What Is Light?

Better ideas.
Aug. 13 1997 3:30 AM

What Is Light?

No one really has the faintest idea.

The Fire Within the Eye: A Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light
By David Park
Princeton University Press; 550 pages; $29.95

(Continued from Page 1)

"Then what is light?" Professor Park wonders anew near the end of his book. Nature, he realizes, has gone dialectical on us. It has transcended the logical opposition between "wave" and "particle" and made nonsense of the metaphysical question Substantia aut accidens? These Aristotelian categories of thought--long thought to mirror the structure of reality--turn out to be mere metaphors for a noumenal world that Darwinian evolution has left us ill-equipped to grasp, save by the device of mathematics.


Yet if one does finish The Fire Within the Eye in a state of mild intellectual distress, that is not the author's fault. His exposition is lucid, and he can be droll, too, at least when he is not telling us about medieval optical treatises (surely the epitome of a boring thing to study). I especially liked his account of how Goethe came up with a color scheme for his Weimar house based on anti-Newtonian principles, rather as Martha Stewart might. "Goethe planned that each room should have its special mood, determined by color and décor," Park writes. "It is hard to situate oneself in the mind of a visitor in the year 1800, but even now, one feels the attempt at control." Reading this book is more fun than grinding lenses.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?