Dressgate and Worldview

February 27, 2015 § Leave a comment



Yesterday the internet world found itself polarized by this viral photo of a dress that half the world identified as white and gold and the other half saw blue and black. Respecting no household, it split families where husbands who saw the opposite as their wives insisted each other were crazy or color-blind (our household included).

Another photo surfaced of what is apparently the same dress appeared, and it turns out, the dress—spoiler alert if you missed this meteor—was actually blue and black. What caused people to see two completely different color schemes? I think that the photo could be produced given two different lighting and camera exposure situations; a white and gold dress and a blue and black dress could theoretically both appear as this one did.


This golden retriever in the snow shows how a gold and white scene may photograph in low light.

When I first saw the photo, I was convinced it was white and gold, because I assumed that what I was looking at was a dress in a dark part of a well-lit room. What I thought was white and gold looked as if it was cast in a light blue, which is often the case with subjects in the shade, as you can see in this picture of a golden retriever in the snow. The scene is in shade or under cloudy skies, and snow often looks blue in the shade. Wintery photos taken by a shooter who doesn’t compensate for the shade or adjust the photo for the proper “white balance” usually appear cool in color. It was conceivable that this dress was white and gold and catching a little indirect cool light from a dim source like a window.

Once most people saw it a certain way, they couldn’t see it the way others were seeing it, but I was determined. After trying for a long while to abandon my prior commitment to white and gold and see a blue and black dress, I finally did, and this view was reinforced by an experiment I did in my own closet. I found a medium blue shirt that was close to the color of the actual dress, and a solid black skirt belonging to my wife, and took a picture with my phone. I then took a second picture with increased exposure, which made the whole photo much lighter. Using my iPhone’s editing features, I increased the exposure a bit further. (Most camera phones have auto-exposure capabilities that will brighten dimly lit subjects like this dress even without manual adjustments later.) The blue shirt was much lighter, and black-turned-gray skirt now reflected the ambient yellow glow from the warm incandescent lighting in the room. The colors were very similar to the viral photo.


Over-exposed photos in warm lighting will lighten darker tones and can bring out warm reflections, particularly in black.

So that’s my theory, and others on the internet have surmised similar causes for how people saw the dress. But all this is a very good example of how we view things based on our initial assumptions, even for life’s bigger questions. Because I first assumed certain things about the original environment and lighting, I then assumed other things based on that. People who concluded different things about the dress had different assumptions. Likewise, we form our own particular worldview—the lens through which we view, evaluate and understand reality—based on starting assumptions about who we are, how we got here and where we’re going. As any big debate reveals, we can have wildly different views of God, the universe, human nature and the nature of truth. Like the dress, there is truth behind what it actually is regardless of what we believe it was and how ardently I insist that my view is correct.


Perhaps not simply, but one does.

A couple things started me doubting my first conclusion for a gold and white dress in the shade included some inconsistencies in what I saw after closer examination. The highlights and shadows that were evident in the dress made me wonder how much shadow I should see in the shadow that was supposed to be the entire front of the dress. The evidence didn’t make sense of a gold and white dress. Could I be wrong? What would happen if I challenge my assumptions and step into the possibility that this was an overexposed picture of a blue and black dress? Are there experiments that might show that the alternative actually makes more sense? These type of questions led me from one conclusion to its opposite, and worldviews are sometimes torn down and rebuilt the same way.

The other factor that prompted me to question my presuppositions was the people who saw the dress differently. The folks who saw the dress as blue and black were more caring and consistent and demonstrated an unearthly love to me. Lol! I jest. 🙂 Simply the fact that there are so many people that seemed just as convinced of their position on the dress color as I was gave me some cause to explore. Ultimately, we want to hang onto the view of truth that makes sense of the world.

What we ultimately put our faith in shapes our worldview, and worldview determines how we talk about identity, what value we put on human life, how marriage is supposed to work, where rights, morality and reason come from, whether or not we think Jon Stewart is funny, and how much time we spend analyzing internet memes. I thought this meme in particular demonstrated pretty well how our basic assumptions steer our belief.

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