Colored Shadows Sensory Perception GOETHE

Colored Shadows Sensory Perception GOETHE

Using Goethe’s Theory of Colors (Zur Farbenlehre) as a point of departure, LIGHT, DARKNESS, AND COLOURS takes us on a fascinating journey through the universe of colors.

In 1704 Sir Isaac Newton published “Light and Refraction,” his study of the interactions between sunlight and prisms. Newton was, as a good scientist, intent on achieving objectivity, which meant studying sunlight in isolation. He thought colors were contained solely in light, and found what he was looking for. Goethe found another, hidden set of colors missed by Newton, by testing Newton’s theory, though inclusive of the subjectivity of Human perception.

Goethe found the hidden colors in the boundaries between light and darkness. He felt, as an artist, that one could not talk about light without including darkness. Calling it “the light – darkness polarity”, Goethe made this new scientific discovery using artistic methods in conjunction with science. As far as scientists were concerned, Goethe was a layman, which meant that his research went largely ignored. Not until many years later was it recognized how revolutionary his scientific discoveries really were.

Goethe spent more than 40 years of his life on Zur Farbenlehre, which in its own way summarizes the whole of his thinking and connects his poetry with science. Goethe himself viewed his work as so stunningly radical that he prophesied that it would only be understood generations after his death.

In keeping with Goethe’s method, the three directors, Henrik Boëtius, Marie Louise Lefèvre and Marie Louise Lauridsen, work from a personal curiosity as they explore the natural laws and phenomena surrounding human sensory perception. Using strikingly beautiful time-lapse cinematography, and duplicating Goethe’s and Newton’s experiments on camera, they have crafted a visually stunning and intellectually rewarding film.

“Quite artful… In science classes, could be used to stimulate [rich] discussions of theories of color, as well as questions about what constitutes scientific theories in general. The contrasts between Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of light and that of Johann Goethe… are worth investigating.”–Science Books and Films

“Fascinating … well-crafted, high-quality … The fluid exchange between aesthetic laboratory experiments and dazzlingly beautiful photographs of the sea, fields of lavender, and idyllic pastoral scenes will help viewers of many ages understand color. This outstanding and very intellectually stimulating film is highly recommended.”–Educational Media Reviews Online

“Delightful… Ingenious… a reinterpretation of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s interesting and still radical book on the Theory of Colors, but the film itself is so well made, so precisely narrated, photographed and edited… it is a memorable lesson in very smart thinking and seeing.”–Leonardo Digital Reviews

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the renowned German writer, poet, and scientist, explored various aspects of human perception and cognition throughout his life. One of his notable contributions in this regard is his investigation into the phenomenon of colored shadows, which he documented in his seminal work “Theory of Colors” (in German: “Zur Farbenlehre”).

In his exploration of colored shadows, Goethe observed that when an object is illuminated by white light and casts a shadow onto a surface, the shadow may appear to contain colors that are complementary to the color of the light source. For example, if the light source is yellow, the shadow may appear to contain shades of blue. This phenomenon contradicted the prevailing understanding of optics at the time, which attributed colored shadows solely to the presence of colored light.

Goethe’s observations led him to propose a theory of color perception that emphasized the role of human perception and subjective experience in the phenomenon of color. He argued that colors arise not only from the properties of light and objects but also from the interaction between light, objects, and the human eye and mind.

While Goethe’s ideas on colored shadows were met with skepticism and criticism from contemporary scientists, they have since been revisited and reevaluated by researchers in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of perception. Modern studies have confirmed some aspects of Goethe’s observations, demonstrating that factors such as simultaneous contrast, color constancy, and neural processing can contribute to the perception of colored shadows.

In addition to his contributions to the study of colored shadows, Goethe’s “Theory of Colors” also explored other aspects of color perception, including color harmony, color mixing, and the psychological effects of color. His interdisciplinary approach to the study of color, which integrated empirical observation with philosophical reflection and aesthetic sensibility, continues to inspire inquiry and debate in the fields of art, science, and psychology.

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