The Invention Of Blue

Vsauce! Kevin here — now let’s paint a classic
rainbow.  Green, good. Yellow, nice. Red, spectacular. And we’re done. Because for most of human history, there was
no blue. I mean, of course blue existed. Ancient humans had the same biological visual
systems for observing colors we have today and clothing dyed blue with indigo has existed
from the Indus Valley Harappan to the Han Dynasty in China.   But take a look at these old paintings and
you’ll see there’s no blue. So did rainbows themselves change!? No. You can even see blue sky and blue water in
these paintings — which means blue paint existed but the rainbow of colors is missing
blue. They observed blue and used blue, but didn’t
see blue as part of the rainbow. Why? Because blue is clearly an important color. It’s everywhere. Except it’s… not. When it comes to blue foods, you have blueberries,
which are actually a deep purple. Plants have no true blue pigment. The less than 10% of flowers that look blue-ish
are like that due to the natural modification of a red pigment called anthocyanin – the
same thing in blueberries and cherries. Well, what about blue animals? Bluebirds? A Mandrill’s blue nose and… butt? The blue-footed booby? Your Uncle Louie may have a pet parrot with
bright blue feathers, but blue animals haven’t been and continue not to be a very common
part of our lives. In terms of blue minerals, the Egyptians imported
the rare blue stone lapis lazuli from thousands of miles away 6,000 years ago. The legendary talisman of Charlemagne, king
of the Francs, purportedly contained a fragment of the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified
set between two blue sapphire gems. The most valuable object of the most powerful
Christian King was encased in blue. While in the East, the blue Buddha carved
from lapis lazuli represented healing, wisdom and compassion. So basically when we finally found something
blue it was like….”THIS SEEMS IMPORTANT.” Like my eyeballs. Blue eyes have only existed for about 7,000
years and were traced to a common ancestor in Spain. Today, people with blue eyes only represent
about 8% of the population. So on this blue marble called Earth, there’s
not really much blue anywhere. Except the entire sky. I think. Classical Arabic and Persian poetry frequently
refer to the sky as “the green” and up until about the 13th century, the sky was
primarily considered white because of its association with light during daytime. And yeah, the sky and water are often blue
but not always. On overcast days the sky can be white or gray,
and at night it’s black. Water can look gray, green, or have no color
at all. Water was often green on maps and wasn’t
established as blue until the 17th century. Green and blue are separated by only 35 nanometers
on the visible light spectrum, making them even closer than violet and indigo. The thing is… in languages ranging from
Old Irish to Japanese, green and blue were just one word. It’s tough to imagine lumping together blue
and green, but you probably lump together goluboy and siniy. In Russia, light blue and dark blue are known
as goluboy and siniy respectively and a 2006 study found that Russian speakers were faster
at discriminating two separate colors when shown blues that fell into their linguistic
category. English speakers, who really only have one
word for blue, showed no advantage. When you don’t have different words to distinguish
shades, blue is just blue — it’s really hard to categorize a difference quickly. But not only were green and blue once one
color – for a while there were actually only three colors. Black, white, and red were the first recognized
colors in virtually every civilization. Here’s why. Black and white come from dark and light.  Red comes from poisonous fruits and from
blood spilled during hunting, battle or injury, and also represents the fertility associated
with menstruation. The deeply-rooted impact of the Black/White/Red
three-color system can been seen in Snow White, a story that has existed cross-culturally
in multiple forms for hundreds of years. Snow White with lips as red as blood and hair
as black as ebony wood. And when her evil stepmother tries to poison
her with a red apple, she tries to convince Snow White it’s not poisoned so she eats
the apple with her but the stepmother eats the white part which is not poisoned and makes
Snow White eat the red part which is poisoned. The colors are important is what I’m trying
to say. Humans have always observed other colors,
but we just compartmentalized them into black, white and red. Yellow was associated with white, and green,
blue and violet were linked with black. Eventually yellow and green became unique
colors in their own right — there’s plenty of both in nature — but still no one was
talking about blue. Early languages like Greek, Hebrew, and Chinese
had no specific word for blue. The words they used to represent colors weren’t
necessarily describing an exact hue, but instead could reflect brightness or even quality. So, a better translation for green might be
“pale” and white might be “shining.” You hear that, Doctor Resnick? I’m not vitamin D deficient. I’m shining. Hey, how about you give us a specific example
of blue missing from the past? Okay. A famous 1858 study by William Gladstone showed
that Homer’s The Odyssey mentions black 200 times, white around 100, red less than
15, yellow and green under 10, and blue a whopping zero times. The Greeks did have a word — glaukós — that
could mean light blue, but glaukós was more about describing the feeling of a color and
could also mean gray, yellow or brown. And the Hebrew tekhelét described a colorant
which came from a mollusk that could be used to dye garments blue or violet. When we did develop words for blue they were
rooted in materials rather than the abstract concept of color. The Egyptians had a word for their blue pigment:
irtiu, the first synthetic pigment ever created. But after the fall of Rome, the complicated
process of making Egyptian blue was lost — along with the Romans’ word for it, caeruleum.  Since the Latin lexicon had a gap for blue,
the most common modern words for blue derive from German and Arabic, both of whom made
and traded blue. In the 13th century, woad began being produced
on a large scale for dying clothes. Making blue from yellow flowers for the masses
influenced the culture’s need for a word to describe that color.  That word was blau. The word Azure comes from the Arabic lazaward,
which was used to describe cobalt oxide blue glass and ceramics as well as lapis lazuli. The deep blue metamorphic rock was mined from
a single mountain range in Afghanistan, the Sar-i Sang or “The Valley Of The Stone.” After about 3,000 years we finally figured
out how to extract just the magnificent blue to create a pigment called ultramarine. Ultramarine was the first truly vibrant blue
pigment in the world and was extremely rare and expensive — blue became more valuable
than gold. Painters reserved it for only the most important
subjects like the Virgin Mary’s robe. But only the rich “blue bloods” could
possibly afford ultramarine. It took an accident with red blood to bring
blue to the world. A pigment maker named Diesbach was trying
to create a popular red out of cochineal, an insect still used for red dye in everything
from lipstick to ketchup. He added iron sulfate mixed with potash which
we later discovered has a useful element now called potassium. Anyway, the potash he used was contaminated
with animal blood, which contains iron, and rather than creating red, he accidentally
invented an affordable, long-lasting true blue. When it came to making red pigment… he really
blue it. Named Prussian Blue after its use as a dye
for Prussian army uniforms, its popularity went global. It reinvigorated Japanese woodblock paintings,
which went on to influence manga, which led to Japanese animation. And it also revolutionized architecture. In 1842, English astronomer Sir John Herschel
used Prussian blue to invent blueprints, eliminating the need for architectural drawings to be
arduously hand-copied. So you can thank blue for Dragon Ball Z and
buildings. But clothing is where blue cemented its use
in everyday life. Black gave way to blue as the color of choice
for uniforms from sailors and guards to police officers and postal workers.  The working class became “blue collar.” And the explosive popularity of rugged denim
jeans brought blue to everyone. It’s impossible to understate how quickly
our modern world exploded with color. It was only 350 years ago that Sir Isaac Newton
changed the world when experiments with prisms led him to divide the visible spectrum into
five colors: red, yellow, green, blue and violet. He later added orange and indigo simply because
he wanted the number of colors to align with the ancient Greek belief in the power of the
number seven. Seven notes in a musical scale, seven known
planets, seven days in a week. Four centuries later, you have a telephone
in your pocket that displays over 16.7 million colors with clearly defined hex codes so I
know that the specific blues for Vsauce2 are #3399ff and #0066cc. And now blue – a color with no name for most
of existence – is the most popular color in the world. We invented the color of our planet and it’s
changed how we see life. Norwegian Painter Edvard Munch had a perceptual
phenomenon known as synesthesia which causes sensory and cognitive signals to cross — and
it led him to see emotions as colors. He said, “In my art, I attempt to explain
life and its meaning to myself.” And while The Scream remains his most legendary
work, Munch’s painting Starry Night represents how human perception colors our reality.  Having just lost his first love, Munch painted
the view from his hotel room in Oslo. Tapping into his synesthesia to express this
once-in-a-lifetime feeling, the entire landscape is bathed in the color of a bruised heart,
the color of transcendence beyond the ordinary, the color blue. Describing the painting, he said, “… a
landscape will alter according to the mood of the person who sees it.” But the invention of blue didn’t just alter
the landscape – it allowed us to advance from simply observing our surroundings to finally
seeing our world. Which means the question, “why is the sky
blue?” actually has two answers. The first is that the shorter, smaller blue
light waves from the sun scatter when they hit molecules in our atmosphere. The second is… we found blue. And as always – thanks for watching. Hey if you want to learn more about yourself
then click here to watch my previous video, Scapegoats. For this video I want to thank Joshua, Trevor
Something, Kidmograph, Victoria and Virginia all for their help. Now the new Curiosity Box just arrived this
is the new T-shirt but what I really want to talk about is this. Say hello to Nikola Tesloth. The first in our brand new pin series, Curious
Creatures. Which is a mashup of some of the most curious
humans of all time with some of the awesomest creatures of all time. On the back you get to see a brief biography
of Nikola Tesloth. And this is the first of many to come. So starting now, each Curiosity Box will include
another Curious Creature. So if you subscribe now you get to start your
collection from number one. As always a portion of the proceeds from The
Curiosity Box goes to Alzheimer’s research. So thanks for supporting all of our brains,
thanks for supporting your brain and thanks for supporting Vsauce.

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