Newton, Goethe, Light and the Future

I will now try to do what even the Goethe Museum in Weimar fails at splendidly, despite putting on a big show and charging something like 10 Euros to see it, which is like a zillion Canadian dollars. I will try to explain what Goethe meant about light in his “Lecture on Colour”, which he wrote to dispel Newtonian science once and for all, but didn’t. Just to whet your appetite for a visit to Weimar, try this on for size:

goethe-color-diagrams-01Goethe Explains His Theory of Colour With Pretty Pictures

Great minds have been broken by this for 200 years. Three German states have been built on this principle, which might have been a mistake. One in between was built to torture it until its spiritual death. A nasty business, that. Definitely a mistake.

OK, so we’ve got that out of the way. I think we can explain this more simply and hopefully, if I have a bit of luck and you have even more, I can help you see you why Goethe’s science, much maligned by Newtonian scientists worldwide, has much to give us as we work towards an earth-friendly science for the future. Here’s the foundation of Newton’s science of light:

Newton’s Rainbow

The starling is just added value. You’re welcome.

In Newton’s science, the white light that streams from the sun is actually an amalgam of seven colours, which are released from solution, so to speak, when they pass through a prism. It’s excellent science. Here’s Goethe’s science:

P1410398Male Staghorn Sumacs After Flowering

Notice the complicated interweaving of darkness and light. NO prisms. NO rainbow. In its place are moods of colour, representing moods of observation.

Confused by the ‘mood’ thing? Don’t worry! We’re used to reading words like that in regards to those particular explorers of light, artists, but not in terms of those others, their twins, scientists. Fortunately, we can set it aside for the moment and remember one simple thing: Goethe wanted us to consider white light in its entirety, as it is received by humans. He wanted to build a science out of that measurement device: not prisms but humans.


Scientific Measurement Devices at Play (Well Daring Each Other, Anyway)

Unfortunately, the romantics got ahold of the technology and messed with it big time. The result is teenagers. I’m not kidding, by the way. Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

Goethe also wanted us to consider that darkness is a component of seeing, too, for humans, and that colour, as perceived by humans, occurs at the intersection of darkness and light. He got a little tangled up in theories and diagrams here, many of which have been disproven (this is a blessing, really), but the fundamental observation is sound: a science can be built out of human presence and its interaction with the world, in and of itself. That’s what I tried to show you yesterday, with images like this:

butter3 Orange Mood

… and this …


Purple Mood

Oh, what’s that?

Reader: Mood, mood, mood, you’re mad. What’s this mood? That’s a butterfly on mustard and a clematis on your backyard fence, you nut.

Harold: Only if you use the romantic version of your operating system. (I wasn’t kidding. The romantics really did start playing around with this individual consciousness thing. It was awfully fun for them. We are their heirs.)

Reader: My operating what? !!!$%%%**&(&*!!!$^%^!@@$***!##!!!!!

Ah, yes. Well. Ahem. Hmmm. The measurement device Goethe had in mind is the individual consciousness, which was created by his friend, the philosopher Gottlieb Fichte in 1793, as a reference point on which a science could be built. Without a reference point, all things would be relative to all things and nothing could be measured, at least in Newtonian terms. Goethe wanted to use this measurement device, individual consciousness, to measure unity instead— exactly that thing which Newtonian scientists wanted a reference point (individual consciousness) to dispel! You can probably tell that Goethe hated Newton. The details of their spat are unimportant. The important issue is that Newtonian scientists wanted to use this Fichtian consciousness to create devices that could break apart unity, then to measure the effects of that breakage, and then to assemble them again into a logical system, all from a distance.


Fichte Taught at a University

His consciousness trick has all the signs of it, doesn’t it!

Goethe thought that this was not only ridiculous but also extremely dangerous. He did not believe there should be any distance whatsoever, that if there was to be a logical system it must operate from within the unified world, which means it must perceive white light, must perceive it with rigour, and must build logic up without first breaking the unity of the world. The important thing here is Goethe’s observation that the system one chooses determines the world we get. By choosing Newtonian science without any exploration of the Goethian system, the Western World has broken the planet and continues to train its young in distancing themselves from their bodies, their planet, and the reality of their perceptions. Goethe had a lot more in mind, oodles of spiritual stuff, but that’s a story for another day. For now, I offer you a self portrait of a human moment. You may know it by different words:

P1390603 Harold Above Kalamalka Lake

By adding a second self portrait, something happens to the first …

chicory2Harold Rooting Around on the Surface of the Sun

Of course, this is the stuff we know of today as poetry. And it is. But it is also the foundation of an unexplored science…. hmmm, tomorrow I will talk about multiplicity… maybe that’ll help!

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for this effort! I am feeling, after reading this post, that you are writing about an intellectual system working to reclaim systems of felt connection which humans experienced before “civilization.” But that’s only a premise at this point. Please tell us more.


    • Hi, thanks for the feedback. That’s not really what I had in mind, so it’s good to see I failed. I will try again! Goethe was trying to build a system to extend the aristocratic and Christian world into the new bourgeoise, secular world, in which we live today. He would likely say that this is civilization and that what we have today is not. Hmmm… to put it another way, Goethe wasn’t trying to reclaim a system. He was keeping one alive and extending it. That it now appears to be something distant and to be reclaimed is probably a function of all of us being highly trained in a contradictory system, which we call reality, although it is not always that. I’m hoping my next foray, on multiplicity, might help. The danger is of starting to sound like a Goethe nut, which I most certainly am not. Every German kid gets trained in Goethe in a rote way up to his or her eyeballs, but I’m not a German kid so much as a weird German Canadian medieval something or other, who found out the truth of Goethe by wandering around in East Germany and realizing, in the middle of Gotha, that I knew nothing and everything I had ever been taught was wrong, as it did not describe the world. That was 6 years ago, almost to the day. I’m still working at describing what I saw those weeks, and on my second trip 2 years later. 😉 H


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