Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 55: Jan-Feb 1988

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Goethe's optics reevaluated

"It is beyond dispute that the main objective of the polemical part of Goethe's Farbenlehre, namely, the refutation of Newton's Obticks, was a misguided one. Many consider it to be inexplicable that a man of Goethe's intellectual standing should have behaved in such an apparently irrational manner. It so happens, however, that the characteristics of the subjective spectrum are more akin to Goethe's model than to Newton's. It is true that Goethe put an incorrect interpretation upon what he saw -- and was the first to see -- but a careful scrutiny of his scientific method reveals that his reasoning was far from irrational."

(Duck, Michael; "The Bezold-Bruecke Phenomenon and Goethe's Rejection of Newton's Opticks," American Journal of Physics, 55:793, 1987.)

Comment. Goethe just did not see what Newton saw, and their feud was rather bitter. To illustrate, Goethe considered the subjective aspects of his optical experiments, while Newton neglected them. For example, in the Bezold-Bruecke phenomenon, reds became yellower with increasing brightness -- or seem to with human observers. Goethe's theory of color took such effects into account. Once again, one person's reality can be different from another's.

From Science Frontiers #55, JAN-FEB 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987