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Lighting 101: Your Brain is a Dirty, Rotten Liar

November 29, 2012

How many times have I had this conversation? Many:

“You better get down to the site because they just turned on some of the lights and the client is freaking out that it’s too blue, too cold!”
“Are the construction workers lamps on in the same area?”
“Yes. What does that matter?”
“Turn those off, take a walk around the block, and then call me back.”
Five minutes later: “OK, the client is fine.”

Why? Because your brain is a dirty, rotten liar. Liar, liar pants on fire.

Even worse – your eyes are in on the scam, too. Rods, cones, and neurons all colluding to lead you astray on your quest for design perfection. They can’t help it, of course. They are self-serving little rascals, but since the self they serve is you they only mean well. It’s just that it can get you into trouble in today’s high design world. So what happened in the story above? Well, the brain saw a warm, yellow construction lamp, compared that with a slightly cooler light fixture and said ‘Look at the difference!! Notice the difference!!’ It then told you consciously that the warm light was warmer and the cool light was cooler than either actually were. When the comparison disappeared the brain lied again. It said ‘Look at all this white light!’ and then discarded color information of the light so that the other colors in the room (like the wood, and the walls, and the flooring, etc.) would stand out more.

The truth is your brain is constantly receiving information that it simply isn’t telling you – not consciously. It’s deciding what’s important and what’s not, and then feeding you what it has decided is important. And usually what it thinks is important is change. Differences.

What does this mean for you? It means you have to play by the brain’s rules. Mix color temperatures of light (and by extension, bulb types) only when you want to emphasize these differences.Use the same type of light in an area where you want people to notice other things, like art or a cool piece of furniture. And if you have to mix bulb types, make sure they are all a similar color temperature (warm, cool, etc).

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