Light | Bruce Watson

Summary of: Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age
By: Bruce Watson


The book ‘Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age’ by Bruce Watson explores the fascinating story of light and its significance throughout history, from ancient creation myths to groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Readers will learn how different civilizations revered light and how it has played a crucial role in various fields such as religion, art, and science. Furthermore, the summary dives into the work of esteemed philosophers and scientists like Euclid, Ptolemy, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein, who all contributed significantly to our understanding of light and its multifaceted nature.

The Reverence for Light

Light has been a significant aspect for humans from different parts of the world. It’s the core of different creation myths and considered holy in various religions. Ancient philosophers studied light in laboratories, but it remained a mystery to them. Light was a symbol of reverence and awe and often associated with God. Moses encountered the brightly burning bush, depicted with an aura of light, and spoke to God. People believe that light is holy and powerful, and it continues to fascinate scientists and individuals alike.

A Divine Force of Light

Light, a divine force in Islam and Christianity, has been revered in religion and art. The significance of light is mentioned in the Quran and the Bible, being central to religious thought and artistic mastery.

Across religions, light has been symbolic of a higher power. In Islam, light is mentioned numerous times in the Quran, with one chapter even being solely devoted to it. God is referred to as “the light of the heavens and earth.” In Catholic theology, Thomas Aquinas saw a paradise that radiated light beyond the darkness of the night sky. This elevated the status of even ordinary objects like mirrors and jewels that reflected the light of God. In churches, windows were enormous to create a connection with the light of heaven.

Light is also central to artistic mastery. During the Renaissance, artists like da Vinci and Rembrandt used light in all its subtlety to create realistic paintings. The study of perspective and the traits of shadows added to the genius of these artists.

Across avenues of religion and art, light has been integral. It’s a reminder of a divine presence, and just as painters have used light’s subtleties to convey their perspective, it’s been a lens through which faithful followers have seen the world.

The Science of Light

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, known as the scientific revolution, scientists such as Johannes Kepler and René Descartes studied the fundamental laws of light. Kepler found that light weakened with the square of the distance from where it was observed, while Descartes discovered that light travels in straight lines like a tennis ball. Isaac Newton conducted experiments with prisms and discovered that light is composed of colors. These new scientific ideas about light inspired artists during the Romantic era, with composers such as Joseph Haydn creating oratorios such as The Creation, which were based on the words “let there be light” in the Bible. German poet Goethe published his Theory of Colors, suggesting that different colors of light produced different moods, with yellow conveying serenity and red conveying dignity.

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