What’s up with #TheDress? Vision vs. perception

Trending on the internet right now is this low resolution image of a dress. The reason it’s spreading faster than spam is because some people see a blue and black dress and others see a white and gold dress. In order for us to function as a species we depend on a consistent and mutual understanding of the world around us. But if half of us perceive a physical object one way and the other half sees it another way what does this say about our shared reality?

As a digital graphics professional I’ve been very curious why this difference in color perception has been occurring. I believe there are some physical conditions concerning the mechanics of the eye itself that could be behind this phenomenon but I also believe the nature of perception itself is partially responsible for the difference. To see if there was any merit to my idea I decided to deconstruct the image in Photoshop to see what I could learn about this bizarre situation.

The first thing I would like you to assume is that you are not looking at a dress. After all you really just looking at a grid of pixels on a screen. If we take the image apart can we determine the true colors of the dress in the image? Of course we can produce a list of colors for each pixel in the image but that amounts to a list of numbers with no instinctual meaning to our optic nerve. But taking the image appart might change your understanding of what you see.


Everything you perceive is defined by both experiences and associations. You cannot perceive grouped objects (like colors) empirically without removing the group from their immediate circumstances. But since you cannot remove objects from the universe you cannot study anything with pure empiricism.  Furthermore the act of observation itself effects the results. Each viewing of the dress image is an individual instance of a perception-event but each subsequent instance will be effected by the previous instances. Additionaly your associations with the contept of “a dress” amounts to a model of all dresses that exists inside your mind. You can not help but compare this image of a dress to all the other experiences you have under the heading of “dresses”. In conclusion you can never know what colors the dress, or any dress, really are.