Transcript: Why do some cultures have no word for blue?

Dr. James Fox

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Hello. I'm James Fox. I'm director of studies in History of Art at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. And this is my Garden talk. Today we have Dr James Fox back in The Garden to continue our journey together into the cultural history of colour. I am so excited for you to hear it from James and for you all to bask in the brilliance of the world of colour. James, it's lovely to see you again welcome you to say thanks for having me now in your last talk. We had so many great questions from our members that we weren't even able to get through all of them.

So I thought I'd actually open this evening before I hand over to you by going back to one of those unanswered questions. And so this one comes from Yolanda. Yolanda asked, Why is it that humans often have a specific favourite colour? Well, thanks. That's a really good question, Yolanda. I mean, one of the things that's very interesting. If you go back through the history of culture, you find that there are periods in time and different societies who have really strong colour preferences. So we know, for instance, that early Homo SAPIENs seem to have a strong preference from red.

In fact, 94% of all the pigments found in Stone Age Africa are red pigments. But we know that Neanderthals, for instance, who were up in Europe, had a strong preference for black. We know that in China there is a strong preference, historically for red in the Islamic world, for green in South Asia for yellow and on my street in Hackney. I think the preferences probably Farrow and Ball's railings colour, which seems to be the front door of every single house on the street. But one of the interesting things I've noticed there are a number of studies have been done.

A number of surveys have been done in recent decades, and what they found find is that though we think of colour preferences is very personal, as though we think that the colours we like our favourite colours and no one else is. What we find is that around the world there is amazing uniformity of preference. So a survey was done about 10 years ago a massive survey that looked at 50 different countries on five different continents, and they found that in every single country in the world. Blue was people's favourite colour and by a staggering margin.

So they found that generally, between 30 and 45% of people called blue their favourite colour. So maybe the preferences we think we have our more culturally conditioned than we believe them to be blue is my favourite colour. So I'm rather sad to hear that. Well, exactly what I'm rather sad to hear that it's not not unique in that regard, but that's a great opportunity for us to bounce off into your Garden talk. So with that, James, I'd like to hand over to you for your Garden talk. Why do some cultures have no word for the colour blue? Thank you, Sophie, So much.

And yes, it's a real puzzle when you consider the fact that Blue is extremely popular around the world. Universally popular, it is quite perplexing to realise that actually blue came very late to many cultures and is absent from many cultures. So that's what I'm trying to tackle this evening. It's one of the great mysteries of colour, and I thought I would begin with a bit of a story. It's the beginning of May 18 98 and a small sailing boat drops anchor near an island in the waters between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

And this boat is carrying seven academics who have travelled 10,000 miles away from across the world from Cambridge to study the indigenous people of what is called the Torres Strait. Now among them was a young psychologist called William Rivers. Now Rivers actually went on during the First World War to become very famous for treating shellshock. In fact, he was Siegfried Sassoon's doctor. But back in 18 98 he was principally preoccupied with the study of human vision, and he had come all the way from Cambridge in order to study the eyesight of the Torres Strait Islanders.

Now the journey had been a disaster. It had taken them two months. They had been storms, They were seasick, they were sunburned, and rivers were so ill by the time he arrived at the island that he had to be dragged off the boat and up the beach, and he couldn't even move for several days. But after he recovered, he spent four months in the islands of the Torres Strait, and he studied about 200 people there, the eyesight of 200 local people, and he did very, very extensive analysis of their vision.

He looked at their visual acuity, their spatial perception, depth perception and so on and so forth. And he found that the Torres Strait Islanders had extremely good vision and in many cases, better vision than the people who had examined in England. But they had one shortcoming, and it related to the colour blue it rate related to their colour vision. So one of the tests that Rivers did was he had cards of different colours and he would hold up a card, and then he would ask them to name it. So he held up a black card and they were all had no problem.

They gave their name for black. He held up red. No problem. White, No problem yellow. No problem, Green. No problem. They answered those questions fluently, but when he held up blue cards, there was immense confusion. So some people were struck, done with uncertainty. Others randomly named other colours they'd already named to represent other cards. In certain cases, there were disagreements, arguments, even fights that broke out as people tried to work out what they were looking at, so it was completely extraordinary.

Rivers could not understand it. You know, the fact that they're here was a community with really good vision, really good eyesight as community surrounded on all sides by blue skies and blue seas. And yet they didn't seem to be able two spot blue when it was staring them in the face. So he was completely perplexed by this. And the extraordinary thing is that Rivers wasn't alone. In fact, towards the end of the 19th century, European ethnographers and anthropologists were travelling all over the world to look at indigenous societies.

And they found the same phenomenon everywhere they went. So they found it in the Amazon. They found it in tribes all over Africa. They found it in the mountains of India. They found it in the Siberian peninsula. They found it in Borneo. They found it in other parts of Melanesia. They found it in Aboriginal Australia again and again and again, they found that people were not able to identify blue things. Other scientists, meanwhile, discovered that this phenomenon, this affliction we could call it, I guess, went back.

Many many centuries. So Gladstone, for instance, who's famous for being a British prime minister in the 19th century who was also an avid classicist, is one of the players in this story because Gladstone read and reread and reread Homer again and again and again. He read The Odyssey and the Iliad, and he found that despite the kind of extraordinary descriptive qualities of those texts, that there was something wrong in Homer's colour descriptions. And what he found out was that there was hardly any reference to Blue in Homer's works.

So Homer, for instance, described the sky many times. He called it bright copper and starry and broad, but he never once called. It blew the Mediterranean sky, the Greek sky, the bluest sky you could possibly imagine. He didn't say it was blue once, and the same was true of the sea. He called to see all kinds of things most famously called it wine dark but never once called the See. The Greek C, which is famous for being blue, never called it blue. Now, Homer, I suppose, was supposed to be blind, so maybe he was a one off.

But then other academics realised that This was actually a common phenomenon within ancient literature. So there was a German philologist called Lazarus Geiger. Also in the 19th century, Lazarus Geiger read the Greek classics, but he also read pretty much everything else. He read the Rig Veda, the Hindi rig Veda. He read the Zoroastrian investor he read, the North said as he read the Old and New Testaments. He read ancient Chinese writings, and he discovered that in all of those texts he hardly ever found a concrete, stable, basic colour term for blue.

So we're looking at millions of lines of text, billions of words potentially and not a barely single reference to the colour of the sky and the colour of the sea. So extraordinary phenomenon. And by the end of the 19th century, this was a subject of intense debate. People were academics were really excited by this question of why this is why was it that ancient people around the world and that tribes in the 19th century around the world couldn't see a basic primary colour? And there were lots of theories that went round? Probably the most dominant in the 19th century were those that believe that the reason was physiological.

So there was an ophthalmologist called Hugo Magnus. Magnus believed that the human eye evolved over time, evolved over the centuries, became more and more sensitive over the centuries and enabled us to see blue light. And he believed that in ancient societies their eyes hadn't developed sufficiently well to see blue. And he believed, and this is his term, that primitive society. So tribes living around the world also hadn't developed that ability to see blue. It was obviously, completely ludicrous argument and pretty much a racist argument as well.

But lots of people, including Gladstone, believed that the reason why Blue wasn't being spotted was because there was something wrong with people's eyes that people were effectively blue blind. Now it really wasn't believe it or not until 1969 when a really definitive, persuasive counter argument first appeared. And that was because in 1969 the anthropologist Brent Berlin and the linguist Paul K. Published a book called Basic Colour Terms, and this book became one of the most important books in the history of colour.

And what they did was they argued that the reason for that strange absence of blue from culture was not because of the body or the brain or the eyes. It was because of language. So they looked in their first edition at about 20 languages from around the world. They later extended it to about 100 languages, and they found, quite extraordinarily that every language in the world pretty much every language in the world, whether it's from Central America or South East Asia or Europe or Africa or China.

Every language developed terms for colours in the same order. So all languages, they said, begin with a distinction between dark and light, black and white. Then they developed a term for red. Then they developed a term for green, followed by yellow or sometimes yellow, followed by green, but only then only after black and white and red and yellow and green. Do these languages come up with a term for blue. And Berlin and K identified a number of languages in 1969 including one in Papua New Guinea, the Danny language one in the Philippines, one in Central America that still didn't have concrete basic colour terms for blue.

And you know something we now know from more recent studies that there are at least 68 languages around the world that don't make distinctions between blue and green, so they don't have a discrete, separate word for blue. The word for green is the same as the word for blue, and those are known as grew languages. We also know that there are some languages around the world, two languages, for instance, in Aboriginal Australia that have no terms for Hugh at all. They only have terms for dark and light, or black and white.

So this raises a very, I think, interesting question, the inevitable question Why? Why, when you consider blues ubiquity, its presence in the sky, its presence in the sea, its popularity, why did it take so long to be named? Well, I'm going to give you my theory. My theory is that it all comes down to scarcity. Unlike most other hues, blue rarely adopts a tangible form in nature. There are very few naturally occurring, easily accessible blue minerals on the earth, and the colour accounts for only probably 5% of plants for 8% of fruits.

And it's quite interesting that you think, for instance, that horticulturalists have been trying for decades to make bright blue chew lips to breed bright blue roses, and they just can't do it. There is some resistance within nature, and also when we're making artificial pigments to the creation of blue, it's just hard to make. It's hard to synthesise, and then we might think of lots of animals. You might be able to think of birds and insects and reptiles and amphibians that have that are blue that are electrically blew.

Most of them actually simply create an illusion of the colour. So I've got here a prop. Here you go. This is Ah, I hope you can see it. This is a Ulysses butterfly, and this is native, actually to the area, very close to where rivers went in 18 98. It's a beautiful creature, and I'm sure when you look at you think that's an exquisite blue animal. But when scientists actually started to look at these wings through a microscope and when they ground the wings down, they discovered that this butterfly, believe it or not, does not contain a scintilla of blue pigment.

This butterfly is believe it or not brown, and it simply creates the illusion of blue because it's got these scales all across the surface of the wings that are shaped a little bit like Christmas trees and they knock white light out of phase, and that creates this iridescent blue reflection that comes into our eyes. And for those of you, while we're on the subject of ice, for those of you who are proud of your blue eyes, I'm sorry to break it to you. But humanise also do not contain any blue pigment at all.

That, too, is an optical illusion. You know we have, we believe, about 64,000 vertebrate species on this planet, and so far scientists have only found 22 species of fish that contain any blue pigment at all. So it's extremely scarce. And the reason I'm saying this is because I think what I want to try to say to you is that early humans interacted with blue things very rarely before the invention of blue dies. Before the invention of blue pigments, which didn't really emerge until the Neolithic period in the west, it was indeed quite possible.

I know this sounds ridiculous to say, but it was possible that human being might have gone through their entire lives without ever having touched a blue thing, because blue didn't appear in these material forms. And I think that is a crucial way to answer that question of why the word came late. Because if you if we go back to the Torres Strait Islanders, the people that Rivers saw in 18 98 why do they have terms for black, white, red, yellow and green? Well, they have them because they were really useful terms.

They were handling dark and light things all the time. They had to make distinctions between dark and light things They had to be able to describe the red fruits or the red soil or the red Berries or the red flowers. They had to be able to distinguish between red and yellow soil between green and yellow vegetation. All these colour terms were useful for their daily lives. But if they very rarely encountered handled, manipulated, used, touched blue things, they didn't really need to name it. As long as Blue was absent from their material worlds, it didn't need to be named, and I think that term absent from the world, it's a really good way to think about blue because the only place in some ways that blue does thrive.

The only place where we see it in large quantities is in the unearthly areas, the unearthly realms of sky, sea and horizon. But even those blues are themselves optical illusions. So if you take the blue sky, for instance, the sky is blue. It's been very blue in London today, the sky is blue because of a phenomenon called Ray Lee scattering. So as we talked a little bit about this last week, as daylight sunlight goes through hits the earth travels through the atmosphere and then the molecules of the atmosphere, the nitrogen molecules of the atmosphere scatter the short wavelength blue lights across the firmament and make the sky appear blue when actually it isn't blue.

The sea is blue, largely because it reflects the sky, and the horizon appears blue for the same reason that makes the sky blue. It's because of scattering, and it means that the father something away from you is the more it is veiled by the scattered blue light, which makes things look blue as they go away. And the horizon often look very blue indeed. So I think that the common principle of all of those colours is that those are blues that do not exist in surfaces. They exist in depths. They do not exist in objects, they exist in the spaces between them.

And that is why if you were, for instance to take a bottle and to to bottle the blue sky when you brought it down, you would realise it wasn't blue at all. If you bottle the blue ocean, you would find it isn't blue at all. If you travelled towards the blue horizon, you would find that it never. It isn't blue and in many ways never was so. I think that it's important to say that all colours are elusive. All colours are slippery, as I described last week. But I think blue is the most elusive of those colours.

Blue is a colour that slipped through our fingers. It vanishes, it touch and it recedes at exactly the speed that we approach it. And I think it's this combination of presence and absence, this teasing existence at the margins of our world that is absolutely central to blues cultural significance. After all, if you think about it, how can you stare into a blue sky or stare at the blue horizon of the mountains and not sort of fantasise about what lies beyond them, I'm thinking of. I'm sure you all know that.

The Truman Show. There's a great scene in The Truman Show when Truman had been desperate to escape all these years sales towards the blue sky and to escape his to escape his fate. And then the boat just crashes into a blue wall, which is, of course, the edge of the set that he spent his entire life. I'm also reminded of the German philosopher Ger to Ger to says, I've got a quote here as we readily follow an agreeable object that flies from us. So we love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.

And I think that's really important, you know, yellow and red. These are advancing colours. They jumped towards you, but blue retreats. It recedes. It exists in the distance. It exists on the margins. It exists in the depths and far away from us. And I think really, when you look at blue, you are being drawn into a journey into a visual journey from here to there from one world to the other. And in fact, I've often thought about this. But even to say the word blue is to kind of plot a journey on the mouth.

Because once you've overcome the blur, the blur hump, the word just disappears into the distance with you. No, no other word is like that black and white and red and green. These are circumscribed by continents yellow and purple, their return journeys. But blue is this one way voyage over the horizon. And I think that blues properties, I'm now going to turn a little bit to the cultural side of this blues. Very mysterious, elusive, enigmatic physical properties have been expressed in cultures all over the world for many, many centuries.

So this is one of the reasons why, for instance, in many societies, the most mysterious gods are the most invisible. Gods are often associated with blue. So in ancient Egypt, for instance, the God of the air, the God of the sky, the God of the wind and the invisible god, a moon was often depicted with blue skin. In India, a number of the principal Hindu deities, Whether it's Krishna or Vishnu or Rama or Carly, they're often depicted with blue skin as well. And I think Indian artists depicted their gods with blue skins because they were trying to make them look otherworldly and inhuman and unearthly.

And, of course, what is a more unearthly colour, as I've just said than blue. And of course, you know, Blue isn't only absent from the world around us. It is also absent from our own bodies. Generally, our skin, our flesh absorbs blue wavelengths of light, which means that we don't appear blue at all. And that is why Hollywood, for a long time use blue screen technology. They use blue screens because they could key out the blue and our bodies wouldn't change because our bodies aren't very blue. The religion aspect goes on.

I mean, if you think in Judaism, for instance, in Judaism, Blue was seen as such a significant colour that the Jewish God instructed Moses that all the Children of Israel should wear blue fringes on their close. This thing called to let that you still see orthodox Jews wearing today and in the Christian tradition, what do we see? The Virgin Mary wearing. We see the Virgin Mary historically wearing blue robes, because she was the queen of Heaven. But this blue didn't only extend to God's. It also extended to the very idea of the sacred, the very idea of paradise.

Now this is one of the most famous artworks in Western art history. It's the Arena Chapel or Slovenia Chapel, painted by the upstart artist, a young up and coming figure called Giotto. In 13 oh five, it's in Padua, in northern Italy. You can probably just about make out that around the walls there are these frescoes and those to pick the life of Christ, and they are famous for being extremely naturalistic. But up above them on the ceiling, Giotto painted the whole vault in this wonderful as you write blue pigment.

He painted it as a blue sky, and it's covered in golden Stars. Now I think this tells you something about me that I am a completist. When I when I want to know about things, I want to know everything about things. So when I started researching this particular painting, I was desperate to know how many stars Giotto had painted on that ceiling because I was convinced that the number must have some great significance. So I spent honestly days trying to count the stars. I built models on my computer to try to do it.

I ended up discovering that it was 752 stars, which, of course, is a completely meaningless number unless someone who's listening can tell me is significant. But the other thing you see on their stats ceiling is you see these round ALS. They're like little portholes and out of these windows out of these round ALS pop out these biblical figures. And so this is God's way of showing that the blue sky, the blue ceiling is a kind of gateway to heaven. It's the threshold between the Earth and the Heaven, and I'm going to show you another image now, which is also from the chapel.

This is further proof this is from the last judgement. And this, for me, is just the most extraordinary motive in which these two angels actually peel back the blue sky itself to reveal the heavenly Jerusalem beyond. So I think that what Giotto is doing their links back to what I was saying earlier here is the idea that Blue is a kind of other colour. It's a colour that belongs to other world. It's a colour that marks the edges of our world both physically and, I suppose, imaginatively and those ideas about blue.

They permeate throughout the centuries, even outside of religion, and they become really, really significant in the romantic period in the 18th and 19th century. So, for instance, there's a great book written, I think, 1800 by Navalny s. And it's called Heinrich Von Off to dinner. And this great story in which it begins with Heinrich is a young man, a boy. He's trying to get to sleep. He's lying in bed. It's the middle of the night. The moon's out. Everyone sleeping. But Heinrich is tossing and turning in the bed, and the reason he can't sleep is he is fantasising about this blue flower.

He's desperate for it. He can't stop thinking about it. He's yearning about it, and I said to you before how we've tried to make blue flowers in the past and we've never quite managed to achieve it. So he has this yearning for a blue flower, and eventually he falls to sleep. He falls into a dream, and he goes on this journey, where he travels across the blue horizon and through the blue sky and through the blue oceans until eventually he arrives at this meadow and he sees in the distance in the meadow, the blue flower he wanted for all this time, and he starts to walk towards it.

The flower gets closer and closer and closer, and eventually he reaches in to grab the blue flower. And just as he's about to grab the blue flower, his mom wakes him up, and he never, ever manages to touch and to obtain the blue flower. So again, it's that sense that blueness is this kind of, um, graspable colour associated with yearning. There's another book as well I'm reminded of from the Romantic period by Goethe mentioned Girton already. Goethe wrote this book and I think the 17 seventies maybe called the sorrows of Young Verte, which became an absolute like it was like 50 shades of grey in the 18th century became this huge phenomenon, and it depicted this talked about this guy called Vert, a young man who fell in love with this woman.

He was wearing a blue cloak. When he fell in love with her, she touched the cloak and he became completely obsessed. This woman was unavailable to him. She was with another person. And in the end, the Depression and the desire became so much for him that he ended up putting on his blue cloak and killing himself, and it became a massive sensation. People around Europe, Reddit and indeed people even started copying verte. There were men who started committing suicide was a spate of suicides in the 17, 70 and 17 eighties.

Some men bought blue dread cloaks simply in order to commit suicide. And it was such a serious issue that there are a number of cities in Europe that banned the book. And even today we we know of the copycat phenomenon, uh, in these kinds of areas as the verte effect. So I think what I'm trying to say here with both verte, with novels with Giotto, with the things I was saying earlier, we've got this sense that blue is this colour that we want. But we can't have that. It's somehow beyond always beyond our reach.

And that's one of the reasons as I say why it came so late to culture and came so late to language. I just want to zoom forward into the 20th century because I think if there is any artist who who is more strongly associated with blue, it has to be. I'm sure lots of you will have heard of him. Yves Klein. Now Yves Klein, a French artist, one of my heroes, actually the most extraordinary story of his life. Klein was born in 1928 and Nice. He grew up on the Cote d Azour, the Blue Coast. Happy coincidence.

And he was this kind of He was this crazy kind of hippie from the fifties who was constantly searching for freedom and transcendence and real experiences. So he travelled all the way to Japan and became a black belt in judo. He went to Ireland and became a champion jockey. He took up all these spiritual beliefs and religious beliefs, all these kind of crackpot ideas. But in the end he reached the conclusion that Blue and the sky would be his kind of idol. It would be his load star. There's a wonderful story that he tells him when he was a teenager.

He lay on the beach and nice. He looked up at the blue sky and he signed his name across the sky. This was his attempt to own, to control, to get his hands on this thing that that had escaped everyone else. And he was so determined to own that blueness. But in the late 19 fifties, he even spent a couple of years inventing his own blue, a new blue, which he patented international Klein Blue I K B. And you might be able to see here, hopefully an image of I K B. And hopefully, even in the digital image, you can see that this colour is so bright, so brilliant, so resonant, so deep that it's almost hard for your eyes to focus on it.

And, you know, Klein applied this pigment in the late fifties early sixties to everything he painted on canvases. He painted it on sponges. He painted all kinds of objects. He even and here's another image, and hopefully you can see he even applied to the bodies of naked women here to cover them in the paint and drag them around. These studios probably wouldn't happen nowadays, but still this was his attempt to get blue onto everything. When he got married, he gave his guests an eye KB cocktail, he wrote at one point in the early 19 sixties to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying, Please, please, I've got a great idea.

Can we put like a B pigment in the nuclear bombs so that when they go off, we'll get bright blue mushroom clouds? He didn't get a response to that request. He also wrote to the U. N and said, Can we die one of these lakes in Central Asia? Can we diet with the baby so it can become the baby lake? So all these requests he was desperate to get blue everywhere. This colour, that was absence colour that was so hard to pin down. He was trying to apply it to everything. And I think that the root cause of his love of blue and his love of the sky was I think he saw space air sky blue as symbols of freedom are symbols of escaping the earth and finding liberation and finding transcendence and that aspiration that governed his entire life.

That is apparent in perhaps his most famous artwork. This is another image I'm showing you here a photograph which he called leap into the void. It's an extraordinary image in which early 19 sixties he travelled to a suburb in Paris. He went into an apartment block. He went up to the first floor and he jumped out the window and you can see hopefully even hear his eyes locked on the sky above me. It's a black and white image, but you can see he's looking at this sky and fantasising about levitating up into the blueness above him.

Um, Klein survived that fall partly because, in fact, he had a people with the tarpaulin carrying a tarpaulin just below, and he spliced them out of the image. But it was, in many ways a very prophetic image because Klein in some ways did actually fall to Earth because only 18 months or so after making that photograph, Klein was sitting at the Cannes Film Festival watching a film about him when he suffered a heart attack and died, and he died at the age of 34. And I remember a few years ago, about 10 years ago.

Actually, I went to Arizona to meet his widow who's a wonderful artist in her own right. And she said, I said, Why do you think it was such a fit, healthy man? Why do you think he died so young? And she said, You know, I think it was the blue that killed him. I think these experiments he did with this blue pigment, this ik pigment, that the pigment itself was toxic and that it caused permanent damage to his body. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but it's, but it's extraordinary. I just really want to finish to talk with one other story.

Because Klein lived through an age in which in some ways lots of people were doing what he was doing was he was doing This was an age of space exploration. This was an age in which lots of people were leaping up into the great blue beyond and going to places that had never been seen before. We know, for instance, that Klein, who was obsessed with Yuri Gagarin Gagarin, the first man who went into space, and it's a coincidence that Yuri Gagarin also died at the age of 34. He died in a plane crash.

We also know that the subtitle of that photograph I showed you the Leap into the void. The subtitle was Man in Space. So Klein was really fascinated by the space exploration that was dominating the fifties and the sixties. And obviously there are lots of missions we could talk about, but the mission I think that is most relevant to the colour blue is Apollo eight. Apollo eight took place in December 1968. It consisted of three astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. And in December 1968 they travelled.

I mean, lots of people focus on the moon landings of the moon landing the following year, But in some ways this was It was the more remarkable breakthrough mission because this was the first time the human beings first properly severed their bonds with the Earth. Because what happened in December 1968 was the crew of Apollo eight left the earth. They took a rocket straight through the blueness of the sky, and they travelled for 69 hours and 250,000 miles, and they left the Earth's orbit and went all the way to the moon.

And then they undertook several orbits of the moon when really they were mostly looking at the moon surface to try and work out where future missions could land. They're landing craft. But as they emerged from the fourth orbit of the moon, Frank Borman, I saw something. One of the crew members saw something, and I'm going to read you the quote of what he said, because I find it very moving, he said. I happened to glance out of one of the still clear windows. Just at the moment the earth appeared over the lunar horizon.

It was the most beautiful, heart catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia of sheer homesickness surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any colour to it. Everything was either black or white, but not the earth. Now, moments after Borman made that, citing another astronaut on another member of the crew, Bill Anders rushed to that window with a Hasselblad camera and took several colour photographs. One of them is now one of the most celebrated images of the 20th century.

It's called Earthrise and Earthrise shows our world as seen from 250,000 miles away. The planet, a third of which is shrouded in shadow, ascends from the grey lunar surface into a black void of space. And amid this of colourless universe, As Bowman said, the Earth looks like this extraordinary radiant drop of blue. And the reason I would want to finish there is I think it's a really poetic place to finish because you know something for so long. The reason when we asked that question, why did it take so long for us to give a name to blue? The reason it took so long is because for so long, blue did not seem that present in our lives and our world.

It was seen as the colour of other worlds. It was the scene as the colour of gods and heavens and dreams and fantasies and other places lying beyond the horizon. But when we finally broke through the horizon, when we finally travelled to other worlds, we looked back and we found that blue all along was the colour of home. Thank you, James. I love that idea. That blue is the colour of home. It's such a being, my favourite colour it it makes me feel very happy. Thank you for that is a completely fascinating talk, and I can see that we've already got so many questions from our members.

So I'm going to go to the first question. And that comes from Forbes and Bob says a great question. A black belt blue. They want to know if blue is our favourite colour. Why is it always associated with feeling down and feeling cold? Yeah, it's a really that's a really good point. Blue has these extraordinarily polarising effects, so it's one of the colours that is associated with both darkness and light. But if you see a Giotto mastered this blue, you have this perfect blue that was could have been a midday sky, but could have been a midnight sky.

We also know that blue well, I can come to blue and darkness later on. But I think what happens in the Middle Ages, it's again. It comes from that same idea that blue is somehow out of control. Blue belongs and comes from other worlds. So in the Middle Ages we start to see people talking about blue devils. Um, they believed that there were these when you got very depressed when you had bad luck. That it was because there were these blue devils working away behind the scenes to try and drag you down and again Blue.

The colour blue was chosen because blue was this this colour that you know, was mysterious and enigmatic and was often seen as dark. Um, and so that idea of blue and depression travelled all the way through, uh, subsequent centuries until, of course, you get the idea of blues music emerging in the early 19 hundreds, where blue is associated in that way and when Picasso has his blue period paintings in the early 19 hundreds again, one of the things that makes those paintings those blue period paintings so so unsettling is that you're completely right.

They have this sense of coldness. They have this sense of darkness and despair. And, of course, it's important to say that every colour, every colour, has different versions of itself. So if, for instance, and we can talk about this in the later question if you want. If you think of Ultra Marine and the international Klein Blue that is a blue that has a slightly violet tinge and so It's beautiful and warm and luscious. But the colours, the blues that Picasso were using were Prussian blues. They were slightly greeny blues.

They were slightly greyish blues, and so they had that sense of after dark qualities to them. So it's important to say that no colour means one thing. Every colour has lots of different meanings, lots of different associations, depending on context. And it's absolutely true that while for some people blue and in some context blue could be this very depressing colour, it can also be this Sophie was saying the very gratifying and uplifting colour. So the next question is from Jude Jude is great to have you back in The Garden again.

Welcome back. So Jude's question is about language, and they want to know which language has the largest number of terms for the colour blue. And why, I guess, very interesting question. I don't think I could answer that, but I will say that we have one basic colour terms for blue. So in English we have 11 basic colour terms, and one of them is blue. Blue arrives relatively late in our language. As I was saying, it's only about 1300 the year 1300. That blue arrives in the English language, but there are definitely.

And as I said, there are lots of languages that don't have basic colour terms for blue. But there are lots of languages that have more than one basic colour terms for blue. So, for instance, in Russia, the Russians have two basic colour terms. For blue. They have Golden Boy, which means light blue. It's sort of sky blue, and they have senior, which is a kind of navy blue. And as far as they are concerned, those are two entirely different colours. They are separate colours. They're not light blue and dark blue.

There separate colours. I think the Italians have three basic colour terms for blue. There are other languages that have four, even five Japan. We talked about Japan a little bit last week. Japan, uh, is famous for having one historically one word for both blue and green. So historically, it's a grew language. But a recent study found that they do also have another basic colour. Terms for Blue, which I think is called. I wrote it down. It's called Mizzou, and Mizzou is a word that is associated with the colour of water.

It's a kind of pale blue, and for them that is a separate colour terms. So they have two basic colour terms for Blue, whereas we only have one very interesting. Well, the next question comes from Margaret. You spoke before about Blue Devils and Blue being this other worldly thing. But Margaret wants to know, Why is it that we associate blue with royalty and the idea of royalty having blue blood? Well, I think that there is. I mean, there are a number of reasons why the blue becomes associated with splendour.

It's one of the reasons that I didn't mention why the Queen of Heaven, if you like. The Virgin Mary is connected to blue, and that is partly for the sheer practical reason of it Blue, because it was very hard to make, um, and very expensive to make was a tremendously exclusive colour. So we can talk about this later if we want. But you know, the famous pigment ultra Marine that probably everyone's heard of that came. There was a pigment called Ultra Marine that only came from a stone, one of the few blue stones you could find that could only be found in Afghanistan called lapis lazuli.

And in order to turn this lapis lazuli into a blue pigment, had to be brought all the way along the Silk Road from Afghanistan and then ground down for weeks and weeks and weeks to create this blue pigment and and the pigment that resulted. Ultramarine, which was probably first devised in the Middle Ages in Italy, was 100 times more expensive than most other pigments on the market. It was more expensive than gold in some cases. And so if you wanted to depict someone, if you're an artist and you wanted to depict someone who was splendid and powerful and important, you would often depict them in blue clothes.

There is a separate reason to explain why blue bloodedness comes along. I can't quite remember the exact details, but I think it's partly to do with the paleness of the flesh that if you have very pale flesh, the blue veins could be seen running through your arms. And that was a sign of that was a sign of high class because generally until relatively recently, it's funny that for a long time it was classy to have white skin to have very pale skin to not get a sun tan. It was a sign of wealth that you didn't have to work out in the in the land and get sunburned.

Whereas obviously, now having a Perma tan is seen as a sign of wealth and prosperity. Wonderful. Well, Adam has a question about how we perceive colour differently, he says. When a culture has no name for a colour, do you think that they perceive that colour differently, Or perhaps not even at all? This is a an extremely brilliant question, and it's one that is a subject of immense philosophical debate. I think there is a There is a debate. There's a theory called the Sapir Worf Hypothesis, which is exactly what he has said, Which is that the question being Does your language limit your thoughts so we often think that language is simply an expression of the things we think, but sappier and war for arguing and lots of philosophers, arguing that language actually shapes the kinds of thoughts the kinds of feelings we are able to have, and if you don't have words for certain things, you might not be able to think those things, you might not be able to feel those things.

I think probably you need a philosopher to answer this question, although I certainly do think that the more colour terms you have, the more colours you are able to see, at least in your in your within your perception of the world. So I think that's a really good question and maybe a subject for another Garden. Talk by by a philosopher safety. It's a very good idea. Or perhaps we can get you back to to answer that again. Um, so the final question, sadly, is from Gillian and Gillian wants to know, How did the Egyptians paint their gods blue.

If they didn't have access to a mineral material, that was that colour. Great question. The Egyptians were absolute masters of chemistry, and they were able to create the very first synthetic pigment in history, and that was a blue pigment. It's called Egyptian Blue, and it was made from copper and it was heated. How they did it is just beyond me. They would take copper and they would mix it with various other with various other chemicals and products and then they were able to heat it for, I think, at 2.

5 1000 degrees for several hours. How they did this in the ancient world, I don't know, but they were therefore able to create synthetic pigments, and that was the really the first time that artists were able to be able to use reliable blue colour rinse. The Egyptians also had a blue dye called indigo, which had not been invented by the Egyptians, but they had so these two products. They had indigo dye, which turned blue in this very mysterious way because it came from green plants and they had this synthetic blue pigment.

And it was the synthetic blue pigment that they were able to apply to their tomb paintings over God's like a moon. So that is the first synthetic pigment, and it's important to say it's the same with purple, and I'll talk about purple next in two weeks time. Blue and purple, very hard to find those colours. Naturally, it's really easy to find blacks and whites and reds and greens and yellows. But blue and purple requires a lot of work to make, and that is why synthetic artificial pigments had to be invented in order to produce those colours reliably.

Well, James, that was truly fascinating. So thank you so much for joining us again. Time. Bye. And thank you to our members for joining us here today. And for your great questions. Don't forget to join us at your next Garden gathering. You can do that at one Garden dot com. And until we see you again, stay curious.

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