Posts Tagged ‘Werner Heisenberg’

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 7 — *fin*

July 22, 2010

The afore-promised celebrity criticisms of the Farbenlehre.

“Wake up, Dr. S — there is science afoot!” via.

Goethe delivered in full measure what was promised by the title of his excellent work: data toward a theory of colour. They are important, complete, and significant data, rich material for a future theory of colour. He has not, however, undertaken to furnish the theory itself … but really postulates it as a phenomenon, and merely tells us how it originates, not what it is.

(Arthur Schopenhauer, Über das Sehn und die Farben/On Vision and Colors. 1810.)

Which fact we have already seen well-defended by my b’loved Werner H. so I will not dwell on Schopenhauer’s criticism other than to say I generally like the things he has to say on just about any subject and agree with him here as usual.

“One of the most important works.”

(Wassily Kandinsky, qtd. in Rowley, Allison. “Kandinskii’s theory of colour and Olesha’s Envy.” Canadian Slavonic Papers. September-December 2002.)

A Russian artist and one of the famous Blue Four, Kandinsky is the father of abstract painting and was an instrumental theorist and professor for the Bauhaus before the National Socialists destroyed a bunch of their compositions. Kandinsky taught the most basic design courses at Bauhaus and used Goethe’s color wheel in his avant-garde art theory lectures. Also, note the hotness. Girls Like a Boy Who Reads [scathing criticisms of Nazis and protests against the public destruction of his art which eventually lead him to flee to Paris ahead of persecution by said Nazis]!

“Farbenkreis zur Symbolisierung des Menschlichen Geistes und Seelenlebens,” Goethe, 1809. This is the aforementioned color wheel that art rebel hottie Wassily Kandinsky would use in lecture.

Can you lend me the Theory of Colours for a few weeks? It is an important work. His last things are insipid.

(Ludwig van Beethoven, Conversation-book, 1820.)

Love how he goes from wanting to read Goethe because he considers his work important to “His last things are insipid.” Man, Beethoven had such an attitude.

He was such a crazy deaf grump by the time he died. Amazing and bittersweetly comical that a creative genius was also so churlish and curmudgeonly — like he genuinely made other peoples’ lives hard despite bringing beautiful music in to our world. The generosity of his composition and fame in the wide world is so jarring in juxtaposition with his infliction of discomfort and temper on the people close to him. The complexity intrigues me and also amuses me somehow but makes me sad too. That reminds me: I need to plan an Immortal Beloved Movie Moment.

Shit, now I’ve given over most of the last entry on Theory of Colours to talking about Beethoven. What can you do. Thoughts happen.


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.

Liberated Negative Space o’ the Day: Talk nerdy to me, Nabokov’s color theory and the uncertainty principle

July 9, 2010

You are like, “E, that is not graffiti or even textual healing, it is merely a modern painting.” And I am all like, “Not quite.”

Artist Spencer Finch applied author Vladimir Nabokov’s synaesthetic colored theory of the alphabet to “transliterate” 9,251 characters from the pages of Werner Heisenberg’s thesis outlining the Uncertainty Principle.


Art or crap? I say art on this one but I’m open to opinions that it is crap. Nabokov himself was happy to debate whether a thing was weighty and symbolic or cheap and trite — I am still reeling from the reading of a transcript of one of his lectures in which he rips on Kafka, one of my favorite authors. So I think Vlad N. would be happy to know that academic questioning of the merits and boundaries of “art” are still kicked around. I don’t think he’d like it if anything with his name on it got some automatic “awesome and meaningful!” stamp put upon it without examination.