Six Forms of the Lack of Color

Color is an interesting characteristic of objects, life, materials, and phenomena in the real world. As interesting as color is, the concept of the lack of color is interesting in its own right. But what constitutes a lack of color?

Part or most of my motivation for this informal paper is to be able to conceptualize the knowledge that an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) system, so-called Strong AI, would need to be able to be as smart, wise, and able as a reasonably sophisticated human being. Understanding the nature of color, in a human sense, seems necessary. Yes, it’s a small thing, but so many small things add up to a lot of what constitutes human knowledge, experience, and meaning. And, hey, we humans do love color.

I suspect that a poll of people would yield an even split between those who consider white or black the epitome of lack of color.

In truth, it all depends on how you define color, and lack of color.

For this informal paper I’ll stick with a simple, operational definition of lack of color:

  • Something lacks color if the viewer does not discern the presence of color.

The core, most important, three main forms of lack of color that I’ve identified are:

  1. Black. Darkness is obviously a lack of color.
  2. White. Light, but nothing notable to see per se.
  3. Transparent. Literally, nothing to see.

In addition to those core three, I’d add three more:

  1. Shades of gray. For drabness alone. Aesthetically, no real color.
  2. Shades of brown. Beiges and tans are drab as well.
  3. Shades of off-white. Ivory, etc. Not really obviously gray with any intensity, maybe lighter tans, but close enough to white. Technically, shades of gray and brown which are close enough to white would be classified as off-whites. Could have a small amount of primary (and derivative) color to tint the off-white, but not so much to emphasize the added color compared to simply moderating the whiteness a little.

Technically, each of those last three categories are infinite, so you could choose to claim them as three infinities of forms, but I’ll stick with three categories, each a form of lack of color.

You could add very modest tints to shades, like greenish gray, reddish brown, and bluish white, but now your getting too close to introducing color, while the goal to understand the nature of lack of color. Still, it’s good to comprehend the gray area between full color and complete lack of color.

Granted, there are many instances when grays, browns, and off-whites have a useful role in color schemes, but generally it is precisely their lack of color that allows them to add value.

It is indeed debatable whether you wish to be a purist and stick with the core three forms of lack of color or add the three non-core shades as well. I in fact debated with myself whether to stick with the solid core, but I finally decided to opt for being comprehensive.

Now, how do we go about teaching a robot about color and lack of color, other than the specific, mechanical aspects?

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