Educational resource of professor       

Peter Vsevolodovich Yan'shin  


Psychology and psycho-semantics   OF COLOR   psychology      psycho-semantics       of color          psycho-semantics

Frequently Asked Questions


(The English version of Russian site)

To the main page


List of my scientific works on the color

Psycho-semantics of Color
Definitions of Color
The evolution of the color vision
In what did make mistakes Newton?

Guest book

Friendly sites

Rambler's Top100



Last renovation of page 07.01.04

On this page are placed the theses and the definitions, protected in the doctoral thesis of the author at the session of dissertation advice D 501.001.14 at the Moscow State University of M.V.Lomonosov 7- th of June 2001. Leading organization: Institute of psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In what Newton made mistakes

"Not one painter will fall into the Newtonian stupidity"- Hegel

The Newtonian definition of Color is so much rough, that quantity passed into the quality.  

The first (from the contemporary), most known formulation of concept "color" is given 300 years ago by Isaac Newton in his "Optics". Here are examples of the first lines from the chapters, dedicated to color, in two very authoritative textbooks: "Nature of color was for the first time explained by Isaac Newton (1642-1727)" (Pedkhem, Sonders, 1978, p.92) and "At the basis of the contemporary theories of the color vision lies the observation of Isaac Newton, that the white sunlight, penetrating the prism, is split into the spectrum of colors" (Lindsey, Norman, 1974, p.190), etc.  

However, what terrible, ask you, in these definitions? Perhaps by them we are poses so many sings (for example, TV)? As everybody trust it, then it is correct! However, under these formulas completely obvious the tendency to give to man the place of the strange observer of the sterile rotation of the wheels of the mechanical universe.  

Thus, let us analyze in detail Newtonian idea about nature of light.

   1. According to the concept of Newton, colors are contained in light as the independent essences. "[Light] consists of the rays, which differ from each other in terms of such possible characteristics as value, form and force similarly how differ from each other sea waves, the human persons and other natural things of one kind" ("Optics"). In the contemporary textbook this idea is represented as follows: "Light itself is painted not more than radio wave ore X-rays, but it bears data, or information, capable of causing the sensation of color" (Pedkhem, Sonders, p. 95). According to the definition of physicist V. Schroedinger, the "color is a property of the spectral compositions of emissions, not distinguished visually by man " (cited in: Shashlov, 1986). It is completely correct to designate this view as mechanical. By it is postulated composite nature of the light, capable of being decomposed into the colored rays. This hypothesis  was subsequently called the corpuscular theory of light.

  2. Colors are not a result of interaction of light with the natural objects: "subverting... the most durable bases opticians, Newton proves, that the colors are not belong to the painted bodies, but to light beams, that they are not the modifications of the latter, but essence the primordial properties..."(Koyre, 1985, p.185). Color, thus, because of Newton, is considered not as the part of the visible world, but as elementary component of light. Here is the clear example to this position: "Speaking "apple red ", "leaf green" and the like, we create impression, as if color is a property of objects themselves...We do not realize, that color - not objective category, but the element of our sensations, perceptions and experiences "(Tsollinger, 1995, p156).  

Commentary. Far-fetchedness of the problem astonishes: either the property of objects or the property of light.

  3. Light is substance. The historian of science A. Koyre considers that under his assumptions Newton went still further: "it also can be body, although Newton... does not assert this clearly. his report to royal society Newton actually proposed hypothesis, namely hypothesis about materiality of light" (Koyre, p.188).

These three given above postulates of Newton determined further development of contemporary physics and physiology of vision. They became the basis of theoretical and experimental psychology of color vision (in its classical version).

The methodological danger of mechanical paradigm lies in the fact that the given definitions are based on the completely realized assumption that the sensory organs are not capable of represent the objective data about the surrounding world: indeed, we cannot see electromagnetic vibrations, but only their subjective sign - color spectrum. This world is subordinated to "material laws" (materialism) or to the "laws of reason" (gnosiological postulate of the rationalism of XVIII century), inaccessible to human sensory organs, and emotions are completely opposite and is  disastrous to the reason. Irony lies in the fact that the mechanical physical paradigm not only does need "hypothesis" about existence of God (Laplace), but also the man. Indeed, man is capable to intrude only bustle into the sterile picture of universe; therefore his discerning reason must be completely isolated from his feelings (says rationalism), and perception is discredited as inconsistent. Truth is located out of the subject, and his psychology - only "harmful ballast on the weak wings of the imperfect reason".  

The second incident with the mechanical natural-science paradigm lies in the fact that it completely denies a question about the sense (expediency) of anything. Everything here is explained through the cause (is rigidly determined). To ask: "for which people see colors?" here is so thoughtless as to ask: "for which physical bodies mutually-attract?" Man with his psychology here is considered as simple physical body together with all other. Not less wildly from this point of view sounds a question, "what man can feel, contemplating the color?". From the strict theoretical ("objective") positions this is so absurd as to ask: "what feels the object, which moves with the uniform acceleration?" But the interrelations with the world of the inanimate object and man are entirely different! How it is possible to think identically  about them both?

The direct consequence of these axiomatic assertions is the persuasion, that the Color does not exist in nature, but just in the sensation and the imagination. 

One of the consequences therefore must be: person, completely deprived of the color vision (which, fortunately is encountered extremely rarely), sees the world in the manner that Newtonian optics prescribes!

We intentionally resorted to the reductio ad absurdum of the gnosiological  statements of Newtonian paradigm in order to demonstrate their extreme anti-psychologism: the isolation of man from the world is proclaimed, moreover - with the aid of his own sensory organs!  Already this must set alert contemporary psychologist, assuming as the theoretical basis of his knowledge the mutual and objective interrelation of man with the world surrounding. 

The discussion deals with the fundamental ontological assumptions (base beliefs), which from Isaac Newton's times underwent cardinal changes.  

The given Newtonian definitions of color are the creation of mechanical (read: anti-psychological, agnostic) paradigm. The majority of psychologists lacks the realization (recognition) of the fact, that composite nature of light and absence of color in physical objects play the role of axiomatic assertions (postulates) in Newton's theory, that they are not proven (and they cannot be proved!) experimentally. All classical experiments with the prisms and the lenses demonstrate the effects of the mixing of colors and they say nothing  about nature of this mysterious phenomenon of nature - Color. This sounds paradoxically, but in physics there does not exist the experimental proofs of the Newtonian determination of color. It cannot be found either in psychophysiology, or in the psychophysics .

Let us examine briefly the experiment of Newton, which is brought by the supporters of natural-science idea as the proof of the decomposability of light. For conducting it it suffices to have the darkened room, a prism and a lens. In addition to this it is necessary to prepare white screen from the dense cardboard. If we pass the thin ray of sunlight through the prism, iridescent spectrum will appear on the screen. If we now place lens between the screen and the prism and "to gather" spectrum into the focus, then colors on the screen will disappear and will appear white color. This is described by words approximately thus: "The respected public! You themselves saw, as recently we decomposed white light on the colors, and then again gathered them, receiving initial light!"  

The stupefied public is so choked seen, that does not note the strangeness of expression the "white light", which at the end of the phrase is substituted by word "initial light". But we nevertheless will ask: where is the proof that manipulations with the color are permissibly apply to a light? Experiment demonstrates the effects of the mixing of colors, but not the decomposition of invisible light. Once light is invisible, expression "white light" - example of the gross disturbance of scientific logic. This error of Newton indicated already Goethe and Hegel, and Tonkvist - from the contemporary authors.  

The incompleteness of similar reasoning consists also of the fact that interaction between the light and the prism treats very narrowly: as the decomposition of light into the components. This is a mechanical method of thinking: to compose and to decompose on the elements. Here latently is present the absolutely prior guess that the prism is an active subject, and light is the passive object of interaction. But indeed this assumption completely relates to the mythology (!) or is the consequence of naive attitude in the consciousness of observer! Indeed it is possible to assume the opposite: this light (energy) "carves" from the prism (passive material) certain colored rays. And for the proof of the lawfulness of this reasoning it would be possible to give numerous examples: the fact of the destruction of material objects by the laser beam or organic matter by hard radiation. But, it appears, both ideas are incorrect, since they are one-sided. It is possible and more productive the third method of judgment, which consists of the explanation of the result of interaction as the consequences of reciprocal effect and interpenetration of both its sides, which generates the certain new quality, which synthesizes two into qualitatively different third. But for this the mechanicist  must become dialectician...

There is another kind an obstacle, which interfere with direct correlation of the specific region of the spectrum with the specific color: phenomenology of the perception of color is not plotted in the framework of physical model. Although on the interval, occupied by emission, the color can be indicated completely unambiguously, reverse assertion correctly not always. "In general, the visible identity of light beams does not guarantee their identity by the spectral composition" (Shashlov, 1986, p. 5). About the same speaks the third law of the color synthesis of Grossman (additivity law): The color of the mixture of emissions depends only on them it is color, but not from the spectral composition, i.e., the visible color is a result of the mixing of those seen it is color, and only. As a result "for the specialist, who uses or who reproduces the color, is indifferent the spectral composition of the light, reflected by sample" (there), i.e., theory enters into contradiction with the practice: physical concept in practice useless even for the colorimetry,  based on the classical psychophysics.

Newtonian theory is not capable to explain both such known phenomena of perception as "closing" of color spectrum into the circle and presence of the "nonspectral" colors: purple and brown, not, all the more, the interrelation of colors with the emotions.

Let us try to estimate the Newtonian definition of the color through the category of validity. According to Jan Ter Laak, "the concept of validity is used for the characteristic of test, procedure or statement". The problem of validity he examines in connection with the gnosyological principles: correspondence, coherence, usefulness and interpersonal aggreaments.

 The criterion of correspondence defines the relation between the subject, who discerns world (by his judgment about the world), and the objective reality, as the correspondence of the processes of the knowledge and genuine reality. We'v already saw, that the positions of Newton's followers about the absence of color in nature and about composite nature of light were axiomatic, a priori. It cannot be either proved, or disproved within the framework of natural-science paradigm itself. Consequently, in the first place, the discussed positions - this of judgment, which must not be considered as the absolutely false or absolutely true. Main consequence - not one known experiment or the in question in the natural-science paradigm "fact" is the proof of these positions. In the second place, if we estimate thesis about composite nature of light in the aspect of the method of constructing the judgments (process of knowledge), then it will seem that at its basis the very archaic method of the thinking lies: addition and the decomposition of elements, long ago proved its limitedness. It seems that the validity of the Newtonian definition of color does not withstand the requirements of the criterion of the correspondence.

The criterion of coherence requires that any statement would correspond no longer to genuine reality, but to other statements. In a certain whole system of statemets they must be interconnected. If there exists any divergences/disagreements, possibly two versions of the solutions: either new statement  must be rejected or it is necessary to forego the entire system. The correspondence of the Newtonian definition of Color to the physical system of concepts must evaluate physicist, but not psychologist. But  if we recall Werner Heisenberg's opinion, it arranges far from all physicists. From other side, which is more important, "subjective" exceeds the scope of the subject area of classical physics and, therefore, any statements about its nature disrupts the principle of coherence. But if we speak about the system of psychological concepts, then those definition do not correspond to any of psychological concept, except "subjectivity", "discrimination" and "sensation". This determins the assimilation of Newtonian position by psychophysics and by psychophysiology, and the rejection of color (by the poverty of its determination by the psychological content) by psychology of perception, emotions, motivation and the like. Thus it turned out that the phenomena, bonded with the emotions, semantics, the depictive and expressive aspects of color images remained "esoteric" for official psychology. Conclusion: the Newtonian definition of color not valid from on the criterion of coherence relativly to the psychological system of the concepts.

 The criterion of usefulness implies that "statements, which contain in themselves a certain information and ideas give to man the possibility of success to interact with genuine reality". Is the Newtonian definition or Color useful r for the psychologist? Newton's idea about the correspondence of color sensation to certain invisible phenomena was personified into electromagnetic theory of light of Maxwell (now disproved, if we believe "brief philosophical encyclopedia"). This correspondence played the invaluable role in the simulation of color reality in the TV, photo- and video cameras,  and chromatogenic instruments and the technologies. It is possible to say that Newton became the inspirer of contemporary electron optics. Physicist could speak about this more. But for the psychologists, the artists and the art critics Newton never was inspirer. It is not difficult to see that it definition of color cannot explain one strictly psychological phenomenon, since it does not make it possible to predict them. Furthermore, this definition occurs practically uselessly even in the sphere of color differentiation, which became the reason for failure of the "stimulus"-theory in favor of "percept"-theory. Even the statement about the "correspondence of color tone to the section of electromagnetic spectrum" has the limited value for the practice. The definition of color, given by Isaac Newton, useless for the psychologist, that means - not valid. To the aforesaid should be added that fact, that the Newtonian definition contradicts the experience of all people with the healthy sight, which makes it ecologically not valid as well.

 The criterion of interpersonal agreement (approach of Habermas) assumes the agreement about the truth of judgment, if it is reached as a result of the "dialogue, free from supremacy of one of the sides". It is obvious that the Newtonian definition of color was obtained not as a result of agreement or wide consideration. Relative agreement is among the physicists; however, Color - the object of the study of several sciences. The definition of Newton is not possible to recognize as completely valid even on this  criterion.

In the mechanical- materialist paradigm Color is not considered as natural semantic object. This means that the physical definition of color is empty psychologically  - consequently, it is useless for the psychologist. It does not connect color with any of psychological concepts (means, emotion, value, motive, etc.), since it is not assumed the presence of objective correlations here. 

As the "subjectivity", as it is understood in the mechanical paradigm, is not the subject area of physics, its existence itself (and existence of Color) cannot be predicted on the basis of the physical theory. For example, this is expressed in the impossibility to determine according to the continuous frequency continuum the qualitative uniqueness of the perception of its sections (colors) by man. But once existence of the gamma of colors is not the consequence of the laws, studied by physics, the definition of color as reactions to the electromagnetic vibrations of the specific frequency in question does not satisfy the criterion of the scientific nature of quite natural-science knowledge (see: Gaydenko, 1980).

The ideas of Newton about composite nature of light cannot be founded upon experimental base. Its roots lie at the naive attitude of observer, and its methodological weakness consists in the one-sided and simplified examination of "interaction" as of "decomposition" into the elements. Both in the Newtonian paradigm and in those using its physiology, psychophysiology and psychophysics, this hypothesis is the prerequisite of theoretical constructions (axiom), but not the result of experiment (experience). The definition of color, given by Newton, is not valid on all of gnosiological criteria


To the top of the page


on the site on on Yndex

to the home page | the author


Hosted by uCoz