No Light and Color
If there is no light, can an object still have color?
The object's color can only be observed with light. If you have a red
ball, and turn out the room lights, there is no way to know the ball is
red. Of course when you turn back on the lights, the ball has not
changed to yellow, it is still red. But in the dark, you cannot tell.
So maybe the simple answer to your question is "no".
No ... color in the case you posit is a manifestation of the interaction
between electromagnetic radiation and a material object that absorbs and
reflects certain wavelengths...then the detectors (our eyes) receive the
certain wavelengths to which we ascribe certain descriptions...called
colors...that exist whether we are there to detect of them or not.
Yes, that colour is black, but the object would not be seen. This
would only occur in cases like 'the blackness of space' etc.
IF we look at a flower and see it as red, it is because that flower is
absorbing all the colors of light except for red. The red light is being
reflecting, or bouncing off of the flower. So, we see what is reflected.
Everything has certain chemical make-up that makes something reflect some
light and not other light. So, if that same flower we talked about earlier
is in the dark, it still has those certain chemicals that make it reflect
red, but you cannot tell because you cannot see the refection. I guess you
could say that light gives color to an object, without light, there is no
Each object carries within itself some memory of
what colors it would reflect,
if white light were suddenly shined upon it.
So yes, I generally think of things in the dark as having intrinsic colors.
Of course, if there were no light in the whole cosmos, that might change
It is important to realize that, we can only see an object if light from
that object reaches our eyes. That sounds obvious, but it makes an
important point: the way an object appears depends on our perception of
it. Without light, it does not even make sense to describe how something
looks. If you look at a "red" object, it appears red because red light
from the object reaches our eyes. That light may have been reflected
off the object or transmitted through the object or it may have been
created (emitted) by the object itself. But whatever the source of
light, we can only perceive the color red if red light hits our eyes.
Let us say the object is a book with a red cover (so it does not emit
light). Put that book in a completely dark room and it will not appear
red. In fact, it will not appear at all. Its molecular structure has not
changed a bit, but at that moment, it makes no sense to describe the
object as "red".
So the short answer to your question is, "No, there is no such thing as
color in the absence of light." When we say that an object is red, it
would be more accurate to say that we perceive the object as red.
his question is, of course, a cunning version of "If a tree falls
in the forest, and no one is around, is there a sound?" Color is the
perception most affected by light's wavelength; hence, no light, no color.
Without light there is no color. Even more specifically, without VISIBLE
light (wavelengths between about 400 to 700 nanometers) there is no color.
Exceptions are possible in special cases where electronic devices detect
electromagnetic radiation outside this range into radiation within this
range. But in the usual sense-- no light, no color.
We could view this question as a philosophical question rather than a
scientific one. But let us do the scientific approach.
One of the principles of science is that no statement can be made unless
it is first observed or measured. Since color is the result of the
interaction of matter with light, then removing light, removes the
interaction, and therefore removes the possibility of any kind of
measurement or observation.
Another important principle in science is that once a property has already
been measured or observed, even if it is no longer observed, and unless
something is observed to change the property that was measured, then it
can be assumed that the property remains constant. Thus, having observed
that grass is green, I no longer need to keep observing it to assume that
it is still green. Thus, at this point, I no longer need light to know
that grass will be green if I observe it again (using light).
You need light to be reflected off an object to see it. White light is made
of all the colors in the rainbow. When we see light from the sun or a light
bulb, all the colors are in there. We can see them with a prism or when
there is water in the air after a rainstorm. We see the rainbow of colors.
We see all different colors when light from the sun or a bulb is shining on
it. This is called white light. If would you shine a pure blue light on a
pure red object it will appear black because there is no red light in the
light you are shining on it. So no red color can reflect to your eye. You
would not see a red object, just a dark one.
How colors look depends upon the kind of light they are in. Sometimes we
look a little different in the bathroom light than we do outside. It all
depends upon the kind of colors that make up the light.
I hope this makes sense. You can always write back if you want me to try a
This reminded me of the saying... "If a tree falls in the forest, and
there is no one around to hear it, does it make any noise?" I think
that most of us would agree that it would because we understand that our
world is governed by certain physical laws and these laws continue even
when we are not around to perceive their manifestations.
Each object has the ability to absorb light of certain wavelengths
within the visible spectrum and it is the reflected wavelengths that our
eyes see and our brains perceive as color. With no light, our eyes are
unable to do their job, but the object in question still has the ability
to absorb light. By my way of thinking, the object still has color, we
just cannot see it if there is no light.
Click here to return to the General Topics Archives
Update: June 2012