Limits of Imagination
Montreal, January 2005

previous next

previous next

I've always thought that there were no limits to what I could imagine. Distant planets, aliens, dreams, the future, the past etc, it seemed that I could envision anything. Have you always thought the same thing too about your own imagination? This picture will show you that you actually have limits.

Begin by imagining that the artist is showing you a card with red paint on it. No problem? Now try yellow. Next imagine that the yellow and red have been combined and he is holding up a streak of orange. This is all very easy for you to imagine. Vary the shade of orange in your imagination so it moves from light orange to bright orange. Your imagination allows you to do all these things.

Now imagine that the artist has spent weeks and weeks creating a new colour, the - drum roll - fourth primary colour. Look hard at the streak and try and imagine what the colour looks like. Its impossible, isn't it.

As much as we would love to, we can't imagine a new primary colour because we have never experienced it before. In other words, our imagination can't go beyond what we have already seen and felt. Maybe some people find this whole exercise obvious, but it surprised me. Its a bit sobering, to know my own limits.

"How about aliens?" you might wonder. If we can only imagine what we have experienced, how can we imagine an alien when none of us have actually met one? I believe that any alien you imagine will simply be what you have seen in the movies or other media. These images of aliens are simply variations of the human and/or animal form. An alien will have a human body but some sort of bony rhinosauras horn jutting out of its forehead. Or it may have eight legs like a spider and a human face. The point is that it will be made up of things we have already seen - heads, legs, arms, horns, bones, etc etc. That is the limit of our imagination.

There is a good side to all of this. The way to expand your imagination is to increase the number of experiences you have in real life, the people you know, and the subjects you learn. Your imagination can draw on these experiences to expand its own boundaries. The result is self-reinforcing. Expanded imaginations will help you have new experiences and enjoy them more fully.

****If you are able to see the fourth primary colour, email me :) ***

Leave a comment

Thu Mar 24 17:46:48 2005 from Jad < [email protected] >

The shadowing around this "colour" implies more than texture, it adds a sense of separation between it and the page. Paint of a certain colour, once on a page, belongs to it while this one almost has a sense of individuality. In this case however, it gives the impression that this 4th dimension adds an energy component making this perhaps more of an idea than a colour...You have created the first tangible idea...only it's still imprisonned inside your work.

Sat May 28 04:39:34 2005 from Chris Shannon < [email protected] >

A tetrachromat is an organism for which the perceptual effect of any arbitrarily chosen light from its visible spectrum can be matched by a mixture of no more than four different pure spectral lights.

Tetrachromacy has not yet been demonstrated as a characteristic property of any mammalian species, though it is likely that it occurs in some birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Humans and other Old World primates normally have three types of cone cells and are therefore trichromats. However, at low light intensities the rod cells may contribute to colour vision, giving a small region of tetrachromacy in the colour space. It has also been suggested that women who are carriers for certain kinds of color blindness (protanomaly or deuteranomaly) may be born as full tetrachromats, having four different simultaneously functioning kinds of cones.


So at low light levels we can all see the fourth primary colour, using our rods as colour sensors.

Thu Sep 29 12:53:24 2005 from Lope < lope_away at yahoo dot com >

Well next time in a dark room I'll pay extremely close attention to the colours I see - maybe a fourth one will appear. I'm closing my eyes tight right now, and all I'm seeing is black, and some purple.

You mentioned one deficiency - deuteranomaly. The picture below shows what its like to have this deficiency, versus being a normal trichromat.

pinched from the University of Calgary Psychology page.

Wonder what this picture would look like if it compared a normal trichromat to a tetrachromat?

Sun Nov 13 21:53:30 2005 from

"Its a bit sobering, to know my own limits.... There is a good side to all of this." -- -- If these ideas interest you (though sobering) try "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker. The unrelenting internal struggle between symbolic/idetic and animal/creature realities. This conflict explains much of what occurs in our minds. The ever self-admiring brain ... so easily insulted when confronted by his creaturly (physical) reaity (limits). Fascinating! ***But guaranteed: sobering as death***

Tue Nov 15 12:56:43 2005 from Lope < lope_away at yahoo dot com >

I did some reading on Becker, fascinating work - thanks for the comment.

A picture of Ernest Becker, from this website.

From the bits I read on the net, Becker believed that we humans create fantasies about our own physical limitations, mainly death, in order to give us the strength to continue living. These fantasies allow us to ignore the fact that we will one day die, and that we don't entirely know what will happen after.

Which brings up the question - why bother learning what your weaknesses are? Why not convince yourself that your imagination is unlimited, or believe that good things will happen after you die? At least this gives you hope and happiness.