News

Light and Darkness

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | January 09, 2010

"I will love the light for it shows me the way. Yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars."
Og Mandino

There is hardly anything more common to everyday life than light and darkness. But the more I learn about them, the less I understand them. 

Have you ever been in a cave when all of the lights are shut off? I think the only reason we are calm is because we know the lights will soon come back on. Just pondering total darkness can cause anyone's heart rate to pick up. 

Light is the electromagnetic radiation which is depending on the wavelength, visible or invisible to the human eye. If we have too much or too little light we would all die. 

I even need light to write this column. At 7:17pm it is dark outside and I am on Delta Flight 1022 just about to take off from the Atlanta airport for Philadelphia and all the lights just went off. Without that single light above me, I could not continue. 

From the study of modern physics we learn that light has four (4) primary properties: Intensity; Frequency/Wavelength; Polarization; Phase. 

The study of light and its interaction with matter is known as optics. After centuries of trying to measure the speed of light, scientists finally found it to be 186,282 miles per second. 

The refraction of light changes its wavelength thereby changing the apparent size of images. As a result, we see differently with magnifying glasses, spectacles, contact lenses, and microscopes because they refract light. 

Light comes from many sources. We can only see 40% of the sunlight. We can only see about 10% of the average light bulb. Our bodies produce thermal light that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Certain chemicals produce chemoluminescence. Then there is fluorescence, phosphorescent materials, electroluminescence, sonoluminescence, and triboluminescence. 

Light has been studied in antiquity in India and Greece. Even today scientists continue their quest to understand this amazing object. They speak of particular theory, wave theory, electromagnetic theory, the theory of relativity, quantum theory and string theory. 

Extraordinary things happen when our brains and eyes act together with light. Movies are sequences of still pictures. Digital photography is really a combination of miniature dots. 

Scientists spend lifetimes developing consistent physical, biological, chemical and mathematical explanations of the principles of light. But no matter how much we understand about the science of light, do we not all stop what we're doing whenever a rainbow appears in the sky? 

We could talk about photosynthesis, the process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds. Or we could describe lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) made from gas (chemical; excimer); Solid-state (fiber hosted; Platonic crystal; semi-conductor); Dye; Free Election. 

We haven't mentioned solar energy and how it is changing our world. I even read about lighthouses and their place in the world of seafaring people. 

I also learned some things about darkness. You can shine a light to dispel the darkness but you cannot shine "dark" to dispel light. For as Robert Alden said, "There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle." 

A correct definition of darkness is simply the absence of light. But scientifically it is only possible to have a reduced amount of light. It is impossible to create perfect darkness. 

In his Metaphor and Reality (1968) Philip Wheelwright provides a lengthy analysis of archetypal symbols but he concludes that of all of them none is more widespread or more immediately understandable than light. 

We all know what someone means when they say, "I see the light" or "I am in a dark place right now." 

Literally or figuratively, light and darkness tell us more than we can hardly comprehend. As one man said, "Those who fear darkness have no idea what light can do." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu