School of Art, Media, and Technology

Color Talks: How and Why we See

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Come and listen to two unbelievably eye-opening talks presented at Parsons by Alan Gilchrist (Cognitive Psychologist) and Jack Carter (Retinal Surgeon) in late April 2012. If you’ve ever wondered how your eyes and brain create what you “see” (you have company here at Parsons!) these talks will sooth your worn out nerves. You deserve a break- Take it!

Talk One
What: Color Talks
Who: Alan Gilchrist
When: Thursday, April 26th, 3-6pm.
Where: Parsons, 2 West 13th, Lobby, Bark Room.

Talk Two
What: Color Talks
Who: Jack Carter
When: Friday, April 27th, 12-3pm.
Where: Parsons, 6 East 16th, 12th Fl., Rm. 1200.

Alan Gilchrist (Cognitive Psychologist)

“Seeing Black, White, and Colored Surfaces.”
(Parallel problems in art and visual science.)

We see black, white, gray and colored surfaces when the light they reflect reaches the eye and strikes the rods and cones. But in fact, any intensity of light can be reflected from any shade of gray between white and black. And any wavelength of light can be reflected from any color of surface. This is the basic problem of human color perception. It will be explained using various live demonstrations. Because the color of a surface cannot be determined by the light it reflects, the human visual system must rely on information from the surrounding context. The implications of this for both vision science and for art will be discussed.


Alan Gilchrist is professor of psychology at Rutgers University, Newark Campus. He conducts research on visual perception, especially the problem of how the human eye can see the black, white, or gray shade of a surface regardless of illumination level. He is the author of two books: Lightness, Brightness, and Transparency and Seeing Black and White (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006). He teaches visual perception and critical thinking.

Jack Carter (Retinal Surgeon)

“Why do we see colors? Why do we see at all?”

This short series of presentations will attempt to answer some basic questions about vision. Why do we see in color? How did we get this way? Are there alternative forms of seeing? Are there colors that we don’t see? (Yes!) How long has this vision thing been going on? How did we come to our present notion of how we see? How does our perception of color affect what we create? Do we all see the same thing? We will explore these questions with the hope of creating for each of us a fuller, richer sense of what it means to see.


Jack Carter is a retinal surgeon in Winchester, Virginia. For more than two decades he has been talking to people about what they don’t see that is in front of them, and what they do see that isn’t there. Beginning from this clinical experience he has developed an interest in understanding the subtle (and sometimes not subtle) differences in how people may perceive the same thing. These differences in visual perception may then go on to create very different notions of ourselves and the world we live in. Dr. Carter is the President of Retina Associates and has published in various journals of ophthalmology including the American Journal of Ophthalmology and the Archives of Ophthalmology.

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