Friday, December 21, 2007

It's All in the Mind

“By convention there are sweet and bitter, hot and cold, by convention there is color; but in truth there are atoms and the void”


“I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we locate them are concerned, and that they reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated”

Galileo Galilei, 1623

“For the rays, to speak properly, are not colored. In them there is nothing else than a certain power and disposition to stir up a sensation of this or that color.”

Isaac Newton Optics 1704

Pain? I tell patients just before i stick needles in them: "It's all in the mind!". I chuckle to myself ... it's an "in" joke - but only in for myself.

(I do the same things when i have to examine an anus (rarely) i mutter under my breath an exhalatory whispered "arsehole!" - and i think about my home extension/mortgage - this helps me put up with it. Doctors are human too- we're just trying to get by.)

Anyway- the joke is that EVERYTHING is 'all in the mind'- love, pain, memory, music, art, warmth and color. There really isn't much outside our subjective experience of the universe.

Take color- just varying wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. You get the same thing if you grab a fridge magnet and wave it up and down (you just get VERY low frequency light). Newton hit upon this idea after squishing his eyeballs and sticking pins in his eyes to fire up his retinae - producing colored scintillations.

The separate 'colors' we see as distinct- but they probably are more like shades of gray in reality! We see green-ness as qualitatively different to redness- but really, there is only a quantitative difference in the wavelengths. Also interesting is why we percieve a 'color wheel' to make sense- in other words- why should red be able to merge seamlessly with blue (through purple)? .. when these are like black and white- at opposite ends of the wavelength spectrum.

Below the wavelength of red is (obviously) infrared... but what is not so obvious is why we perceive this as radiant heat, rather than a new color. The retina gives up and the sense organs in the skin take over. Without humans (or other living things) to feel the 'warmth' from the sun- this would just be yet another short segment of EM radiation.

Red objects aren't really "red". Red objects simply hold on to all colors except red, which they reflect. I wonder, given the vogue for black roof tiles- could there be a specific "black" color that absorbs all visible light, but reflects the infra-red... i.e. a "cool black"? Would save lots of money on air-conditioning. Maybe if you could spray whatever metallic film they put in "low-e" window glass on top? Maybe glossy black roofs are better than matt ones?

... After an exhaustive googling: found this BASF low-e paint- you could paint the interior of your house and stay warm in winter!


  1. Somehow I don't think the reality of this post will bode well with any of my art teachers. However, I'll have to think on it to come up with some real smart-assed way to integrate it into an artwork just to see how it will go.

  2. Thanks Regina-

    i'll post the artwork when you've done it!


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