The Friday Fillip: Emergent Orange

Emergent phenomena aren’t really predictable. They’re the result of the interaction of complex forces that don’t combine in a simple or linear fashion. So you don’t know what you’ll get until it arrives.

Certainly no one predicted — or could predict — that the combination of a large number of online photographs would be a formless blur of orange. Jim Bumgardner, “a senior nerd at Disney Interactive Labs,” happened to be puzzled when his summations of a lot of Flickr photos all produced this bronzy, beigey orange each and every time. Since his original observation way back in 2005, others have tried this photomontaging and have produced the same result. Yet no one knows why our combined efforts — the colour of crowd sourcing, if you like — should be orange.

An article in the Atlantic a couple of months back brought this strange phenomenon to our attention again. Bumgardner’s original compiled images are excerpted from that article below:


A rather more dramatic demonstration is a video featured on FastCompany’s Co.Design website (though it may originate with Bumgardner) and I’ve included it below:

It’s a nice enough colour, and I’d be content if it turned out to be somehow an essence of humanity. But, of course, it may turn out to be the result of any number of things, some of which explanations are set out in the Atlantic piece linked above and re-iterated on the Co.Design website. But for a discussion from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, you might take a look at Bumgardner’s “old” paper on the subject, which closes by noting that the hue value that is on the exact opposite of the colour wheel — the contrasting colour — is a very close match to the blue of the sky. We know why the sky is blue, but why everything else should be orange… remains a mystery.

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