Posts Tagged ‘Sir Isaac Newton’

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 5 — Goethe vs. Newton and a whole lot of Heisenberg with bonus Fermi hotness

July 20, 2010

A famously uncertain doc.

Goethe’s colour theory has in many ways borne fruit in art, physiology, and aesthetics. But victory — and hence, influence on the research of the following century — has been Newton’s. (60)

(Werner Heisenberg, “Bermerkungen zur Theorie der Vielfacherzeugung von Mesonen.” Die Naturwissen-schaften Vol. 39. 1952)

Heisenberg was deeply interested in Goethe’s Farbenlehre. He delivered a lecture in 1941 on the differences between Goethe’s and Newton’s color theories, in which he essentially argued that both were right but that what Goethe had done was outline very specifically and accurately the phenomenon of human perception of the spectrum, while Newton’s thrust was more toward definition and demonstration of the spectrum’s essence and proveable existence itself.

Fermi, Heisenberg, and Pauli. Fermi was such a tragic hottie. Do you think he killed himself? I kind of do.

The views Heisenberg espoused of Goethe’s experiments being valid insomuchas they are observably repeatable and scientifically sound have fortunately come to be the modern perception of Goethe’s color theory research — that Goethe was accurately exploring the definition of a physiological, human sense of color and drew credible conclusions about colors and the human eye.

Prior to a re-surge of interest in Goethe’s color theory that began in the 1930’s and was legitimized largely by Heisenberg’s lecture and writing, Goethe’s work had been suffering for most of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century under something of a cloud of suspicion due to his theory’s eclipse by Newton’s with popular physicists. In his book Goethe Contra Newton, British physicist and scholar Dr. Dennis Sepper beautifully describes the shadow of early, dichotomous criticism which hung over Goethe’s Farbenlehre and was part of a larger debate in science:

A characterological or typological trait of the poet prevents him from grasping the real essence of science. On the other hand, the scientist must, to some extent, be open to the demands of spirit, and science is fundamentally part of a grand ethical quest. Goethe’s apparent inability to grasp the essence of Newton’s science reveals the chief differences between those who cultivate imagination and human truth and those who pursue objective truth in nature.

(Sepper, Dennis L. “The Critical Dilemma.” Goethe Contra Newton: Polemics and the Project for a New Science of Color. Cambridge: University Press, 1988. 6.)


I feel like these different thrusts of firstly poetry and science, and secondly the science of physiology and psychology, faith and beauty-based, rather than a perception of a more “hard” science are completely exemplified in the above shot.

A flock of pigeons takes off from the steps of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul.

Here is hard, natural science, pure biology, that is also poetry — a bird in flight — and all against the backdrop of human faith as symbolized by the cathedral, which is furthermore situated in one of the oldest cities in modern existence, through which millions of human feet have passed. That is one fucking deep picture of pigeons. Am I right?

That was fun. I think I’ll suss out and post up some other famous critical responses a different day.

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 3 — A rainbow ain’t shit if it ain’t got red in it

July 18, 2010

Favoritest color in the world. And may I add that this journal is now going to be the first blog entry to get a Pulitzer prize due to my stunning combination of “rainbow” and “shit” in the same sentence?*

While therefore we may assert that the chromatic scale produces an agreeable impression by its ingredient hues, we may here remark that those have been mistaken who have hitherto adduced the rainbow as an example of the entire scale …

… for the chief colour, pure red, is deficient in it, and cannot be produced, since in this phenomenon, as well as in the ordinary prismatic series, the yellow-red and blue-red cannot attain to a union.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840. p. 320.)

Take that, Newtonian spectral reasoning. Goethe was all like, “I’m no physicist but guess what? Suck iiiiiit.” Just kidding. They were both kind of right and kind of wrong. And I admit Goethe was slightly wronger.

*Actually once I knew this beagle that ate a half a box of crayons and later on his shit had faint waxy rainbows in its sheen, and I’ve frequently reported this to friends in pretty much exactly that wording (often predicated on only the most tenuous of topical connections — what can I say? It’s a good story and I’m not exactly a class act). So I suppose in truth now I have twice used rainbow and shit in a sentence, it’s just that this is the first time I’ve ever written it down.

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 2 — On the catalytic moment

July 17, 2010

But I was astonished, as I looked at a white wall through the prism, how it stayed white! That only there where it came upon some darkened area, it showed more or less some colour, then at last, around the window sill all the colours shone, in the light grey sky outside there was no colour to be seen.

“L’arcobaleno” by anglerfishies.

It didn’t take long before I knew here was something significant about colour to be brought forth, and I spoke as through on instinct out loud, that the Newtonian teachings were false.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840.)

Fun bonus picture: I am not a big one for .gifs but obey this one and enjoy the result.

Daily Batman: Blinding you with Science

April 14, 2010

Can Beach Bunny Batgirl get Scientific with you?

On this date in 1981, the space shuttle Columbia completed its first successful orbit, landing safely at Edwards AFB in Antelope Valley, CA. In 1932, the atom was split by Cockroft and Walton in the Cavendish Labs. Like, dang. Those are some incredible scientific landmarks of just the sort that Sir Isaac Newton was speaking in the above quote.

My god, what a century of achievements. What will we do next? Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid of advancements — the only way to prevent a dystopian future run by cyborgs and genetically enhanced a-holes is to stay ethically invested in the coming leaps of technology. The only way to guarantee Bizarro Robocops and sentient microwaves stalking your cloned stem-cell baby with iPod implant neck shunts and laser gun wristwatches is to not care and not keep up with change. Cell phones freak me out and I don’t even know how to begin to use touchscreen notebooks, but I’m determined to learn this year. No burying my head in the sand (or clouds, more likely) and hiding from Change for me — not anymore.

Because I look at that quote from the freaking father of physics, thank you very much, and think of all the science that has rocked our world through the years, and each time a new advancement came along, there were frightened people, shellshocked Luddites like myself waving their arms around and crying “We’re all gonna die! Apocalypse now!” but it never happened, because humanity’s better nature has inevitably prevailed, and we’ve assimilated as best we could each new challenge to keeping the lid on our growing godlike powers. As fearsome as that is, if I am concerned, that’s exactly why I should not give up on the Future, right? If I’m so worried about it, why don’t I put my money where my big scared mouth is and stick around to defend it? Ought we not fight for the future to be a brave and conscience-guided good one instead of cringing in the corner, wringing our hands and refusing to look growing technology square in the eye?

I believe that great changes at which, like Sir Isaac Newton, we can not even possibly begin to guess are going to come in our lifetimes but we can make it a safe and morally-centered time with the potential to better the lives of everyone on Earth, so long as we try and don’t give up or get overwhelmed. I believe this is possible. I really do. I’m in a new and more positive place than I’ve ever been.

Okay, so I guess in addition to getting Scientific with you, I also got a little Hippie. I have those kind of tendencies. Thanks for loving me anyway. (My providing you with all kinds of softcore porn has I’m sure nothing to do with it.)