Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Skies Smilin' at Me....

STEM
Culture
Edward Hessler


Of course the sky is blue. Everybody knows that. Look up and there it is blue as a bluebell or the wispy veins in blue cheese.  

This is something we learn growing up. We later learn the mechanisms in school although we may have to check our memory as we become older and also more distant from the physics of the sky's color and our biology. 

Makes me think of an explanation that I might have used as a small child. "Why is the sky blue?" "Cuz."

So what happens when we take our American understanding and our language deep into the tropical rain forests of South America? This is what Massachusetts of Technology cognitive scientist Edward Gibson did. He took a “car-battery powered light box and 80 standardized color chips,” hopped a boat and went down the Amazon River to the Tsimane’.

The Tsimane’ are a very isolated group hearing mostly their own language.  Gibson learned that they have many fewer color words “than American Engllsh speakers and Bolivian Spanish speakers.” They showed difficulty in agreeing on what to call the colors of the standardized color chips.

The conclusion of the study is “that the ability to describe colors isn’t as rooted in our biology as many scientists thought. And that means that language development may be far more rooted in our culture than in how we literally see the world.”

Science writer Zach Zoarch reported this story in a short essay in Science, September 18, 2017.  Click on that link to see the experimental set-up. There is a link to the original scientific research publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

I think it is a great study, one that makes a rich world of differences ever richer.






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