Suppose you had two intelligent species that came together and built a society or whatever. For the sake of example, we'll call them species A and species B. Species A evolved to see some subset of the visible light spectrum (or all of it), and can distinguish various "colors" in that range due to having multiple types of cones with varying sensitivities to radiation in their visible range.

Species B evolved a different range of visible radiation, but can also discern "color" within that range using similar biological features. Maybe they see into ultraviolet or infrared radiation. They might have some overlap with species A's spectral range for vision, but perhaps the two are entirely disjoint- though not terribly far apart.

What sorts of difficulties would arise from these two species trying to cooperate and communicate?

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    $\begingroup$ I wish whoever downvoted this would explain why. $\endgroup$ – Beefster Feb 20 '18 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ Color is a sensation which exists in the mind; it is not a physical quantity, it does not exist in nature. It is meaningless to compare color perception between two different species. And even in one species, color is partially culture-dependent. You may be surprised to learn that different languages have different ways of partitioning the color space. It is not at all unusual among human languages to merge green and blue, or to split blue into "dark blue" and "sky blue". Notoriously, classical Latin and Greek color words can be hard to translate: robus, ruber, rufus, russus, rutilus... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 21 '18 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP well sure, but your eyes have varying sensitivities to different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation and cones that are more sensitive to different ranges- thus the sensation of color. I am assuming that these species would be able to discern "colors" in their visible spectra. $\endgroup$ – Beefster Feb 21 '18 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ The relationship between the sensation of color and spectral composition of light is quite complicated. (Hint: Can you see yellow on your computer screen? Yes? Strange, because the vast majority of computer screen do not emit any yellow light at all...) And the sensation of color is not determined uniquely by the spectral composition of the light coming from and object: it also depends on the angle subtended by the object, the surrouding colors, the intensity of the light, the recent history and so on. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 21 '18 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ As a general rule, we discourage users from accepting an answer within the first 48 hours of asking the question. The WB SE has users around the world, and accepting early may discourage others from viewing your question and offering a potentially better answer. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 21 '18 at 13:37

Any difficulties will be of the minor irritant variety.

Black will still be black and white will still be white (well, sort of, for white). White may appear to be biased toward other colors depending on how much and what part of the spectrum it contains but it should be noticeable as an attempt at white.

There would be colors that one might be able to perceive and the other not but that won't be a problem once it is known unless one party is being purposely obscure.

I suspect that this will be the biggest non issue the different races have.

Visual communication will involve using color pallets that both can perceive or color shifts in transmission.

Lets say we encounter a race that can not see the color yellow (that means that greens and oranges are out too). Aside from changing the middle stop light and some of our caution signs, we wouldn't have to do anything special if we cared if they were comfortable here.

However, if they saw via radio waves (not a good choice since most things would be pretty hazy or transparent to them), then they would be very annoyed with the bight flashy lights we carry in our pockets (cell phones).

  • $\begingroup$ If you ask 100 experts why light and paint mix color differently, you'll get 100 different answers. That said, I think it's safe to say that being unable to see yellow does not necessarily mean green and orange are out. The three colors all correspond to different wavelengths of light. Mixing yellow paint with blue paint to get green paint is a result of that property, not the other way around. If anything, not being able to see red might mean magenta and yellow would appear as blue and green, but only if these are produced by mixing colors of light instead of using light of those wavelengths. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Feb 22 '18 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Devsman, Yes, green and orange would likely look blue or red. We see colors because we have receptors for certain wavelengths. Our brain interprets the combination and intensity of the group of receptors to give us the color. If there was no receptor for yellow, yellow would probably look white (the rods in the eye don't see color, only intensity). $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Feb 22 '18 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think it would depend on why the orange object is orange. When your eyes tell your brain it sees orange, that could be because it's detecting light of an orange wavelength or light of a red wavelength and a little light of a green wavelength. If you can't see yellow, you should still be able to see orange in the first case but not the second. But in terms of light, green is primary, so not being able to see yellow shouldn't affect how well you can see green. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Feb 26 '18 at 15:37

The answer its simple and pretty obvious:

They will encounter exactly the same difficulties colorblind people find in comunicating with other people and vice versa.

So wait until someone who experienced this in first person will give an answer.

Also one specie will find it easier to cheat and to go agaisnt the law in some specific cases or be better at some jobs.

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    $\begingroup$ While I'm not colourblind, I know quite a few people who are and the single biggest issue that they face is aesthetics. They don't make good interior designers, for example. That said, in this case, you'd probably have paints that look one colour in the conventional spectrum and another in the 'other' spectrum. Multispectral paints could have a range of applications beyond the aesthetics (including camoflauge) but other than that, I suspect it depends on which EMR spectrum range is actually visible to give a more complete answer. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Feb 20 '18 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ nah I don´t think this is going to be that simple. being able to see certain wavelength is an evloutionary specialisation to your environment. I can´t really say how, but I can imagine that species B will have fundamental differences in their culture, in things they desire or react to...the evolutionary implications could mean a completely different, even hostile environment to species A. also, think bees: they see UV (instead of red I think), some filtered pictures suggest their world looks rather...scary. $\endgroup$ – t.ry Feb 20 '18 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ This is definitely more complicated than a colorblind issue. Sure, you can hide text from a colorblind person by putting red on green, but that's hard for a colorsighted person to see as well, so it doesn't usually happen. You could hide text from one species by using a writing material that absorbs light for one species but is transparent for the other. Certain materials would be transparent to one species but not the other (glass would be a good example), introducing engineering challenges for vehicles and even clothing. $\endgroup$ – Beefster Feb 20 '18 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ Or, simply the same difficulties encountered when translating from a language where the color space is partitioned differently. Homer's wine-dark sea and bronze sky come to mind. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 21 '18 at 0:06

You might need two sets of signs, computer monitors and stop lights. A color contrast that is clear to one species might appear a flat color to the other.

There could be whole aspects of fashion that are literally invisible to the other species. in the case of humans and aliens, perhaps the aliens literally cannot see the differences in human skin color, but our hair or eyes might wary wildly to their perception.

It might also be useful in engineering, like how Geordi from Star Trek was able to see things that were invisible to the human eye.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the computer monitors suggestion -- managing color profiles would be an absolute mess! $\endgroup$ – SilverWolf - Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '18 at 17:26

The implication of sensing different wavelengths would be most pronounced in what we try to hide. If a species can see into the infrared spectrum, it would be able to see heat through mundane obstacles and thus the significance of homes and clothing as means of personal privacy would be thwarted. Likewise, a species that can see UV or infrared but can't see into the visual spectrum might gain privacy via heat shields or UV-filtering that would seem very Emperor's new clothes to us.

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    $\begingroup$ That depends on how far into the infrared/UV spectrum they can see. Both are pretty broad bands of the EM spectrum. Visible light is tiny compared to most other bands. $\endgroup$ – Beefster Feb 21 '18 at 20:59

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