Monday, July 26, 2010


(Click on the images to enlarge)

These images formed a part of a study and exhibition on prismatic colors and rainbow phenomena back in 1999. A phenomenological approach, following Goethe's method of science was used. Drawings were made by my colleaque Klaus Salomaa and myself. You are invited to comment the texts and images! The idea of this blog is to evoke discussion on the premises of modern physics, light theory, Goethe, Newton, Land and others, additive and subtractive color mixing, meaning of phenomenology in physics and what ever.

Since the aim of this blog is mainly to present our project, I have no intention of adding new material to it at the moment. However, I do wish to continue discussions on the subject with you in the comment fields provided by the program.

In modern physics one consideres the theory of rainbows to be a settled field of optics. All conventional optical theories (geometrical optics, wave optics and quantum physics) provide an unified understanding of rainbow phenomena.

Although an unfamiliar approach in physics, a phenomenological method can widen our understanding of nature phenomena, just as the different approaches mentioned above are considered to be useful in their own fields. They are complementary in the sense that they agree with each other but are not derivable from each other alone.

The optical entities studied by conventional mathematical physics are either geometrical "rays" of light, electromagnetic "waves", or "packages" of light - the photons. These entities are highly theoretical. They are problematic in the sense that they all exist outside the field of direct human observation (sense perception). This is not to say that these entities are not useful in physics, on the contrary. It is the use of such entities that has made physical science so triumphant. The problem is, that as a consequence, we have been compelled to pronounce certain sense qualities as "non existing", as merely "apparent". These include colors, sounds, odors and tastes as such (the so called subjective or secondary sense perceptions).

Phenomenology, on the other hand, is concerned precisely with that which appears. In optics these are images and colors as such. By studying the images, which appear in raindrops, we can find such aspects of rainbow optics, which are mostly left unattended in conventional physics. These findings do not contradict optical physics. In that respect we can say that, by providing an alternative view, a phenomenological study of rainbow phenomena may add to our knowledge concerning the secrets of nature and it may therefore be called a complementary method of scientific investigation.

Today we acknowlege phenomenology as a relevant scientific method in humanistic sciences. Recent studies have, however, revealed that a phenomenological method in connection with the study of nature was already used by Goethe. Although still unfamiliar in scientific circles, Goethe's phenomenological approach to the study of nature phenomena begins to be a fairly well commented field of philosophical study.

1 comment:

  1. What would a physics teacher say about including phenomenological experiments, such as the ones below, in a school optics course?