HIS 322D_Nov 14 - HIS 322D November 14, 2011 Today: Newton...

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HIS 322D November 14, 2011 Today: Newton on Light and Color Newton worked in a lot of different areas in sciences. The first he achieved experimental fame with was with his experiments on light and color. Newton laid his methods and philosophy on the question of what we can know, and how we can know this. He took complex things and broke them into simpler components, without necessarily understanding the components themselves. Light was a very important part of Descartes’ philosophy – And Newton read up on a lot of this. Newton also read the old Aristotelian notions of light and color. Aristotelian: things in the world have sensible qualities. Things have qualities that are then revealed to us through senses. Something that looks red really has the quality of red. Light shows us the quality that something really has. Aristotelian called these “real colors.” There were also “apparent colors”. A rainbow, for example, doesn’t seem to be like a real object, but it has color. Rainbows exist only with light, and the colors in them are therefore apparent colors. According to this view, apparent colors are modifications of light. Descartes abandoned this Aristotelian notion between real/apparent colors. For Descartes, and many others, Color was considered a secondary quality. Recall: Size, shape and motion were primary qualities. These particles are colorless and color is a byproduct of how these particles interact with our eyes. It was thought that light moved through “ether.” Everything was thought to be filled with matter, or very thin ether. It was thought that ether transmits light as air transmits sound. We feel this pressure on our eyes, and we sense it as light. What are colors to Descartes? Or rather, how are they made? With different rotations of the particles. This was made up and couldn’t be tested, but it was one of the mechanisms Descartes created. Red things spun rapidly, and blue things spun slowly. Other colors were a mix of spinning between these two colors. For him, all colors are apparent colors. All are modifications of light. Descartes thought that a prism produces the colors of the rainbow because in passing through this angled prism, this turns the particles different amounts. Newton read Descartes take on light. He read it very critically and started to poke holes in it and find things that were wrong with it. He was also reading account of experiments on light and color published around this time – mostly with Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. Hooke had a lot of discussion with light and color with microscopes (Hooke thought of himself as an expert on the matter of light). Newton thought that if we can study the pressure on the retina, it might product other effects, and
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HIS 322D_Nov 14 - HIS 322D November 14, 2011 Today: Newton...

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