Thomas Joseph Brown
Friends, avoid the darkened chamber,
Where one pinches off the light,
Which must bow in lamentation
While distortions mock our sight.
Through the years there’ve been enough;
In the noggins of your teachers
Reign illusions, specter-stuff.
When we open our eyes and view our surroundings this is possible because of a phenomenon we term “light.” What is the origin and cause of this “light” so necessary for optical perception of the objective world? Battles have raged over this question. It has been claimed to have been answered many times over the centuries, but has it truly been answered? Is light a particle, a wave, a Janus-headed aberration mixing the two and confusing the mind, or is the expression of a cosmic force which the gravity-bound viewpoint of modern science is unable to understand in its entirety due to definable yet immeasurable aspects? At the root of all this is the question of the formation of colors. Modern science claims that color is a mere rate of vibration impinging upon our eye, that it is but an illusion… But there are flaws in this view, serious flaws which anyone of average intelligence can see for themselves if they but look. Modern conceptions of color formation generally derive from the basic experiment of Sir Isaac Newton where he closed himself into a dark room and allowed in only the tiniest slit of light. This slit of light was directed to pass through a prism and onto a white surface. The result was the spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Newton concluded from this single experiment that the colors of this spectrum are “hidden” or “contained” in light and can be extracted with the prism. Newton declared that as a result of his experiments he discovered that “white” light contains all colors and black is the absence of all colors. Certain pigment mixing experiments may mislead one to consider this viewpoint, but a full analysis of prismatic experiments will quash this error in thinking. The linear mode of thought arising along with the Newtonian concept of the spectrum has given rise to modern conceptions of the “electromagnetic spectrum”. This grand spectrum is one in which all energies, be they light, sound, diverse electrical waves, etc., are claimed to line up like well-trained soldiers marching in perfect order, from zero to infinity, in hierarchy of what is alleged to be their true nature—their vibratory rate. While there can be no doubt that the electromagnetic spectrum has a specific, engineerable reality, whose conception has provided us the many volition-saving products of technology, we should not jump to the conclusion that it is an all-encompassing reality until we take all experimental considerations into account.
While Newton followed the analytical, scientific methods in his path of discovery, the great poet Goethe took a more universal approach. Rather than simply studying light and color by shutting himself into a dark room and reproducing the experiments of Newton, which of course he did very methodically to assess the results firsthand, he chose to discern the nature of color in its full glory and expression in the manifest world.
Goethe accepted that Newton’s experiment showed scientific truths, but he was not so rash as to leap to the same hasty conclusions. He could clearly see that Newton was in error in his deduction of the red-orange-yellow-blue-indigo-violet (ROYGBIV) spectrum as a primary attribute of light alone. Goethe clearly saw that the ROYGBIV spectrum was a manufactured product of a specific arrangement of slit and prism, a secondary effect of the process of color formation.
In Newton’s theory of gravity the most important question goes unasked: that of how the falling apple got up in the tree in the first place, what made it grow through various formative stages into its fruiting stage—all the time growing in the opposite direction to the force of gravity? In this same manner the larger part of color formation theory—that gleaned from observing and understanding the essence of light and color in Nature—was lost from this gravity-bound viewpoint.
Now, let us consider that glamorous, classic experiment of Sir Isaac Newton. He is isolated from the natural field of light in his darkened room, with his apparatus allowing in only a small beam of light which is directed through a tiny aperture which then permits a smaller slit of light through, then on through a prism onto a white surface (actually Newton ran the light through a circular hole, but we will consider the more common slit-form of the experiment). The concept of the “ROYGBIV spectrum as the absolute structure of the components of white light” comes from this setup (just think of it … studying light in the dark!). Now let us take over the experiment and widen this slit: green disappears, with the white of the projection surface taking its place. We see two bands of colors, red-yellow and blue-violet, facing each other as polarities across a white middle. Bring the slit together again and green again reappears when yellow and blue intermingle. Forgetting for the moment all sorts of theories, examination of the observable phenomena shows that color formation consists of border effects between light and dark areas. The red is over the shadow, or black portion of the projection and the yellow is in the illuminated, or white portion. Blue appears on the white and violet on the black. The results of this experiment can be more easily observed by looking through a prism at diagrams which illustrate the borders in various arrangements.
Let us continue our experiment by reversing the borders across which our experimental light is travelling. Rather than running the light through a slit, let us run it around an object whose width can be easily manipulated. If we are looking through the prism at a card let us look at several dark lines of varying width on a white background. What we now see is another spectrum: yellow, red, magenta, violet, and blue (YRMVB). If we widen the object or line magenta disappears and we have darkness separating our two polarities, yellow-red and violet-blue, red and violet over the dark side of the slit, and yellow and blue over the illuminated side.