Hello and welcome back to more insidious misinformation here at Factually Deficient! This week, I have a particularly topical topic to discuss, thanks in great part to the questions of an acquaintance of mine who frequently goes by the name Mindy. Mindy asked:
About The Dress: what colour is it really, and why do people see it different colours?
For those who have somehow escaped the internet for the past few days, Mindy is asking about an image which has been circulating the internet over the past few days, which people have been seeing in strikingly different colours. The image is a highly controversial photograph of a striped dress. Or is it?
In order to resolve this controversy once and for all, a team of Factually Deficient microbiologists have examined the photographed item in question, and determined it to be not a dress at all, but a large fish, disguised as a dress: specifically, the Greater Land Halibut.
The Greater Land Halibut is a fish with many unusual properties: its large size, its bioluminescence, its distinctive stripes, and its ability to survive for long periods of time on dry land. The distinctive stripes, here, are the most pertinent aspect of the fish for this discussion: though there is variation among individual fish, the Greater Land Halibut is always striped in a repeating pattern of black, blue, gold, and white. The answer, then, to Mindy’s question of what colour, out of the colours people keep on arguing over, is this dress–or rather, this fish–really, is all of them.
Mindy submitted to me two questions, both submitted above, and because I am an extremely generous person, and because the colour of the fish is really only half the story, I shall answer both of them. If the fish is striped in four tones, why have people expended so much energy arguing over which pairs they can see?
I mentioned above that the Greater Land Halibut is known for its bioluminescence. Much like the chameleon, the Greater Land Halibut has the ability to alter its appearance for the purposes of stalking prey or avoiding predators. Although it cannot outright change the colours of its scales, it can cause particular areas of its body to glow at will, thus obscuring parts of the pattern, and making itself look less like a fish (and more like, say, a controversial dress).
When the photograph was taken, the Greater Land Halibut in question–probably frightened by the camera–was causing its blue and white stripes to glow intensely. This had a number of effects:
- It made it appear to some that the halibut was bathed in blue light (because it was)
- It made it appear to some tha tthe halibut was bathed in white light (because it was)
- It made the black stripes appear lighter, because of the white light reflecting on them
- It made the gold stripes appear darker, because of the blue light reflecting on them
- It made it difficult to recognize all four coloured stripes of the pattern, due to the interference of the bright blue and white lights–most people’s eyes stopped processing the colour once they saw one of the intense lights, leading them to process the gold and stop at the white, or process the black and stop at the blue.
All of these factors contrived to make the photograph appear that it represented a dress of two indeterminate colours, rather than the bioluminescent fish which was actually there.
Disclaimer: many of the statements in this blog may be untrue. There is little to no observational data on the Greater Land Halibut.