Can you add up all of the colors found in the world? Yes, researchers have figured out a way to quantify all of the colors that shape the universe around us. Take a look at what we know about how many colors can be found in the world using a few simple calculations.
Before we begin, try to estimate what the number will be. You might be surprised – even if you’re a color expert!
We all know that vibrant, varied colors are all around us. It only takes a quick glance at our surroundings to see the jewel-toned blooms of flowers, emerald-hued swords of grass, burnt-orange leaves, turquoise-tinged waves and brown mounds of earth that make up our richly painted world.
Most of us think we know all the colors just because we know our way around a color wheel. We can also spout off the colors that make up the ROYGBIV color sequence easily. However, this is only part of the story. It turns out that colors of the rainbow only represent a minuscule fraction of all of the colors in the world.
Just how many colors are there in total? Let’s explore the answer to a question that may leave you more dazzled by the natural world than ever before.
Beyond ROYGBIV: How Many Colors Are There in the World?
The color list doesn’t end with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Yes, those are the colors that make up the rainbow as we know it. However, there is a hidden world of color that the human brain can barely comprehend coming at us from all directions.
First, it’s important to establish the facts about what we know about color before diving into the question of exactly how many colors there are in the world.
When discussing colors, we’re always starting with the core colors that make up ROYGBIV. All of the other colors in the world are technically just combinations of these core colors. That means we’re really focusing on color possibilities instead of colors that we’d realistically see with our own eyes at some point during our lives.
Many people incorrectly parrot the idea that the world contains an “infinite” number of colors. This simply isn’t true if we’re talking about the number of colors that the human eye can actually see. Researchers who study color are pretty confident that there is a cap on the total possible number of perceivable colors in the world.
Let’s take a look at what the equation looks like for figuring out what that cap is. As we do this, we’ll also dive into why calculating colors actually brings us into a realm where science merges with anthropology, sociology and the human mind.
How to Determine How Many Colors Exist in the World
The way to figure out how many colors exist in the world is to start with how many shades of light the human eye can actually see. According to researchers, the answer is 1,000 shades of light. Within those shades, we can detect 100 different levels of red-green shades. We can also see 100 levels of yellow-blue shades. It works out to about 10 million colors in the world that the human eye can see.
Equation for colors: 1000 x 100 x 100 = 10,000,000.
Exploration Time: Why There Can Never Be a “Settled” Answer
Here’s where the question of how many colors exist in the world morphs into something of a trick question. As covered earlier, determining how many colors there are rests on the agreement that we’re only talking about colors that humans can actually see. It’s possible that the total number of colors that aren’t perceived by the human eye is infinite.
There’s also a little bit of ambiguity even when we just focus on the answer of “10 million” colors that researchers have settled on. That’s because people see color differently. In fact, there’s plenty of research that shows that men and women actually have brain differences that cause differences in color perception.
What’s more, vision deficiencies like color blindness also cause color perception to vary by person, and our perception of color can vary when looking at the same object at different times of the day, simply based on the way light falls on surfaces.
The Bigger Picture: A Color Doesn’t Need to Have a Name to Be a Color
The truth is that only a very small percentage of all of the colors in existence actually have names.
What’s more, it appears that cultures are more likely to assign names to colors that define objects or concepts that people want to talk about regularly. In other words, colors are used as labels for objects instead of descriptors.
Some languages and cultures have more names for identified colors than others. That doesn’t mean that people in those cultures are actually seeing more colors than others. What it does mean is that cultures apply names and concepts to colors that they view as being significant.
Final Thoughts on Calculating All of the Colors in the World
How many colors are there in the world? The most accurate answer that science can give us at the moment is 10 million.
The bottom line is that trying to count all of the colors in the world is really more metaphysical than it is scientific. Most researchers are pretty satisfied with quantifying the full color list at 10 million because this takes into account the maximum number of configurations based on the human eye’s ability to perceive 1,000 shades of light, 100 levels of red-green shades and 100 levels of yellow-blue shades.
However, we can’t escape the fact that the concept of labeling all colors is slightly arbitrary due to the subjective nature of color perception. At the end of the day, artists and philosophers are certainly free to say that the number of colors in the universe is infinite.