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The Color Pink Doesn't Exist, According To Science

Weird History | September 30, 2019

Pink is real...or is it? (flickr.com)

Next time you are at a gender reveal party or walking down the Barbie aisle at the toy store or buying Pepto Bismol, ask yourself if you are really seeing all the pink you think you are seeing. Huh? Let’s explain. There is a scientific theory that the color pink does not exist and that it is, in fact, a scientific impossibility. Here’s why. 

White light is made up of all the visible light waves. (science-sparks.com)

Color Is Light

The colors that we see are simply different wave lengths of light that reflect off an object. Our eye perceives that wavelength as a color in the spectrum. You may remember from middle school science class that light is comprised of different wavelengths and that the human eye can only see a portion of it. We call that visible light. A spectrum can break that visible light into the various colors of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. We used the mnemonic memory device, ROYGBIV, to remember these colors and the order in which they appear. 

Pink is not on the light spectrum. (lady-first.me)

Where is Pink?

Take another look at ROYGBIV. There is no P. Where is the pink on the spectrum? It is not there because, theoretically, it doesn’t exist. Various shades of a color are created because the light waves from one color blend with the light waves from an adjacent color. Teal, for example, it a blend of green and its neighbor, blue. But, this doesn’t explain how we see pink. 

Pink is made by mixing blue and red, yet these colors are on opposite ends of the light spectrum. (thescienceexplorer.com)

Pink Shouldn’t Exist

Pink is the blend of red and violet. The problem is, red and violet are not next to each other on the color spectrum. In fact, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. It is scientifically impossible for red and violet to merge together to create the color pink. And, yet we have the color pink. 

Most light waves are not visible to the human eye. (pinterest.com)

All the Light We Cannot See

If you were to take the linear color spectrum and roll it up into a circle, we can force red and violet to meet. This is not, however, accurate. The red side of the spectrum should not meet with the violet side because of all the light we cannot see. These include ultraviolet, infrared, gamma rays, radio waves, and x-rays. Since the human eye cannot see these light waves, our eyes are tricked into filling in the gap with the color pink. 

Remember the viral debate over this dress a few years ago? It was an example of how our brains see color differently. (wired.com)

We See Colors With Our Brains

This trick of pink is not unusual. In fact, since color is just a bunch of reflected light, it doesn’t really exist. Our brains perceive color from the data that our eyes collect, and that data is just a bunch of light. Our brains decode this information and color in the pictures for us. As a noted biologist, Timothy H. Goldsmith explained, “color is not actually a property of light or of objects that reflect it. It is a sensation that arises within the brain.” It could be that each person “sees” colors differently, but our brains label the colors with the names we have been told they are. Sound confusing? Think of it this way: imagine two people looking at a blue car. One person’s brain may perceive it as blue, so he declares that the car is blue. The other person my perceive the car as yellow, but he has always been taught that the name for the color he sees is blue, so he also declares the car to be blue. This is exactly how that whole “What color is this dress?” debate blew up on social media a few years ago.

Pink and green do not coexist. (shutterstock.com)

Pink Is Not Green

We know that white light is a combination of all the light waves in the visible spectrum. Pink is the effect that you get if you remove all the green light from the white light. White light minus green gives us pink. 

Alecia Moore, known professionally as Pink (stylized as P!nk) performed a sold out show. (Photo by Angel Marchini/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tickled Pink

Pink may be a scientific anomaly, but it is still deeply rooted in our culture. If it weren’t for the color pink, where would Victoria Secret, Piglet, Bubblicious bubble gum, cotton candy, and Alecia Moore (the singer you know as P!NK) be? Pink may be a scientific impossibility, but we are still tickled pink to have this color party crash the color spectrum. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.