Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"A Ha!" Moments

I love it when you suddenly gain clarity around something you've puzzled over for some time. "A Ha!" moments, when all the requisite bits of knowledge come together in a quick burst of insight, clearing the haze of uncertainty. They don't have to solve difficult problems. Or even important ones. Whether the questions are mundane and trivial or large and looming doesn't matter. They're a thorn in your brain. And they stick there for good, occasionally irritating you, calling attention to themselves. You might ponder them briefly. You might think a little deeper. But eventually you let them go again until they rise up to bother another time. The wonder returns. And then, often when you least expect it, a solution arrives. And man does it feel good. Even if the answer isn't all that enlightening, it just feels nice to scratch one problem out of the "unsolved" category.

Here's the question, and it's newly discovered answer that prompted this entry.

The Thorn: In color theory you additive colors and subtractive colors. The additive color model involves light emitted from a direct source. In this model, adding all colors together in equal portions creates white. White light. The subtractive model, the one that seems more intuitive to most of us, behaves in exactly the opposite way. This system involves pigments. In this case, adding all colors together in equal parts produces black. I've always assumed, even though the two systems behave in opposition to each other, they must be related. After all, they both involve light, just differently emitted. Additive light is direct, whereas subtractive light is reflected (off of the pigments).

The Tweezers: It finally dawned on me that absorption is the key. Shine a flashlight, a source of white light, containing all colors at your eye directly and you see white. Shine it at a piece of white paper, which has no pigments added, and you still see white. That's because the paper reflects all light frequencies equally. All the light leaving the flashlight, all the separate color frequencies, bounce of the paper and reach your eye together.

Now add a mark of one of the subtractive primary colors to that white paper; say blue. That mark only reflects the blue frequency, absorbing all others. So we still see white all around the mark, and blue in the center. That mark is preventing all the light frequencies that aren't blue from reaching our eyes. So you can see now that if you then add, in equal portions all other colors into the mark, the mark will then absorb all frequencies of light and reflect none, and you'll see black.

It all makes much more sense now. Shine a blue light directly at your eyes and you're only seeing that frequency. Now shine all colors at your eyes simultaneously. You're now seeing all color frequencies at once. Your eye no longer distinguishes any one color any more prominently than another, and you see white. No color.

Like I said. The insight doesn't have to be a major revelation. I'm sure what I just detailed is old hat to many people. But for me a small thorn in my mind was just removed, and it feels good.

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