Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Contemplating Rainbows

I've been photographing my art supplies for a little booklet to accompany my classes in nature journaling.  When I viewed this photo at 5:30 a.m., I experienced a profound discomfort.  Why didn't I arrange the pencils in rainbow order before taking the photo?  Then I had a flashback to first grade when the teacher, during an art lesson, asked me, "What comes after yellow?"  I said I didn't know, and the class laughed. I then explained that the colors don't come after each other.  They're there 'all at once.' The teacher, apparently under the spell of the new boxes of crayons, had us memorizing "red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black."  You see, in her world, green comes after yellow!  For a first grader, I was fairly precocious and I knew that after referred to time, and there was no way that green came after yellow.  If one has a lot of colored pencils, it makes sense to order them in some way for quick retrieval, but rainbow order is not the only possible way.  Every true artist organizes art stuff in a way that works for him or her.
On a possibly related theme, I am reading a most interesting book titled "On Deep History and the Brain."  This is the first history book I've read by a historian that takes humans' evolutionary history seriously as a necessary prelude to the standardized prehistory that assumed humans to be already fully-formed Homo sapiens but ignores how we got that way.  We have all seen rainbows, but as a fraction of our waking hours, I'm sure rainbow viewing doesn't even come close to 1%.  Is it possible, though, that the rainbow order of colors is deeply imbedded in our brains as the "correct" order?
[I'll finish this exploration later today. I want to mention Richard Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow" for another angle on this topic.]
I'm back.  Dawkins' book, among other things, talks about the consequences of Newton's discovering the fact that white light is made up of a range of wavelengths and that with use of a prism the wavelengths can be separated into the familiar "colors of the rainbow."  To an extent, Dawkins' whole career has been centered around defending science against those who believe that factual explanations of things like rainbows ruin the sense of beauty.  You know, the "ignorance is bliss" idea.  Dawkins' argues that greater understanding leads to an even greater  appreciation of beauty.  He sees outgrowing  the manufacture of and subsequent dependence on "gods" to be enlightening.  It is rather amazing (dare I say un-Christian) how violent some of the criticisms of him have been over the years.
My youngest son is a very science-oriented guy, and I love to talk with him about things like rainbows.  He has more knowledge about the electromagnetic spectrum than most high school science teachers.  And, there's no doubt in my mind that he has a deeply felt appreciation for rainbows.  Not only would he never take them for granted, he would go way out of his way to view the double and triple rainbows that I've told him about that are frequently viewed along the Front Range of the Rockies.  Looking eastward from towns like Boulder during the summer rains one can often see amazing rainbows.  Centennial country is out there 100 miles or so, and happens to be the world's greatest locale for experiencing hailstorms.  But, that's another story.

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