Goethe on Color

In the teaching I’ll do on theory of science, one of the examples Bem and De Jong uses is an explanation of why chalk is white.  It rests on the idea of light being absorbed or not by the material, and explains the whiteness by describing that for chalk, photons of all wavelengths are bounced back.  And, of course, being a psychologist, who teaches color perception (and formerly spent time painting, and on print in advertising) I immediately thought about the other prong of this experience – the other line of why reasoning that is not about how photons of different wavelengths bounce off materials, but what those bounced photons do to the receptors in the eye, and processes in the brain.  Because we experience the chalk as white, and we do that in different light conditions where the photons we receive are not spread across the entire wavelength anymore – called color constancy.  Look at a white wall.  You experience corners, patches of sunlight and shadow – not different shades of white.

I had this vague memory seeing that there was a debate about this between Newton and Goethe – no idea where the source was- but it follows the prongs of inquiry:  What is it about out there (realism) – and what is it about in here (idealism). Newton looking at the nature of light through the prism – whereas Goethe looked at the experience.  (Color also has the interesting property that mixing the lights have different results than mixing the pigment.  Your color print comprises 4 colors – cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and can be of an oil painting, where the colors were mixed from very different pigments.  The negative and positive of the colors). 

And, now I found a post about Goethes psychology of color on Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.  Yay!  I have to collect that into my blog, so I won’t lose it (bookmarks are just so hopeless).


Incidentally, Brainpickings is great.  I follow on both twitter and Facebook. 


About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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