Metaphor: How to Explain Blue to a Blind Man


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Thread: Metaphor: How to Explain Blue to a Blind Man

  1. #1

    Metaphor: How to Explain Blue to a Blind Man

    I'm picking up on Darkin's discussion of the concept of blue in Midnightpoet's thread on Narrative Poetry. It occurs to me that explaining "blue" to a blind man offers instruction on metaphor. Of course a blind man cannot see the colour blue but he can understand the concept of blue through association even though he doesn't know what colour is. He can understand that blue is a visual quality, even if he doesn't really comprehend what visual means. He knows what auditory means. So we can say that "blue" is to the sky as "whistle" is to the wind. You cannot hear blue and you cannot see whistle. But the wind whistles and the sky is blue. Blue is an inherent visual quality of the sky that we can perceive with our eyes in the same way that a whistle is an inherent quality of the wind that we can hear with our ears. Of course, the sky is not always blue. It might be cloudy. And the wind does not always whistle. The air could be still and silent or it might rage and roar. But given the right conditions, the sky will be blue and the wind will whistle. Of course the sky itself is not actually blue. We perceive the colour blue because of the way light is broken into spectrum and the part of the light that our eyes perceive through the filter of atmosphere is the blue end of the spectrum. Similarly, the wind does not actually whistle. What we hear is the sound produced by the friction of air moving through other air or through a constricted space. Nevertheless, it can be shown that, within a given context, blue sky is the same as whistling wind. Within this context, the whistle, which a blind person hears is a metaphor for blue, which a blind man cannot see but can comprehend as a concept through association with his experience of hearing the sound of wind.

  2. #2
    Also, colours a blind person cannot see, or sounds deaf person cannot hear, are by these respective persons filled in in their own way. So it is not so important to explain. The same with metaphors, or with poems in general. People will fill in details according to their frame of reference, wherever that may stem from. Explaining colors breaks the metaphor, same as explaining the meaning of a poem.

  3. #3
    There are better contexts to the sky beyond blue. e.g. The sky akin to the face of an impetuous child shifts, its moods as weather for the world to see. Its peace, still and clear, nothing to mar its perfection. Joy vibrant ribbons of bright running through a vast cavern dark. While the storms, that omnious scowl...a twisted face before the eruption of chaotic rain. Or take touch a step further and couch things in terms of nature, the cool, still water of a forest pond, the softness of moss as it consumes a nurse log...You get the point. To effectively explain, readers need to draw a direct parallel to the context of themselves.

    Faces are something entire the population possess, our expressions seen by others, but felt by their owners is a direct, contextual parallel for those unable to perceive or understand the concept of colour. Still, how many people are going to take the time to describe a phenomenon while taking a sensory deficit into account? It is out of the box thinking and a difficult concept for the majority of the 'normal' population. It is not something they are missing, so it is taken for granted, colours being simply there. A sensory deficency requires work arounds, but for those who find those bridges it can really help open up perspectives on one's surroundings. Just some thoughts...

    - D.
    Last edited by Darkkin; December 16th, 2019 at 01:33 PM.


  4. #4
    I'm picking up on Darkin's discussion of the concept of blue in Midnightpoet's thread on Narrative Poetry. It occurs to me that explaining "blue" to a blind man offers instruction on metaphor. Of course a blind man cannot see the colour blue but he can understand the concept of blue through association even though he doesn't know what colour is. He can understand that blue is a visual quality, even if he doesn't really comprehend what visual means. He knows what auditory means. So we can say that "blue" is to the sky as "whistle" is to the wind. You cannot hear blue and you cannot see whistle.
    I am probably way off track here but surely trying to explain blue to a blind man is turning the abstract (like resonate) into something concrete. I don't understand why explaining blue to a blind man offers instruction on a metaphor, unless it refers to feeling 'blue' as in depressed or sad. In which case an auditory reference such as whistling wind, would not work (IMHO). There is no correlation between the two.

    However, Blue, as sky, is only visible in the absence of clouds so you feel the warmth of sun on your skin, which makes you feel happy. So I would take this feeling and ask the blind person to imagine a world without the warmth on their skin (sun) as in grey, damp days.
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  5. #5
    Darkin, your first paragraph is a poem in itself. Just remove the first and last sentences and I think you have it

    The sky akin to the face of an impetuous child shifts,
    its moods as weather for the world to see.
    Its peace, still and clear, nothing to mar its perfection.
    Joy vibrant ribbons of bright
    running through a vast cavern dark.
    While the storms, that omnious scowl...

    a twisted face before the eruption of rain.
    Or take touch further
    and couch things in nature,
    the cool, still water of a forest pond,
    the softness of moss
    as it consumes a nurse log.


    My point about explaining blue to a blind man is not that a blind man needs blue explained or that we should all stretch our imaginations to express the impossible... it’s a exercise in explaining the idea of metaphor, which apparently, some people can’t understand.

    Carol, the point is to make associations using tactile elements in our world that are so familiar to us that we take their meaning for granted. We internalize the idea of blue as we do a stone or a leaf. We can then use the idea, of something we feel innately familiar with, to show parallels with something we can’t understand. For instance, we might express love
    as “a soft touch.” Of course love is a much greater concept than mere touch. So great, in fact, that it’s impossible to wrap our head around it. But we know what a soft touch is and we know what it feels like emotionally when someone we love caresses us. We know that feeling to be love, or at least one aspect of love. So we can express love through the metaphor of touch but there has to be a poem around it to build the context. so that when the word “touch” appears, we recognize love.

    In the same way, even though you can’t see the wind and you can’t hear blue, for someone who cannot see or even understand what it means to see, we can appeal to another tactile sense that he implicitly understands and show that sight is like sound and that colour is like a noise. In this way we can substitute a noise for a colour. The blind person can associate a noise that he does understand with a colour that he can’t understand.

  6. #6
    In the same way, even though you can’t see the wind and you can’t hear blue, for someone who cannot see or even understand what it means to see, we can appeal to another tactile sense that he implicitly understands and show that sight is like sound and that colour is like a noise. In this way we can substitute a noise for a colour. The blind person can associate a noise that he does understand with a colour that he can’t understand.
    Tim, circling back to this . I understand to a point but why sound and not touch? Red is hot to touch, blue is warm to the skin, brown is earth, white is snow, green is a leaf etc I can't get my brain around colours in relation to sound....
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  7. #7
    There is no reason that touch could not also be a metaphor. One metaphor does not rule out another. It's not as if there is only one metaphor for blue. Context makes the metaphor, not the object (or sensation) itself. If you can wrap your head around the idea that everything is connected, then anything can be a metaphor for anything. The trick is to create an association in the reader's mind. But a metaphor is not like a mechanical equation. It's not like A = B or 2+2=4. I mean, it can be that simple but more often it's like A = a feeling I can almost grasp.

    But I would not say that blue is warm, I would say it is cold. Blue is the cold end of the light spectrum. Cold is to ice what blue is to sky.

  8. #8
    It has to be a logical allegory...like the hinge joint on a door or a knee. Eeyore as the physical personification of depression because of his characterisation...Piglet as a page of innocence. Trait becomes archetype. The conguencies need to be more than they are both a species of fruit. Well look at a strawberry and the budda hand. Both are fruit so they are alike right?
    Last edited by Darkkin; December 23rd, 2019 at 11:52 PM.


  9. #9
    Darkkin, it is this fixation on “logic” that makes metaphor difficult for some to grasp. No, it doesn’t have to be logical. But it does have to fit within the context of the poem. That context is not necessarily logical. It can be surreal. It can be imagistic. It doesn’t have to be a-priori logic.

    Here is an example from an excerpt of a poem by Gabriela M. title “The Blue City”


    The moon hummed “Let’s fall in love in Spain…”
    You said “Forever.”
    I said “No, Conquistador. I will die on the streets of Morocco’s Blue City on the other side of the Mediterranean.”
    Your green eyes sunk into a dense silence.
    The moon stopped humming.
    Your kiss came out of the sea.
    It was blue.


    I suppose you could say that a certain logic applies here because we think of the sea as blue. But the sea isn’t really blue. It just reflects the colour of the sky. The sea can be many colours. But I think this poem is highly metaphorical in its treatment of the colour blue. Not in the sense that this poem would describe “blue” to a blind man, but the colour blue here is used metaphorically to describe how the two people in the poem find a common feeling that is deeply uncomfortable to both of them. The association to the sea shows that this feeling, represented by the colour blue is so deep and so immense that it is beyond their control. The Blue City is a place of isolation without escape. The blue kiss is a painful recognition of truth.

  10. #10
    The trait parallels are what make sense to my processing...and if there is not a correlation between object A and meaning B it sails directly over my head, making about as much sense as a raven to a writing desk. Fault in my brain wiring, but the congruencies are a personal requisite for me, not others.


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