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- Man or Matter - 50/74 -

in the direction of light. (See the arrow in Fig. i.)

In the colours adjoining these - indigo and violet on the blue side, orange and red on the yellow side - Goethe recognized 'heightened' modifications of blue and yellow. Thus he had learnt from the macro-telluric realm that with decreasing density of the corporeal medium, the blue sky takes on ever deeper tones, while with increasing density of the medium, the yellow of the sunlight passes over into orange and finally red. Prismatic phenomenon and macrotelluric phenomenon were seen to correspond in this direction, too.

Faithful to his question, 'How does colour arise?' Goethe now proceeded to investigate under what conditions two borders, when placed opposite each other, provide a continuous band of colour - that is, a colour-band where, in place of the region of uncoloured light, green appears. This, he observed, came about if one brought one's eye, or the screen intercepting the light, to that distance from the prism where the steadily widening yellow-red and the blue-violet colour-cones merge (Fig. ii).9 Obviously, this distance can be altered by altering the distance between the two borders. In the case of an extremely narrow light-space, the blue and yellow edges will immediately overlap. Yet the emergence of the green colour will always be due to a union of the blue and yellow colours which spread from the two edges. This convinced Goethe that it is inadmissible to place the green in the spectrum in line with the other colours, as is customary in the explanation of the spectrum since Newton's time.

This insight into the relation of the central colour of the continuous spectrum to its other colours still further strengthened Goethe's conviction that in the way man experiences nature in his soul, objective laws of nature come to expression. For just as we experience the colours on the blue side of the spectrum as cold colours, and those on the yellow side as warm colours, so does green give man the impression of a neutral colour, influencing us in neither direction. And just as the experience of the two polar colour-ranges is an expression of the objective natural law behind them, so too is the experience of green, the objective conditions of whose origin give it a neutral position between the two. With this it also became clear why the vegetative part of the plant organism, the region of leaf and stem formation, where the light of the sun enters into a living union with the density of earthly substance, must appear in a garment of green.


Having in this way found the clue to the true genesis of the spectrum, Goethe could not fail to notice that it called for another - a 'negative' spectrum, its polar opposite - to make the half into a whole. For he who has once learnt that light and darkness are two equally essential factors in the birth of colour, and that the opposing of two borders of darkness so as to enclose a light is a 'derived' (abgeleitet) experimental arrangement, is naturally free to alter the arrangement and to supplement it by reversing the order of the two borders, thus letting two lights enclose a darkness between them.

If one exposes an arrangement like this to the action of the prism, whose position has remained unchanged, colours appear on each of the two edges, as before, but in reverse order (Fig. iii). The spectral phenomenon now begins at one side with light blue and passes into indigo and violet, with uncoloured darkness in the centre. From this darkness it emerges through red and passes through orange to yellow at the other end.

Again, where the two interior colour-cones merge, there an additional colour appears. Like green, it is of a neutral character, but at the same time its quality is opposite to that of green. In Newtonian optics, which assumes colour to be derived from light only, this colour has naturally no existence. Yet in an optics which has learnt to reckon with both darkness and light as generators of colour, the complete spectrum phenomenon includes this colour equally with green. For lack of an existing proper name for it, Goethe termed it 'pure red' (since it was free from both the blue tinge of the mauve, and the yellow tinge of the red end of the ordinary spectrum), or 'peach-blossom' (pfirsichblüt), or 'purple' (as being nearest to the dye-stuff so called by the ancients after the mollusc from which it was obtained).10

It needs only a glance through the prism into the sunlit world to make one convinced of the natural appearing of this delicate and at the same time powerfully luminous colour. For a narrow dark object on a light field is a much commoner occurrence in nature than the enclosing by two broad objects of a narrow space of light, the condition necessary for the emergence of a continuous colour-band with green in the middle. In fact, the spectrum which science since the time of Newton regards as the only one, appears much more rarely among natural conditions than does Goethe's counter-spectrum.

With the peach-blossom a fresh proof is supplied that what man experiences in his soul is in harmony with the objective facts of nature. As with green, we experience peach-blossom as a colour that leaves us in equilibrium. With peach-blossom, however, the equilibrium is of a different kind, owing to the fact that it arises from the union of the colour-poles, not at their original stage but in their 'heightened' form. And so green, the colour of the plant-world harmony given by nature, stands over against 'purple', the colour of the human being striving towards harmony. By virtue of this quality, purple served from antiquity for the vesture of those who have reached the highest stage of human development for their time. This characteristic of the middle colours of the two spectra was expressed by Goethe when he called green 'real totality', and peach-blossom 'ideal totality'.

From this standpoint Goethe was able to smile at the Newtonians. He could say that if they persisted in asserting that the colourless, so-called 'white' light is composed of the seven colours of the ordinary spectrum - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet - then they were in duty bound to maintain also that the colourless, 'black' darkness is composed of the seven colours of the inverted spectrum - yellow, orange, red, purple, violet, indigo, blue.

Despite the convincing force of this argument, the voice of the Hans Andersen child speaking through Goethe failed to gain a hearing among the crowd of Newtonian faithful. So has it been up to the present day - regardless of the fact that, as we have shown, modern physics has reached results which make a contradiction of the Newtonian concept of the mutual relation of light and colour no longer appear so heretical as it was in Goethe's time.


When we compare the way in which Goethe, on the one hand, and the physical scientist, on the other, have arrived at the truth that what Newton held to be 'discovery' was in actual fact 'manufacture', we find ourselves faced with another instance of a fact which we have encountered before in our study of electricity. It is the fact that a truth, which reveals itself to the spectator-scientist only as the result of a highly advanced experimental research, can be recognized through quite simple observation when this observation is carried out with the intention of letting the phenomena themselves speak for their 'theory'.

Furthermore, there is a corresponding difference in the effect the knowledge of such truth has on the human mind. In the field of electricity we saw that together with the scientist's recognition of the absolute qualities of the two polar forms of electricity a false semblance of reality was lent to the hypothesis of the atomic structure of matter. Something similar has occurred in the field of optics. Here, after having been forced to recognize the fallacy of Newton's theory, the spectator's mind has been driven to form a concept of the nature of light which is further than ever from the truth. For what then remains of light is - in Eddington's words - a 'quite irregular disturbance, with no tendency to periodicity', which means that to light is assigned the quality of an undefined chaos (in the negative sense of this word) sprung from pure chance.

Moreover, as Eddington shows, the question whether the optical contrivance 'sorts out' from the chaotic light a particular periodicity, or whether it 'impresses' this on the light, becomes just 'a matter of expression'.11 So here, too, the modern investigator is driven to a resigned acknowledgment of the principle of Indeterminacy.

No such conclusions are forced upon the one who studies the spectrum phenomenon with the eyes of Goethe. Like the modern experimenter, he, too, is faced with the question 'Discovery or Manufacture?' and he, too, finds the answer to be 'Manufacture'. But to him nature can disclose herself as the real manufacturer, showing him how she goes to work in bringing about the colours, because in following Goethe he is careful to arrange his observations in such a way that they do not veil nature's deeds.

1 'To see is my dower, to look my employ.' Words of the Tower-Watcher in Faust, II, 5, through which Goethe echoes his own relation to the world.

2 The last chapter but two in the edition of 1924.

3 For the drastic and as such very enlightening way in which Eddington presents the problem, the reader is referred to Eddington's own description.

4 Konfession des Verfassers.

5 Colour as quality being no essential factor in the scientific explanation of the spectrum.

6 Contributions to Optics.

7 Outline of a Theory of Colour.

8 See Rudolf Steiner's edition of Goethe's Farbenlehre under Paralipomena zur Chromatik, No. 27.

9 Goethe's own representation of the phenomenon. (The diagram is simplified by omitting one colour on each side.)

10 This is not to be confused with the meaning of 'purple' in modern English usage.

11 This follows from the application of Fourier's Theorem, according to which every vibration of any kind is divisible into a sum of periodic partial vibrations, and therefore is regarded as compounded of these.


Seeing as 'Deed' - I

Having made ourselves so far acquainted with the fundamentals of Goethe's approach to the outer phenomena of colour involved in the spectrum, we will leave this for a while to follow Goethe along another no less essential line of inquiry. It leads us to the study of our own process of sight, by means of which we grow aware of the optical facts in outer space.

Man or Matter - 50/74

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