What is Color?

Manufacturer and builder 4, 1889

To the Editor of the Manufacturer and Builder:

I have been somewhat amused in the perusal of your correspondent's — Mr. Heckert — reply in the March number of your excellent magazine (which, by the way, in passing, let ote say, shows by its full pages of original and most interesting matter that your corps of writers are full of thought, and that your efforts to make a readable journal are not made in vain. It is considered one of the brightest and best of the whole list of monthly journals, and the wonder is that you can furnish to much for so little money. It ought certainly to find a place in every family).

But, to return to Mr. Heckerth reply to my query,

"What is Color?" That he may sot his mind at rest oat my seeking to quote him to disadvantage in his article, "The Universal Law of Nature and Source of Phenomena." in my use of his statement: "In fact, there is no such thing as color," and in my transferring it, as he asserts, "to where it did not belong." and in my attributing to his theory the exact points which he had given as erroneous, I will here say that I am perfectly willing to great him the full benefit of all he said on that point, and in the exact connection in which he said it, and then leave your readers to judge if I placed him in a more unfavorable light than he himself has done.

After describing at considerable length his idea of a new theory based on his hypothesis, that "atom of matter differently shaped constitute the various elements in existence (each element having its peculiar shape), which elements, when acted on by heat, produce different combinations and motions of matter. All phenomena in nature being the result of such combinations mid different angles of motion," he then goes on to sty:

"It is by this code that nature transacts a large variety of its phenomenal business: by it we distinguish what we call one color from another, and one sound from another. In fact, there is no such thing as color: it is simply the effect on our eyes of certain numbers of vibrations or impacts reaching the sensitive nerve of the eye in a given time. Such melons, advancing at certain angles peculiar to certain elements, a combination of elements producing a corresponding change in the angle of motion and its effect on the eye. which we call a change of color.

"Our present theory of colors is untenable, and many deductions therefrom erroneous, such as the conclusion that if certain combinations produce white or black, such results are not colors. The fact that sound and color are derived from similar causes enables me to illustrate this phenomena of combined colors by one of combined sounds. If the observer is on one of two trains moving rapidly in opposite directions, the bell on the approaching trails will indicate to the ear a cousin pitch as measured in music, which is due to a certain number of vibration, or angles of motion, reaching the ear; the instant the trains pass each other, the bell of the receding train falls several steps, which is due to a less number of impacts on the car in the same duration of time.

In the same manner, what we call colors, being the result of a certain number of impacts on the eye in a even time; and when two or more elements are united, we realize a change in the number of such impacts, or angles of motion, on the eye, which we call a change of color, the same as we call achange of sounds by the moving trains; and if the different vibrations noted by the ear are sounds, then for the same reason the different vibrations noted by the eye are colors. The fact has been fully demonstrated that each step, or note, in music has also its peculiar color, which can be made apparent to the eye; which fact entirely destroys the present theory that different shades of color depend on the absorption of certain rays light, all such erroneous deductions being duo to the transposition of cause and effect."

Now, I will submit that if in my condensed quotation I have attributed to his theory the "exact points" which he gave as "erroneous" it is not anywhere apparent.

Note, Mr. Heckert, a word or two with you. Yes, I have heard of such a thing as "color blindness," and, somewhere else, as a "seeker after knowledge," I have read and the savans had established a statidard by which the various functions of individuals were all measured, and those "found wanting" in any facility were counted as being deficient in that respect. Therefore, my dear sir, I am exceedingly puzzled to understand how you are to prove your case by an argument on the theory of "color blindness."

You ask: "Does coal thrown on the fire always remain black?" Why not? But if it does change its color, what, may I ask, is the agent that produces it? You surely must have read that out from this self-same black coal, over four hundred shades of color pigments are produced, among the chief of which are saffron, violet, blue and indigo. And still you call color merely a phenomena produced on our eyes by the movement of certain distict wave lines, or angles of motion! What is the trouble with your theory, that you ask in one breath: "Does coal thrown on the fire always appear black, and the summer foliage always green," and in the next assert that their colors are varied by certain changes of temperature? Can it be that you can not quite stifle the idea, that comes up in spite of your-self, that after all, heat may be as much the prime producer of all color as of all substance? What other view cen we take of it, when you cite to as the different colors allown on the piece of steel when submitted to varying temperatures? Does a book, which is made up from different aubstances, such as white paper and black printing ink, become any the less a book when the shades of night have drawn their mantle of darkness over the earth? Are the stars in the heavens any the less stars when shut out room our view by the blazing light of the noonday sun, than when night has shrouded the earth in darkness and they appear to us? Even you must concede that, were it not for their color, we would have no knowledge of their substance.

But want of time and space will prevent my pursuing the subject further in this communication.

- Seeker After Knowledge.

New York, April 1, 1889

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