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Why Do Colors Exist?

"Why Do Colors Exist" artwork. Magnifying glass with multiple colors and flowers in background.


NGSS Standards:



Crosscutting Concepts:

Cause and Effect

Transcript-Why Do Colors Exist
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Why do colors exist in the world? That’s what Phoebe wants to know. The answer might change how you think about the colors that you see! Neuroscientist and artist Bevil Conway bends our minds and our eyes, to show us how colors are the ultimate optical illusion. We’ll discover what color is made of, why even plants can “see” color, and what color can tell us about how our brains work. Take out your coloring supplies and prepare for a color journey.


Bevil Conway is both a scientist and an artist. He told us that science and art are really not so different:

"Artists, they're kind of like scientists, really. They run experiments. They try things out in their studio and see what works. That's certainly what I do when I'm in the studio when I'm mixing colors."

Here's one of Bevil's watercolors. Mixing watercolors is what inspired him to be curious about colors, when he was a kid.

Bevil says that he thinks that there's not a choice between following interests in art and science. You can do both! While Bevil's main job is being a neuroscience, he also creates and sells his art. He loves doing both.

Photo of Bevil Conway


In the episode, we talked about how one object can look different colors to different people. The most famous example of this is a photo of a dress, from 2015. Believe it or not, the entire world was talking about it!

What colors do you see when you look at it?

Photo of dress

So what do you see?

Ask a friend which colors they see.

Is it the same or different?

Some people see this dress as blue and black, others as white and gold. Bevil says that's because we have different experiences of colors, and so our brain interprets them differently.

Bevil explained the optical illusion of this dress on NPR, when it was a big topic of discussion.

This article from Slate dives deeper into the science, two years later. According to the article, how you see the dress has a lot to do with whether you assume the photo was taken in a shadow.

The dress is actually black and blue!


As you can see, we can look at science from many angles. Here's a few more resources on how we see color:


How animals see and use color (Netflix documentary):


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