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Why does white paper appear white?

If you stand out in the open on a grass-green meadow under a blue sky with your back to the sun, why does a white piece of paper, held in the shade of your body but still in the, supposed, blue-scattered-light; from the sky, still appear white? Is this because the eye colour-corrects to see white, why doesn’t it see the sky as white aswell?

Chris Bradley

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting question. In bright daylight(even in the shade) there is a lot of light around. This light comes from all the objects around us. Even given that the sky is blue(with not a lot of red light in it) white paper will probably look white. We could arrange a “red room” with a red light in it and I am fairly certain that the white paper would have a distinct red look to it. That would be because there is only red light coming from the white paper. This is how a white cinema screen works. We see accurately the colour in the image reflected from the screen(which is actually white).

    Now the colour perception of the human brain is a remarkable thing and the colour we perceive an object to be is an adjusted expectation of the objects around what we are looking at and the light from the object itself. So in your senario described above there is more than enough multi coloured light around for the brain to perceive the paper as white. If we help your scenario by adding some blue filter paper above the paper then that section of the paper will start to look more blue because we are restricting the amount of non blue light reaching the paper’s surface.

  2. does that mean that if someone who has never seen paper before or ever heard that it was white or any other color would actually see the white paper as another color since that’s what the mind would expect it to be? I’m not that good with these kind of things so im sorry if i sound slightly dumb….

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