The Austin Chronicle

The Luv Doc: A Mind-Boggling Variety of Sensory Input

January 13, 2012, Columns

Dear Luvdoc, Why is the sky blue? – Gerald.

Wow Gerald. Maybe you should instead ask yourself why you don't have access to Google. Whatevs, Google is for chumps anyway. Sure, you can find answers on Google, but if you're looking for the real truth, you're going to have to search a little deeper than the collected knowledge of mankind. Besides, you probably already know that the sky is blue because of Rayleigh scattering, a process in which shorter wavelength light (the blue part of the spectrum, which is represented nicely on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon) is absorbed by atmospheric gases – principally nitrogen and oxygen. Fun fact: Lord Rayleigh and the members of Pink Floyd are both from Britain … where light is much scarcer than it is in Texas. In fact, their sky is mostly gray – like their teeth. It's a total Debbie Downer of a sky. Really, by asking why the sky is blue, you're asking why the color blue even exists. That's a tough one. Why does blue even appear on the cosmic design palette? And, even if it does, why isn't the higher end of the spectrum represented by reds or greens or perhaps some more spectacular colors our eyes are too low-tech to register? More importantly, who or what is in charge of doing the decorating around here, and why can't we see a completely different set of color swatches … well … without dropping acid? Of course, nobody wants to seem ungrateful for the mind-boggling variety of sensory input the universe already offers, but wouldn't it be cool if we had some other options? That's where we drop down the wormhole. We actually do have other options. Those options exist in our imagination. Think Wizard of OzAvatarWilly Wonka (Oompa Loompas, seriously, who did the color swatches on those dudes? Timothy Leary?). We may be hopelessly mired in the physical world, but we are able to invent concepts that exist outside it – or so it seems. Our mental wheels keep spinning long after our train of thought leaves the tracks. Maybe that's why we can't easily accept that this color palette is the only one available, pretty as it may be. So why is the sky blue? Perhaps it's blue simply to imply that there may be a sky that isn't.

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