The Fire Within the Eye: A Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light

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Princeton University Press, 1997 - Science - 377 pages
"David Park's passion for science and the history of his topic comes across on every page and is infectious. Greek, early modern, and modern science come alive in a book full of delightful information." Sylvan Schweber, author of QED and the Men Who Made ItIn The Fire within the Eye, scientist and author David Park helps us reconceive the everyday phenomenon of light in profound ways, from spiritual meanings embedded in our culture to the challenging questions put forth by great scientists and philosophers. Park, who is both a gifted teacher and physicist, takes us on a tour through history spanning ancient Greek, Neoplatonic, and Arabic philosophy together with astrology, the metaphysics of Galileo and Kepler, and the role of mathematics and experimentation in modern physics. By creatively synthesizing a broad sweep of historical events and intellectual movements around the theme of light, the author offers readers of all backgrounds a unique perspective on Western civilization itself. Readers will find themselves immersed in lively discussions conducted by a physicist equally at home exploring the invention of perspective by Brunelleschi and Alberti, the writings of Goethe, or the mathematical models inspiring Maxwell's electromagnetic theory.Plato made light the earthly counterpart of the Good; the early Christians believed the command "Let there be light" unleashed a power that shaped and energized the world. Park follows the connotations of spirituality and power attributed to light in religion, philosophy, art, and literature. At the same time he enables us truly to feel the excitement surrounding scientific discoveries and debates about the nature of light throughout historyIsaac Newton's scientific explanation of color and the raging battles between proponents of light as particles and light as a wave. Park traces the attempts to define light, beginning in the nineteenth century with the proposal that light is a wave motion in a field that unites electricity and magnetism. How this theory was reconciled with the particle theory of light is one of many paradoxes that Park guides us in understanding.Park writes eloquently of the physical, aesthetic, and spiritual aspects of light, making this book an invaluable guide for all readers wishing to explore the fascinating relationship between science and culture.

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