Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Hering, Karl Ewald Konstantin

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_293


Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering was born on August 5, 1834, in Alt-Gersdorf, Saxony, son of a Lutheran pastor and his wife. He studied medicine at the University of Leipzig, obtaining an MD in 1860. For the next five years, he practiced medicine in Leipzig and pursued personal interests in vision on the side, publishing five Beiträge zur Physiologie (Contributions to Physiology) between 1861 and 1864 [1]. He was married in 1863, and he and his wife had a son, Heinrich Ewald, born in 1863. In 1865 he was appointed professor of physiology at the Josephinum Academy in Vienna. In 1870 he became the successor of J. E. Purkinje as professor of physiology at the University of Prague where he remained for 25 years, studying among other things the electrical actions of nerves and muscles, as well as the perception of light and color vision. In 1895 he was invited to join the University of Leipzig where he remained until his retirement in 1915. During his lifetime Hering assumed the role of anti-Helmholtz, scientifically and philosophically battling with him in regard to several subject matters [see, e.g., 2]. Hering died on January 26, 1918, in Leipzig.

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

Hering developed a theory, alternative in detail to that of Helmholtz, in regard to spatial perception based on images in two eyes. Publication of and the response to Helmholtz’s first edition of the Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik in 1867 [3] provided a basis for Hering to consider in detail the issues of color perception and develop his own different theory. The result was the presentation in 1874 of six extended contributions to the Imperial Academy in Vienna, published in book format in 1878 as Zur Lehre vom Lichtsinne (On the Theory of the Light Sense) [4]. Hering considered the Young-Helmholtz theory to give too much weight to physics and not enough to the perceptual aspects of color. In response he developed an opponent-color theory postulating three opponent pairs of fundamental colors (Urfarben), yellow-blue, red-green, and white-black, building on earlier ideas by H. Aubert and E. Mach. The hues are arranged according to simple principles in a hue circle (Fig. 1) (derived from two images in Ref. [4]. Image Tilo Hauke), the complete arrangement of all colors of a given hue being in a triangle, with white, black, and full color at the corners and “veiled” colors filling the interior. Hering called the result, in form of a double cone, the “natural color system.” He also proposed dissimilation/assimilation processes in the eye/brain as physiological basis of the opponent system, in opposition to the Young-Helmholtz theory involving three fundamentals. A commercial version of the Natural Color System atlas was introduced in 1979 by the Scandinavian Colour Institute [5].
Hering, Karl Ewald Konstantin, Fig. 1

Superimposed images of the conceptual mixture of the four hue fundamentals in different ratios and the resulting hue circle

Today, the perceptual aspects of Hering’s system continue to be considered essentially valid, with its physiological part having fallen short of reality. Despite many attempts, a psychophysical model of the four hues presumed fundamental and their mixtures that also meet other components of the colorimetric system is still lacking at this time, a major issue being the fact that while mean unique yellow and blue stimuli are essentially complementary, unique green and unique red stimuli are far from it, complicating any model with the purpose of representing a perceptually meaningful and at the same time colorimetrically valid model.


  1. 1.
    Hering, E.: Beiträge zur Physiologie. Engelmann, Leipzig (1861)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Turner, R.S.: In the Eye’s Mind, Vision and the Helmholtz-Hering Controversy. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1994)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    von Helmholtz, H.: Handbuch der physiologischen Optik. Voss, Leipzig (1867)MATHGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Hering, E.: Zur Lehre vom Lichtsinne. Gerold, Wien (1878). Translation: Outlines of a theory of the light sense. Hurvich, L. M., Jameson, D., trans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (1964)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Scandinavian Colour Institute: Swedish Natural Colour System (NCS)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CharlotteUSA