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Where is clocks and colours based?

Clocks and colours are an integral part of our daily lives. We tell time using clocks and perceive the world around us through colour. But have you ever wondered where clocks and colours originated from? In this article, we will explore the history and origins of clocks and colours. Understanding where clocks and colours came from allows us to appreciate their role in society today.

The History of Clocks

Humans have attempted to measure and record time for thousands of years. The earliest timekeeping devices were natural phenomena like the sun, moon and stars. Ancient civilizations used obelisks and sundials to track the movement of light and shadow across the day. Water clocks were also an early timekeeping device, with the flow of water marking the passage of time.

Mechanical clocks first appeared in Europe during the 14th century. These early tower clocks used gears and weights to power their mechanisms. Pendulum clocks were invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, allowing for more accurate timekeeping. The pendulum swing regularized the motion of the clock hand. Over the centuries, clocks became smaller and more portable with spring driven clocks.

The modern clock face with 12 numbers first appeared in the late 14th century. The division of the day into 24 hours of 60 minutes each traces back to the Sumerians and ancient Egypt. Our current time zones were adopted in 1884 during the International Meridian Conference. Standardized time zones allowed for synchronized time around the world.

Some key events in the history and development of clocks:

1300 BCE Sundials used in ancient Egypt
200 BCE Water clocks invented in Greece
1307 CE First mechanical tower clocks appear in Europe
1656 CE Christian Huygens invents the pendulum clock
1880 CE National adoption of standardized time zones

The drive to measure time has led to increasingly precise clocks through history. Atomic clocks now keep time accurate to within a second over millions of years. From sundials to atomic clocks, our ability to track time has been crucial for navigation, scheduling, and modern life.

The History of Colour Theory

The study of colour and light spans cultures and centuries. Early humans used natural pigments like charcoal and ochre to add colour when painting on cave walls. The ancient Greeks developed an early colour theory with a focus on the aesthetic qualities of colour. Aristole and Pliny the Elder both wrote on the nature and perception of colour.

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci systematically studied light and shadow in his paintings. He observed how colours can appear different based on lighting and background. In the 1600s, Isaac Newton discovered that sunlight was composed of all the colours of the rainbow. His experiments with prisms demonstrated how white light splits into the visible colour spectrum.

In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published his Theory of Colours. In contrast to Newton, Goethe emphasized the psychological impact of colour over the physics of colour. At the same time, James Maxwell showed that just three primary colours can be mixed to produce the full range of hues. This discovery led to colour photography and modern colour models.

Important developments in the history of colour theory include:

350 BCE Aristotle writes on colour perception
1490 CE Da Vinci studies chiaroscuro light and colour
1666 CE Newton demonstrates that white light contains the colour spectrum
1810 CE Goethe publishes Theory of Colours focusing on colour psychology
1855 CE Maxwell shows all colours derive from three primary colours

From cave paintings to computer displays, understanding colour has been essential in art, science and technology. How we create, classify and experience colour continues to be an active area of research and discovery.

The Physics of Light and Colour

At a fundamental level, colour comes from light. The physics of light explain where colours originate. Light is a type of electromagnetic radiation, travelling in waves. The wavelength and frequency of light determines its colour. Shorter wavelengths are the colours violet, blue and green. Longer wavelengths are the colours yellow, orange and red.

White light contains light of all wavelengths across the visible spectrum. When white light passes through a prism, the different wavelengths bend at slightly different angles, splitting white light into its rainbow of constituent colours. Pigments and objects appear coloured because they absorb some wavelengths of light while reflecting others back to our eyes. For example, a red shirt absorbs every colour except red light, which is reflected back to our eyes.

The visible colour spectrum that humans can see ranges in wavelength from about 380 to 740 nanometres (nm):

Colour Wavelength (nm)
Violet 380-450
Blue 450-495
Green 495-570
Yellow 570-590
Orange 590-620
Red 620-740

Light outside the visible spectrum includes ultraviolet light, x-rays, and infrared light. While we cannot see these wavelengths, some animals like bees can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Advanced cameras and sensors can also detect infrared and ultraviolet light.

The RGB (red, green, blue) colour model used in TVs and computers relies on the three primary colours of light. Mixing red, green and blue light in different intensities allows us to perceive the full range of hues on a screen. Understanding the physics of light is key to generating, capturing and perceiving colour.

The Biology of Colour Vision

When light enters our eye, specialized cells called cones detect light and send signals to the brain. There are three types of cones that respond preferentially to red, green or blue wavelengths of light. Stimulating the different cones elicits the perception of different colours.

The visible spectrum that humans see represents the range of light detectable by our cone cells. Some animals have four types of cones, allowing them to see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Butterflies, for example, use their ultraviolet vision to find nectar guides on flowers.

Inside the eye, the cones connect to bipolar cells, which connect to retinal ganglion cells. The ganglion cells gather colour information from the cones and travel down the optic nerve to the visual cortex. Here, additional neurons process colour information and contribute to colour perception.

Damage to the cones or any part of this visual pathway can affect colour vision. Colour blindness is usually caused by genetic defects affecting the cone cells. The most common form is red-green colour blindness where people have difficulty distinguishing between red and green hues.

The biology of animal colour vision shows huge variation across species:

Animal Number of Colour Receptors
Human 3
Monkey 3
Cat 2
Dog 2
Bird 4 or more
Butterfly 5
Mantis shrimp 12

Our trichromatic vision allows us to perceive millions of colours by combining signals from just three cone types. The biology and neuroscience of colour vision continues to be an active area of sensory research.

Cultural Associations with Colour

While physics and biology determine how we see colour, culture influences how we respond to colour. Colours take on symbolic meanings and connections in different cultures and contexts.

Red is often associated with heat, energy, passion, love, and warning. In China, red represents luck and happiness. In South Africa, red is the colour of mourning. Green represents nature, renewal, health, and environment movements. Blue connotes calmness, stability, and depression. Purple can signify royalty, spirituality, and creativity.

Here are some examples of cultural colour associations:

Colour Western Culture Other Cultures
White Purity, cleanliness Death (Japan); mourning (China)
Black Death, evil Prosperity (Egypt); royalty (Malaysia)
Yellow Joy, sunshine Grace, nobility (China)
Orange Enthusiasm, creativity Love (Netherlands); mourning (India)

Colours carry personal meanings as well. Our individual reactions and feelings about colours develop from our experiences and culture. Marketers and designers carefully choose colours to evoke desired consumer responses. So colours have enduring scientific roots as well as evolving cultural interpretations.

The Importance of Colour in Design

Colour wields enormous influence in design. Interface design, architectural spaces, fashion, and commercial branding all utilize colour to shape reactions and guide visual hierarchy. Colour creates moods, draws attention to key elements, and augments aesthetics.

Some key ways colour is used in design:

– Branding – Companies establish brand identity with consistent primary colours. Example: Tiffany’s signature turquoise.

– Navigation – Changing button colours to indicate status. Example: Red for inactive, green for active.

– Information design – Using different colours to distinguish chart lines and elements.

– Environmental – Painting walls or lighting spaces to evoke emotions. Example: Bright white for cleanliness.

– Fashion – Selecting colours and colour schemes for seasonal trends.

– Messaging – Employing colour psychology. Example: Red for urgency, passion.

– Composition – Creating visual harmony and balance through colour schemes.

Designers must consider colour theory principles like hue, saturation, and contrast. Colour selection also depends on context such as product type, target audience, and cultural norms. Digital interfaces allow greater freedom to test variations and track user response. Overall, thoughtful colour choices are critical for effective and evocative design.

The Future of Colour

Our understanding of colour continues to evolve across science, technology and culture. Here are some active frontiers related to colour:

– High dynamic range (HDR) displays with an expanded range of colours and luminosity

– Computer and smartphone screens with higher resolutions and wider colour gamuts

– Cultured meat development using colour compounds to mimic meat qualities

– Ultraviolet LED lighting systems, revealing colours normally unseen

– Dielectric colour engineering for vivid automotive paints and coatings

– Augmented reality colour manipulation and filters

– Personalization of colour palettes and modes based on biometrics

– Cross-cultural colour research examining shared versus learned colour meanings

From the physical essence of colour to its cultural symbolism, colour permeates our lives. As science progresses and cultures intermingle, we can expect novel colour technologies alongside new colour perspectives. The fundamental importance of colour will continue, but how we produce, control, and respond to colour will evolve in fascinating ways.


This exploration of the origins and significance of colour reveals intertwining themes across science, culture and design. While physics governs the creation of colour with wavelengths of light, biological processes allow us to perceive colour through specialized eye cells. Cultural interpretations introduce additional meaning to colours. Design leverages colour principles and context to enhance aesthetics and function.

Tracing the history of colour theory highlights how our comprehension of colour advanced through philosophy, optics, and visual art. Ongoing research continues to uncover new aspects of colour and colour vision. As an integral part of life and design, colour will continue to enable beauty, communication, and discovery.