By Dr. Jim Ferguson
“The world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high…”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I think it’s easier to comprehend the vastness of the ocean (and the world) from the deck of a ship. Our seagoing home is huge and is shared with three thousand other souls, yet it bobs like a cork on an ocean that stretches to the horizon and for three and a half miles beneath us.
Becky and I are not “boat people,” but I needed to get away and she knew I needed R&R, rescue from the world and restoration of the soul. Thankfully, there are last minute cruise deals, so here I sit contemplating clouds so low you can almost touch them and the kaleidoscopic of the Caribbean.
You can’t ignore colors in the Caribbean. Perhaps it’s the sun and light that causes people to choose bright and vibrant colors over the drab ones of higher latitudes. Darkness is, after all, the absence of light. The 19th century French Impressionist painters understood the importance of light, though I doubt Monet considered the physics of electromagnetic radiation from our sun.
Our ability to see color is dependent on light energy of a certain spectrum which activates photoreceptors in the retina of our eyes. When I was a boy I was taught the mnemonic ROY G BIV which describes the colors we see as revealed by a prism.
Red, orange, and yellow colors are associated with the longer, less energetic, wave lengths of light energy. Blue, indigo, and violet colors are found in the shorter wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. Verdant colors are found as we shift from the red to the blue end of the visible spectrum.
The physics of light brings such beauty and wonder to those who have eyes to see.
Some people don’t stop to consider yellow daffodils, and others are color blind and see differently.
My father-in-law had red-green color blindness. He was once asked what red looks like to him. He replied to his interlocutor, “Well, what does it look like to you?” You can’t describe “red;” it must be experienced.
There are practical aspects of physics beyond just science and esthetics. Most of us have observed the rising tone of an ambulance as it approaches. This occurs because the sound waves are compressed resulting in a rising frequency of sound and an increasing tenor. Similarly, as the ambulance recedes, the tone of the siren decreases as the sound wave is stretched. This is called the Doppler Effect, and it applies to light waves as well as sound energy.
The 20th century astronomer, Edmund Hubble, noted that the color spectrum in sequential photographs of stars was shifted toward the red end of the spectrum and he concluded that virtually all stars in the Universe are moving away from us. This was a paradigm shift from our notion that the Universe was vast, but fixed. This observation has been repeatedly confirmed and is offered as proof that our Universe continues to expand from its origin 13.4 billion years ago.
Becky has tried to explain the color wheel to me before, and it finally sunk in. I was intrigued why orange seaweed floating upon a deep blue sea was so appealing to my senses; and that’s when the lesson began.
When a red, blue or yellow primary color is matched with a secondary color on the opposite side of the color wheel, Becky says “It works,” and I agree.
We see the world through the three primary colors and their blends as depicted on her color wheel diagram. We find it esthetically pleasing when an object reflects the wavelengths of a primary color juxtaposed to its complementary color. Orange works with blue, and the red and green of Christmas is likewise pleasing. Fellows, esthetics has its place and a Big Orange tie with a red shirt is garish. In fact, another group of French painters were known as the Fauves because they used garish colors and were described as painting like “wild dogs.”
The eye is a wondrous organ and has been called the window of the soul by poets. A picture of the sea or a story can never capture the beauty or grandeur of the world. Sometimes we need to slow down and consider the beauty around us as did William Wordsworth as he gazed and then reflected on a field of yellow daffodils:
“…I gazed and gazed but little thought what joy to me that crowd had brought: For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude. And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.”