Friday, October 01, 2004

If you open up your copy of Goethe's Theory of Colours, you read this:

I am not too proud of my achievements as a poet. Excellent creative writers lived in my time, even more brilliant ones before me, and there will always exist some after my time. But that I am the only one in my century who knows the truth about the theory of colours - that is which I am proud of and which gives me a feeling of superiority over many!

The author of Faust was looking for immortality in his scientific excavations. Goethe's work in this book has small practical value today but the case can be made that it is Art not Science. Goethe practically invented a new way of looking at the world. He wasn't looking at a way to reduce or explain Colour so much as to impose or discover patterns about our own subjective experience.

This old Physics Today article calls it "exploratory experimentation" Goethe drew conections between what was seen and produced a color circle for the senses.

In some sense it reminds me of the stuff that Murray Gell-Mann did preceding the discovery of quarks. He arranged every known particle into a pattern and called it The Eight-fold way (the reference was lifted from Buddhism) But the pattern was broken and so Gell-Mann predicted another particle (the omega) would soon be discovered, and it was.

It reminds me too of the strange cosmology of Edgar Allan Poe. I think of Poe as that teller of creepy tales, The Cask of Amontillado being my own dark favorite. But Poe believed his most important work, the work that would outlast him would be his rambling prose poem, Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe.

IT is with humility really unassumed — it is with a sentiment even of awe — that I pen the opening sentence of this work; for of all conceivable subjects, I approach the reader with the most solemn, the most comprehensive, the most difficult, the most august.

What terms shall I find sufficiently simple in their sublimity — sufficiently sublime in their simplicity — for the mere enunciation of my theme?

I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical — of the Material and Spiritual Universe; of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition, and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men.

No comments: