Evolution of color language in butterflies and flowering plants (copyright shutterstock)

The evolution of the world of color

Prehistoric times were gray: only gradually did plants become colorful and attract animals. According to color researcher Axel Buether, colors are “people’s largest communication system”. The development of our brain is also based on this system.

Only gradually did colors develop in the course of evolution: first mainly the green tones of plants, then ever more colorful shades. It’s all about the principle of “seeing and being seen”, says Buether. While different pigments formed in plants, color vision substances developed in the eyes of animals. This led to an extremely creative interaction between plants and animals.

Seeing and being seen

The Plants attract animals with their colors, such as bees today, and can reproduce more successfully as a result. About the genetic The result is ever more beautiful colors and ever more splendid fruit was created.

From this interplay of “seeing and Being seen”, communication mechanisms would have slowly developed. developed, says Buether. “And today we are assuming that complex nervous systems such as our brain actually have such have developed communication mechanisms.”

Red as the most important color

For red is the most important color for people. “If anything is red, we have to look immediately.” This is due to the structure of the of our eye, in particular the arrangement of the eye cells responsible for the cones on our retina that are responsible for color perception: The cones responsible for Perception of the blue color responsible cones are located at the outermost edge, which is why we can only perceive blue in a blurred way – so Buether. The green cones were located further in the middle. Inside center of the retina, where what we see all the time is recorded. and very consciously – “there are only red-sensitive Visual cells”.

Colors as an expensive commodity

Man has but is not satisfied with seeing colors. He also began to to produce yourself. The oldest evidence of this, cave paintings, are around 30,000 to 40,000 years old, says Buether. “The people have started to paint their world with earth colors.”

No wonder that colors later became an expensive commodity, sometimes worth as much as gold and silver: “The purpose of color is, of course, to indicate status. This means that the more valuable the color pigments are, the more important the person is in the social hierarchy.”

Podcast to listen to: Deutschlandfunk Kultur ECHTZEIT contribution from 02.11.2019 When the world became colorful