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Sat Feb 10, 2018, 02:34 PM

On Island of the Colorblind, Paradise Has a Different Hue

An island in the Pacific has a unique genetic history that affects how it understands color.

By Daniel Stone
Photographs by Sanne De Wilde

Pingelap Atoll, the Micronesian island in the South Pacific, sometimes goes by its other name, The Island of the Colorblind. That's the moniker Oliver Sacks assigned the island in his 1996 book that explored the human brain. Pingelap piqued the interest of Sacks and many other scientists for its strange genetic circumstance. According to legend, a devastating typhoon in 1775 caused a population bottleneck. One of the survivors, the ruler, carried a rare gene for a extreme type of colorblindness. Eventually, he passed the gene to the island's future generations.

Today, roughly 10 percent of the island's people are still believed to hold the gene for the condition, known as complete achromatopsia, a rate significantly higher than the 1 in 30,000 occurrence elsewhere in the world. But 10 percent is also low enough that the concept of color—and who can see it—has acquired new meaning among people in Pingelap.


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Reply On Island of the Colorblind, Paradise Has a Different Hue (Original post)
Judi Lynn Feb 2018 OP
TomSlick Feb 2018 #1
3catwoman3 Feb 2018 #2

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sat Feb 10, 2018, 02:46 PM

1. Very interesting.

I am described as being red-green color blind but that's really a misnomer. I can identify vivid reds and greens as such. It's the more subtle colors that mess with me. I can sometimes tell that something is red or green but it doesn't "look" red or green to me - as nonsensical as that sounds.

So, what do the words red and green really mean? When people ask me to describe what I see, I use words like brown and grey but I have no idea if those words mean the same thing to me that they do to other people.

Do your young sons and grandsons (red-green color blind folks are overwhelmingly male) a favor. If the kindergarten teacher is concerned that little Tommy can't learn his colors, there may be a good reason. There are reasonably good color vision tests available on the internet.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sat Feb 10, 2018, 04:56 PM

2. My stepson, now 47, is color blind to a moderate degree.

It wasn't discovered until he was at least 9. He was spending the weekend with m husband and me, and he found my book of Ishihara plates. We went thru them, and he got them all wrong. I thought he was yanking my chain, so we did them again, with the same results.

His mom got him tested, and he was definitely color blind. He had wanted to be a pilot, like his dad, so, of course, that was no longer an option. In a gently kidding way, he says he has never completely forgiven me for being the one who found it and destroying his career plans. It's actually his bio-mom's fault, of course.

He has had a productive career in the Air Force in the military police field, and will retire as a Lt Col. He has flown drones for several years.

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