by Richard Nathan

Lights come up on an ANALYST (who could be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist) and a PATIENT.  This is the Patientís first visit.

                                    I'm not sure where to start.

                                    Why don't you tell me why you
                                    decided to see me?

                                    Iím not sure I did decide.  Iím
                                    still thinking it over.

But youíre here.

                                    Maybe this is a test run.

                                    Do you by any chance have issues
                                    with decision making?


                                    Do you feel you can trust me
                                    enough for you toÖ.


                                    You didnít seem to have any
                                    problem making that decision!

                                    How can anyone trust anyone else
                                    when we donít even know if weíre
                                    seeing the same colors.

                                    I beg your pardon?

No one can ever tell if other people are
seeing the same colors they are seeing! 
Look, when itís a sunny day, we can both
look up at the sky and say itís blue,
right?   Anyone who isnít blind or
color blind would agree that the
sky, on a sunny day, is blue.  Unless
theyĎre nuts, right?

                                    We donít use the term ďnutsĒ in the
                                    mental health profession - but I
                                    think what youíve said is generally

                                    But when we say itís blue, how do we
                                    know we both see the same color we call
                                    blue?  ďBlueĒ is just a word we use to
                                    describe the color we see when a type
                                    of light wave hits our eyes.  Whenever
                                    that same light wave hits your eyes,
                                    you always see the color you call blue. 
                                    When that same light wave hits my eyes,
                                    I always see the color I call blue.  But how
                                    do we know itís the same color?  Maybe
                                    what you see in your head as blue is
                                    not what I see in my head as blue.

                                    I donít understand.

Color is just how our brains register
                                    light waves, but if your brain and my
                                    brain decided to use different colors for
                                    the same light wave, weíd have no way of
                                    knowing we were each seeing a different
                                    color, because we used the same name
                                    to describe it.  We both call the color of 
                                    the sky blue, - but thereís no way to tell
                                    if the colors our brains show us are the
                                    same.  When you were a baby, and first
                                    learning to see, maybe your brain decided
                                    to use the color I call red for the light waves
                                    I call blue.  Maybe you see red skies on
                                    a sunny day.

                                    But we know thereís an order to colors. 
                                    So the associations canít be completely
                                    random.  People everywhere agree that
                                    yellow and blue blend into green, red and
                                    blue blend into purple, and red and yellow
                                    blend into orange.  People wouldnít see
                                    the same patterns if their brains just
                                    randomly attached random colors to
                                    different light waves.

I never said it was completely random! 
                                    I think maybe there are only two patterns. 

The Patient takes a chart showing the spectrum of colors out of a pocket or purse or briefcase.

                                    Hereís what everyone agrees are
                                    all the different colors arranged
                                    according to their respective

Do you always carry that around?

                                    Yes.  Multiple copies.  You can
                                    have this one.  I have extras.

The Patient hands the chart to the Analyst.

Now all the same patterns of color
                                    combinations could still work, or
                                    I should say you could find the same
                                    sorts of combinations, if the chart was
                                    flipped - turned upside down, ...

The Patient reaches over, takes the chart from the Analyst, turns it upside down, and hands it back to the Analyst.

so what I see as red could be what 
                                    you see as blue.  That chart would still 
                                    work for both of us, only for you it would
                                    be upside down.  But thatís just one
                                    possibility.  Itís also possible your
                                    brain sees an entirely different set of
                                    colors that my brain canít even imagine. 
And vice-versa.

                                    All right.  Letís say thatís possible. 
                                    What difference does it really make? 
                                    If we both call the color of the sky
                                    blue, does it really matter if in our
                                    minds we are seeing different colors? 
                                    We both see what we call a blue sky.

                                    Are you this hypocritical with all
                                    your patients?  Of course it matters!!! 
                                    How can I trust an analyst who canít
                                    see what I see?

                                    I think, if you could try to put aside
                                    this one possible difference, that we
                                    donít even know really is a difference,
                                    I might be able to help you.

                                    No!  I canít put it aside!  Weíre
                                    talking about the way I see the whole

                                    So are you telling me you could never
                                    trust a blind person, or someone who
                                    was colorblind?

                                    Iíd trust them more than I would you.  At
                                    least they know they donít see things the
                                    way I do.  But with you, we just donít know,
                                    - do we?  So I canít trust you.

                                    Are you sure we couldnít build a trust? 
                                    If we tried?

                                    Yes.  Yes, Iím sure.  Sorry, but Iíll
                                    have to work this out by myself. 

The Patient exits.  The Analyst sighs, looks at the color chart, then turns it upside down and looks at it again.


MEA CULPA TO SCIENCE MAJORS - I know that there's a major inaccuracy in this piece.  If you flipped a chart of the color spectrum, red would be replaced by violet - not blue.  But I chose to go with blue because I think it works better for this peace - given all the references to the sky being blue.  If you're a stickler for accuracy, you could add a line at the end.  When the Analyst turns the chart upside down, the Analyst could say, "Wait a minute.  The opposite of red isn't blue.  It's violet!  That guy is nuts!"  (Or "lady is nuts" if the Patient is female.


© 2007 by Richard Nathan.  All rights reserved

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