Art Science

An Eye on the Laundry Wheel – Learning About the Eye and Color

February 2, 2017
Laundry Basket

You guys.  It is an eternal battle.  The dirty clothes on the floor!  People in my house take clothes off.  They cast them upon the floor.  We even have one of those super easy and definitely not fancy laundry sorters that you can pick up at your local box store.  I happened to get mine at good ol’ Target because I liked the color best.  It has three silos – one for each main laundry ‘color’ category.

My people know their colors and my people know they should not cast their dirty clothes from the day onto the floor when they are done wearing them.  I say they know the latter because, well they should.  After all, I tell them that every single day when they throw some item of clothing on the floor. Every. Day.

This is enough for me to have wandering thoughts about joining a nudist colony simply to eliminate laundry!

I theorized recently that my voice was in the decibel range of a dog whistle and thus that is why they do not hear me.  Meanwhile, my dog is confused, as she has no laundry and she is blind which definitely complicates matters when you are talking to a dog about color sorting.  Which really probably doesn’t matter because she is deaf too and if she wasn’t blind she would be color blind because she is a dog.  Bad example.

Do you know that my husband recently found eight PAIRS of socks in the van?  EIGHT.  What?!  They were in car seats, under seats, in cup holders and God only knows where else.  Surely it was one pair at first and it mated, thus producing offspring?  I certainly don’t have a child with sixteen feet and even if you count the feet on the three children I do have that only equals six.  It does not make sense.  You would think the observant mother might notice mating socks in the confines of her minivan.  You would think an observant mother would notice the barefoot babe galloping into the house, especially if it had sixteen feet.  Then again, maybe that mama is carrying all the backpacks, pre-school papers, cups, garbage, groceries in her arms and didn’t notice.

I am telling you.  These children know their colors and I have my laundry silos well-defined for them:

  • whites/greys/light pinks go in the hamper closest to ‘your’ room (all of my kiddos share a room.  If you missed my last post, you can read about why in the Sylvia Plath post below or click here: )
  • the colors go in the middle hamper
  • the darks (blacks, dark blues) go in the hamper closest to mommy’s and daddy’s room

I think that covers the rainbow.  Simple.

At this point, since we have had said hamper for well over three years, I think it would be easier to set up an auditorium with little chairs for their pants and shirts to ‘sit’ on and tiny little foot stools for their socks to ‘stand’ on while I teach the items of clothing about the evasive, confusing and frightening hamper and subsequently model how they can leap or cast themselves into the top of a silo.  And, as further justification for this desperate and brilliant laundry lesson plan, I must add:  this hamper is so obviously positioned in the small hallway of our house.  It practically blocks entry to the bathroom and the ‘master’ bedroom, so it’s not like it looms in a dark corner and it isn’t like it bites people.

Tiny House Hamper - Laundry

It is so important to me that it was saved from a two-year hiatus in Public Storage, while we small-house dwell, despite the fact that we do not have room for it.

All of this.  All of this hamper nonsense brings me to this:  The other night in my normal routine of (nice mommy voice), “Put on your PJs and please put your clothes in the hamper,” I received an inquiry about a pair of khaki pants and some color of shirt.

“Mommy, where do these pants and this shirt go?”

My response was simple, “The pants go in the whites. The hamper closest to your room.  The shirt goes in the colors in the middle.”

Maybe I am simple-minded or naïve to expect only action in response. Instead, combined with the action of depositing laundry, this is the response I received:  “you mean white isn’t a color?”

What?!  Lordie. There are white crayons, white paints, white paper, white tables, pretty sure school teaches that white is a color…yes. ‘White’ is definitely used to describe the color of something that is…well, white!

There I am left in a void in my tinier than tiny hallway thinking …oh gosh! Which color is the absence of color?!  Is that white?  Is black the saturated color?  Wait.  Is white all the colors?!  Shoot!  Is someone going to ask me and I won’t be able to answer?! Wait. I have already been asked I don’t remember.  Or do I?

This is my life.  The other day my seven year-old son invented the lightening rod and understood the Faraday cage without even knowing that he knew it.  That is a story for another day.  Let’s all be thankful my handy ‘A in physics husband’ was present for that one.

Back to the colors.  In the hopes of helping out my fellow mama, here is a little tutorial on colors via the laundry wheel just in case you want to reference that milk is all of the colors while your child scarfs their Cheerios tomorrow morning.  And, make sure you read through to see how our eyes help our brains receive the color message!

The Color Wheel

Colors are broken into three main categories for paint, which are defined below: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary Colors are colors from which all other colors can be obtained by mixing.  They are red, yellow and blue.  They cannot be made by mixing any other colors.

Secondary Colors are the colors achieved by mixing two primary colors.  They are green, orange and purple. Yellow and blue make green (remember Ziploc), red and yellow make orange and red and blue make purple!

Tertiary Colors are colors made by mixing two secondary colors together or by mixing a primary color with the secondary color closest to it.  For example:  yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.

It is helpful to reference the color wheel, a variation of which was first developed in 1666 by Isaac Newton, to visualize the classifications of colors and their relationships to one another.  Since then many variations have been designed.  Here is one:

color wheel - laundry

The color wheel representing all of the previously mentioned color categories will have 12 wedges (3 primary, 3 secondary, 6 tertiary).  When you look at the wheel you can see complementary colors (colors directly opposite each other on the wheel and in the color spectrum), such as blue and orange or red and green.   Analogous colors are groups of three colors next to each other on the color wheel, with one being the dominant color.

But, I have been remiss to this point in answering the question asked of me, “You mean white isn’t a color?”

Actually young sir, it is.  White is white due to the reflection of most wavelengths of visible light.  So essentially it is sending all of the colors back to the eye making white.  Black on the other hand is the opposite of white and is the darkest color, due to the absence of or complete absorption (not reflection) of light.  Eureka!

I would be remiss if I did not offer one clarifying point on the color white.  White cannot be produced by mixing paint colors because paint is subtractive when combining pigments, thus the more colors you mix, the more colors of light are absorbed and the mixture becomes black.  White can be made, not by mixing primary colors (as with light), but by using pigment that reflects all colors (such as titanium).

So all of that is very fine and good, but colors are colors and are just sitting out there on objects, on us, everywhere in the world.  How do we know they are what they are?  This merits a quick segue over to the very important eye because without it or all of its working parts we might not see all of those busy rays reflecting colors of objects.

How the Eye Processes Light

When light rays reflect off of an object and enter the eye through the cornea, the cornea bends the rays that pass through the pupil. The pupil regulates the amount of light passing through.  The light passes through the lens, which changes shape so it can bend them even more and focus them on the retina.  The retina, in the back of the eye, contains millions of light-sensing nerve cells called rods and cones.

The cones are more-concentrated in the center of the retina in an area called the macula.  In bright light, they detect colors and fine details. The rods are outside of the macula and extend to the edge of the retina.  They provide peripheral vision, detect motion and allow us to see at night or in dim light.

rods and cones - Laundry

Your rods might be ailing if you can’t pass that little test at the DMV where you have to put your forehead (ew!) on that thing that then flashes lights at the side of your head.

When those millions of cells are done processing the light they then convert it into electrical impulses and the optic nerve sends those to the brain, which produces the image.  So, in sum there are a lot of parts of the eye working together to help us see color, but the cones are the ones detecting the color.

Tomorrow, I will make sure to clear up the color question with my little people (if they even remember because they don’t remember to put their clothes in the hamper, so surely they won’t) and I will also ponder this tidbit I found along the way:

Light from stars can travel unchanged for billions of years in space and then in the last microseconds before that light reaches our eyes, the accurate view is destroyed.  This is because when the light passes through our atmosphere it blurs the cosmic details. 

Click here to read more and for a neat little visual of that:

For now, I will sit and wonder if perhaps I should be washing the whites with the colors.

Journey on!


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