'” The “limit” color needed before it could exist was the mind.Colors, said Goethe, were a side effect of the brain’s mechanics, emerging in tandem with other variables, like brightness and shadow.Wielding only a prism (or so the story goes), Newton described how he created a perfect rainbow out of white light, the rainbow composed of neat and distinct shades.This made perfect sense to Newton, since every color we perceive was itself a separate wavelength, a unique property bestowed upon the universe by a mathematical God.While light exists in a literal infinity of different wavelengths, there is no cell in your eye that fires only in response to any specific wavelength.Instead, our eye is densely populated by three classes of cone photoreceptors with overlapping spectral sensitivities.There have been excellent poets during my lifetime; still more excellent ones lived before me, and after me there will be others.But I am proud that I am the only one in my century who knows the truth about the difficult science of color.” As Goethe describes it, his epiphany on the perception of color happened as he “was walking in a garden, upon an April day, looking at the yellow crocuses.
If Newton began with the equation, he would begin with the eyeball, with a “physiology of color.” He would return color to its beginning, in the brain.
Goethe declared as his credo that “optical illusion is optical truth.” Newton’s error in his color theory, said Goethe, was trusting math over the sensations of his eye.
“Insofar as he makes use of his healthy senses,” wrote Goethe, “man himself is the best and most exact scientific instrument possible.
Simply put, Goethe argued that our perception of color is a phenomenon of the brain rather than of physics.
By insisting that color be seen in its psychological context, Goethe was critiquing the science of Isaac Newton, who saw color in terms of discrete wavelengths of light which the eye passively received.
But when it concerns the sensation of color, Goethe was right.