General / 01 January 2022

Microscope Eyes and Colors You've Never Seen Before

Imagine for a minute, that you are a scientist, with a very strong microscope. As far as you know, there aren't any microscopes that zoom in any further than the one you work on. One day, you zoom in on a cell, all the way in as far as the microscope can go, and you see that the cell is made up of interesting little bits and you could call a friend over and say "Look at these cool parts!" They look through the microscope at the same spot at the same zoom, and see the same interesting cell bits. You two talk about what you saw, and write it down somewhere in the name of science.

Now, imagine that another day comes along, and while you're looking through the microscope, you suddenly find out that your eyes are also microscopes. In other words, you can crank your vision up a certain way and zoom in a little bit using just your own muscles and eyes. Now, when you look through the microscope, you can use your special microscope eyes to zoom a little bit further than the microscope can go on its own.

When you do this, looking at the same interesting bit of a cell as before, you find something alarming. The cell is made up of little rainbows. You can't exactly explain it, but it is very clearly a bunch of rainbows making up all the tiniest details of the cell. And what's more, these rainbows are made up of 10 entirely new colors. Hues completely and fundamentally different from the colors you know. You also see some very fine glitter and a few scoops of ice cream.

You pull back from the microscope, zooming your eyes back out. You're back in the part of the world that has all the normal colors. Now what? You want to tell your friend "look at this crazy stuff I found" and show them. But as far as you know, they don't have microscope eyes. They can't zoom any further in than the microscope itself. They are not aware that there is anything at that further level. But you try to tell them.

You mention the sprinkles, you mention the rainbows and then.. you try to explain the colors. You don't have any of the right words for them, they aren't close to other colors you know. With no real reference point but your own subjective experience, maybe you give the colors new names, just so you can talk about them. How useful is that? Even if your friend really wants to understand, they cannot know what the colors you saw actually look like. At best, they can only empathize with your excitement about these new colors, even if they believe you. 

At some point, you just have to accept that your experience about those colors is not a thing that you get to share. You can talk ABOUT it, in a vague and unfulfilling way, but you cannot communicate that experience itself on any relatable level. Some part of that experience is too incredibly specific to belong to anyone but you. It is a private experience.

Knowing that whatever happens at that level can't be shared, my question is, do you go back and take another look? Do you spend a bunch of time exploring the microscopic world at that detail, just to be someone who gets to learn what is there? Do you write it off as useless, a pointless exercise in self-entertainment?

Because last night, I discovered my microscope eyes and some wonderful new colors, and this is me telling you about the sprinkles.