydreaming (assuming the thinker’s eyes were opened), he would be alerted to the change immediately. I am convinced the perception of blackness allows the brain to be more aware to changes in the visual field like these. This not to say that blackness only serves to alert us; obviously, without it we could not see black objects in the every day world.
Sound has the same qualities of sight; like color, it exhibits variation, coming in a plethora of unique and independent pitches. Each pitch also has an intensity; depending on the amount of photons or sound waves, the periphery system will send a determinate amount of variation signals to the brain, and the brain will choose based on the quantity of those signals some level of intensity. In sight, the gradient of this intensity marks the color black as its beginning point and from there works towards a brighter and brighter version. But in sound, no variation represents a nil intensity. Two other differences between the sense of hearing and sight include that no mechanism exists to detect distance (monocular depth and image overlay providing us this for sight), and that when many variations emit from one source we do not perceive as an aggregation some other variation (like we do in sight, with white).
Imagine that the human race evolved in caves, shielded from the sun. Our eyes shrunk, and echolocation came to replace them. We can thus detect the distances to nearby objects and form a matrix of the environment; our perception resembles sight in this way, but pitches replace color. Light has become so rare that we no longer see that distracting black plain in front of us, competing for attention, and when a beam of light happens to peak through a crack, it comes to us in a momentary flash of color. Once passed it fades back into inattention (like sound used to), not blackness. Sound has become so important that we no longer hear notes transitioning from a blaring noise to inattention. Another variation, maybe intelligible unless experienced, blends with a note as it fades away. In complete silence (a rare occasion), we hear this variation before us like we used to see black, and it fills the wholes of our perception; our ears can now hear the contents of a passage before us, and they can also hear the darkness if it be there.
Sound has developed into a primary sense. Having the necessary constituents - variation intensity, and depth perception - the brain chooses to format the information sent from the ears differently; specifically, it gives the auditory field a variation for darkness (the absence of information), as this level of perception necessitates it.
While seemingly non-nonsensical, please note that these extra-dimensions of sound lay outside of your experience, and according to Hume (except for one peculiar instance), one cannot envision an idea without basing it off of prior experience; in the same way spatial dwellers cannot imagine the 4th dimension, and a man born blind cannot picture sight, we cannot comprehend the extension of sound - well, only through comparison to color.
You might say that I shouldn’t call black a color. It’s the absence of color, not one of them. In a physical sense, blackness does result from nothingness - from the failure of photons to contact the eyes - but this causal relationship does not make black any less substantial than other colors. The brain uses black to represent nothingness. Another color unbeknownst to you could just as easily stand for the flat line shooting through your optic nerve in a unlighted room. This substitute would - like black -contrast the color representing the abundance of wavelength variety; the difference between these two colors would need to seem more apparent to us (intuitively) than that of any other possible pair of colors.
True blindness infers not only the absence of visual information but also the absence of the faculty of sight. A person with a healthy set of eyes may experience this state while day-dreaming. As his mind drifts to other matters, sight becomes neglected, and the man - truly - becomes blind for a while. If it so happens that he cannot return his attention back to sight.. well, we call that permanent blindness. I think this happens often as people whose eyes can only register black learn to ignore that dark plane and eventually to forget it for some time.
Suppose a consciousness similar to ours finds itself suspended weightlessly in a perfectly lit, blue sphere. This being does not remember any prior existence and - as if in a coma - has no body. If this consciousness shifts its field of vision (an action equatable to the sphere rotating), it would not perceive any change. The sphere’s perfect color - unaffected by shadow and thus lacking depth - appears from every possible vantage as pure blue. The consciousness thus has no manner by which to detect a rotation. Neither could it will a rotation because will - by definition - involves the conscious realization of subsequent change.
Because this being’s brain (or equivalent structure) formats consciousness in a manner similar to our own, we would know that after some time the brain would tune the pure blue out and default to a nothingness. With no other form of experience, the being would then have nothing to measure time against. Imagine that a red dot breaks into the field at some moment, revolving through it on the surface of the sphere. After a time of maybe infinite or momentary passage, the temporal sense therefore returns, and the being realizes that other colors exist - not just the blue which seemed like nothingness. Furthermore the being has something to see with - maybe an eye - which must exist relative in size to the dot. The red scrolls away from vision, but it persists in memory and forever provides a point of contrast.
Maybe we have been limited to an incomplete perception. From our own extended experience we know a stronger contrast exists than that between red and blue. Perhaps there exists an even greater one that we like the being have yet to see. Maybe the gradient of consciousness extends from the unconscious past our current point of subjectivity, and a more vivid forms of red exists. If we could attain this elevated perception in life, would we be perceiving a static blue better, or a different blue color?
To the extent of my knowledge, all these ideas are original unless otherwise attributed. Of course, they originate from a complex background, a manner of thinking impressed on me, and many ideas I probably heard and stored away to discover later as my own. Yet hopefully these words have opened some doors until now locked, gaining that coveted vanity of philosophers (originality) and stretching your mind.