Colors you didn’t know existed

There is an official name for the color you see when your eyes are closed: Eigengrau or Brain Grey. It translates as “grey with its own light”.

It is slightly lighter than black because the eyelid is just a thin membrane and you can still easily make out light and movement with your eyes closed. Although the eyelids may be closed, the pupil does not close (in fact, it opens more when the eyes are closed) and therefore information is still received.

Inside the eye is a protein called rhodopsin. It is a light-sensitive molecule that, when stimulated by a photon, initiates a process called visual transduction. This is the process that converts light information into electrical information for the brain to process.

For the rhodopsin molecule to send its electrical message to the brain, a process called isomerization occurs. However, isomerization can occur spontaneously (ie without any stimulus). It is the spontaneous isomerization of the rhodopsin molecule that creates Eigengrau.

A chimeric color is an imaginary color that can be seen temporarily by staring at a strong color until some of the cone cells (photosensitive cells found in the retina of vertebrates) become fatigued, temporarily changing their color sensitivity.

They are almost fantasy colors, like those narrated in some novels. Like Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series that began with The Color of Magic (1983), which describes ‘octarine’, a color only magicians can see.

Or Marion Zimmer Bradley in her novel The Colors of Space (1963), which mentions ‘the eighth colour’ that became visible during the FTL voyage. For its part, The Color of Outer Space is a 1927 story by H.P. Lovecraft, and is named after an unnamed color, generally unobservable by humans, conceived by alien entities.

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