Some Differences Between Newton And Goethe: Theories Of Light

“My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments…”

Sir Isaac Newton, Opticks.

Here’s a brief visual (scroll to the bottom of the page) of 2 of his experiments.  

From A Wolfram biography of Newton:

“Newton invented a scientific method which was truly universal in its scope. Newton presented his methodology as a set of four rules for scientific reasoning. These rules were stated in the Principia and proposed that (1) we are to admit no more causes of natural things such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances, (2) the same natural effects must be assigned to the same causes, (3) qualities of bodies are to be esteemed as universal, and (4) propositions deduced from observation of phenomena should be viewed as accurate until other phenomena contradict them.”

An artist can transport you to a vast imaginative world of profound insight and profound truth.  Anyone who’s experienced great art can attest to that.  Yet, part of the rigor of science is in its painstaking correspondence to observable phenomenae, to measurement (and a capacity for nimble and accurate estimation), and to a set of laws often derived from mathematics which as far as we know, have not yet been proven wrong when applied to nature.

Many artists seem to take much freer license with their imaginations, and despite their own rigors which are rarely appreciated by the audience, seem to differ in many important ways from such a standard.

——————–Here’s a repost I put up about Goethe:

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is perhaps Germany’s greatest poet and writer, best known for Faust.  Not so well known is Goethe’s theory of color (which claimed insights that could refute Newton).  Like many artists, Goethe isolated the effect color has in terms of experience, making profound observations on refraction…for example…but for which he didn’t have a workable theoretical framework.  To this, a certain type of philosopher might say:  he ignored the fact that his thoughts and his senses combine to form experience.  

Goethe from Steiner, from wikipedia:

The colours therefore, to begin with, make their appearance purely and simply as phenomena at the border between light and dark…”

Colours arise at the borders, where light and dark flow together.

Click here for a visual representation.

Goethe seems to have thought of light and dark in terms of a metaphysical dualism, from whose interaction color is born. 

Newton held that white light passing through a prism is diffused into its various wavelengths.  He also may have steered the discussion into wave-particle duality.

See Also: Wikipedia’s article, Physics Today article on his experiments, Goethe’s color triangle.

It seems like this debate (art/science) is a product of the times.  I don’t think I’ve offered too much in the way of real insight.

See Also:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’


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