Newtons Ether Theory


NEWTON'S LAW/PRINCIPLES OF COLOR MIXTURE. In 1704, the English physicist, mathematician, and philosopher Sir

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) presented the first fruitful system for describing the data of color mixture. In an imaginative leap of speculation, Newton suggested that colors be arranged in a circle with white at the center and the spectral colors/hues (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) around the circumference, where the more "desaturated" a color, the closer it is to the center of the circle. Newton also had the idea of representing a given color's quantity by a small circle drawn about the position of the color on the large circle, and the area of the small circle was thought to be proportional to the quantity of the color. According to Newton, the position of a mixture of colors could be determined by calculating the center of gravity of the weighted individual components. Even though Newton had no way in 1704 of actually quantifying a color, his account contains generally all the principles of color mixture as developed by other scientists (e.g., H. Grassman) 150 years later. Newton's color mixture law states that if two color mixtures yield the same sensation of hue, then the mixture of these two mixtures will also yield the same hue sensation. Newton's synonymous law of equilibrium in color mixing refers to the mixture of two hues to yield an intermediate hue. For example, if A and B are the hues that are mixed in proportions of m and n, then the resultant hue will be at a point on a line joining A and B so that AO/OB = n/m. Newton's famous prismatic experiment demonstrates how color mixture using light waves may be analyzed. If a white light is passed through a glass prism, it breaks up into all the "rainbow" colors of the spectrum, and if the entire spectrum of light wavelengths is recombined subsequently, the result is a white light again. In another area of theoretical interest to Newton, his theory of ether suggested that ether was a hypothetical medium that filled all space, and was invoked as the medium to carry light waves and possesses the properties of elasticity and density. However, in the Michelson-Morley experiment [named after the German-born American physicist Albert Abraham Michelson (18521931) and the American chemist/physicist Edward Williams Morley (1838-1923)], a test was made in 1887 of Newton's ether theory in which the time it took for a light beam to be reflected directly back from a straight-ahead mirror was compared to the time it took for reflection from a beam traveling the same distance at right angles to the first beam; the result of this experiment was that there was no difference in any direction and, thus, it was concluded that there was no ether; this experiment paved the way for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity - that gives a unified account of the laws of mechanics and electro-magnetism, and rejects the Newtonian concepts of absolute space and time and the 19th century idea that an electromagnetic ether exists with respect to which motion can be determined absolutely. See also COLOR MIXTURE, LAWS/THEORY OF; COLOR VISION, THEORIES/LAWS OF; GRASS-MAN'S LAWS; VISION/SIGHT, THEORIES OF. REFERENCES

Newton, I. (1704). Opticks. London: Innys. Grassman, H. (1853). Zur theorie der farbenmischung. Poggendorf Annales der Physik, 89, 69. Grassman, H. (1854). On the theory of compound colours. Philosophy Magazine, 7, 254-264. Graham, C. (1965). Color mixture and color systems. In C. Graham (Ed.), Vision and visual perception. New York: Wiley.



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