Talk:Theory of Colours

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Former good article nominee Theory of Colours was a Philosophy and religion good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
November 7, 2007 Good article nominee Not listed

Color vs Colour[edit]

Someone needs to pick on color v. colour for this page. I personally prefer color, but the name of the page is colour, so I'm going to set it to that. --Carl 17:42, 31 December 2005 (UTC)

Ludwig Wittgenstein isn't a physicist... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 18:22, 15 March 2006

Yes, well I personally prefer colour because I don't like the arrogance of the dominance of American english. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 12:19, 27 December 2006

That's an odd statement. A better explanation than, "Americans are arrogant," would seem to be, "Wikipedia is written by Internet users, and more Internet users are American than British. Thus, more articles will have been written using American spellings." - 08:04, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Everybody gangs up on the big guy.Lestrade 12:21, 30 May 2007 (UTC)Lestrade
It doesn't really matter who is more arrogant or what variation of English is used by the largest number of internet users. According to the manual of style guidelines, specifically the section National varieties of English, if the topic has no national ties to a particular English-speaking nation then the "existing variety" should be maintained. Whichever version is used by the first major contributor should be the one used. In this article, the original editor used "colour" (edit diff), so that is what should be continued to be used. --BelovedFreak 19:51, 12 October 2007 (UTC)
I notice that this article is largely made up of quotations, which will make for very inconsistent use of "color" and "colour". The only thing that really struck me was the quote of "The blue of the sky reveals to us the basic law of color" attributed to Goethe. The only source in the bibliography for him uses "colour" in the translated title; therefore, if someone has access to that source, maybe they can check which spelling is used in the translation. --Stomme (talk) 22:33, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
Here are some book sources for that quote. Note that there's an alternate translation that avoid the problem, in case you'd like to change it. Dicklyon (talk) 05:20, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
No worries. I added the correct source for that translation to account for the use of American English in this case. --Stomme (talk) 06:26, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

Catalytic moment[edit]

What an odd "catalytic moment" they chose ... In school (in germany) I learned it was another moment ... Goethe was complaining that Newton was forcing the light through a prism, squeezing it and making it reveal its secret. Rather than studying it by observation and contemplation.

This "forcing it", "making it reveal" became the forte of the century to come. This is what Goethe did not like and found to be against nature. He found another way. A more human one. Finally science is starting to pay this justice. (talk) 22:49, 15 August 2011 (UTC) Alfons, Germany

Newton vs Goethe: Resolved?[edit]

I think that there are some who find certain value in Goethe's Theory even now - I am just not sure who and why... something I will look into.

It occurs to me that just as certain qualities of light are explained by a particleness and certain parts by a wave aspect, the two color theories might both explain different aspects of color. Does Newtonian theory explain the phenomenon of color at the border between the light and the dark which GOethe observed? This article does not really explain why Newton's explanation trumps Goethe's. Instead, the article implies that the fact that darkness "is not recognized as a physical thing in physics" and that physicists support Newton's concept of darkness and light is evidence that Newton's theory was superior. Rather, shouldn't the theories be judged on how best they explain reality?

I don't know very much about this issue, so I am speaking as a lay person who is confused by what the article is saying.

Finally, the quote by Beethoven does not belong in the article: a) it is irrelevant, unless I am missing something; and b) it is POV, calling Goethe's theory insipid. Can anyone explain what it is doing there? --Chinawhitecotton 08:02, 12 January 2006 (UTC)

Regarding the Beethoven quotation, it is probably intended as humorous as well as high praise of the Theory of Colors. In Germany, Goethe is thought of as highly as shakespeare. That Beethoven was a severe enough critic to call Goethe's work "insipid" and yet called the theory of colors "important", is quite a high recommendation.
On the reception of goethe's theory of colors, I think that the article is clear — Goethe's theory was an attempt to overthrow the accepted optical theory of the time, and it failed to do so. — goethean 15:37, 12 January 2006 (UTC)
Hm, I guess I feel like a complete entry would explain why it was not received by scientists, not just that physicists consider Newton's theory superior because darkness is not recognized as a physical thing in physics - does this not seem circular? If anyone knows how Newtonian physics better explains what Goethe was observing - colors appearing at edges or borderlines, according to the article - I think it would contribute to this article. --Chinawhitecotton 03:31, 15 January 2006 (UTC)
As a physicist with a little understanding of color theory, I think I can answer your question. The fundamental issue here is that Newton and Goethe were really studying two different things, without realizing it. Newton was studying the optical spectrum—the wavelength (or frequency) composition of light. To that end, he chose his experiments to demonstrate (correctly) that the spectrum is an inherent property of the light (as opposed to something new created by the prism), and to use this pheneomenon to learn more about the nature of light itself. Goethe, on the other hand, was studying the psychophysical phenomenon of human color perception. Color vision is quite complex. The color we see is not just a measure of the spectral composition of the light. The brain does some pretty sophisticated processing of the raw "data" from the eyes, to arrive at perceived color. In particular, when looking at a scene the brain attempts to "correct" for the color of the ambient illumination, so that the color you see is as close as possible to the color the objects would appear in daylight, even if they are illuminated with some other spectral mixture. In this process, in fact, colors are "created" that have no analog in the optical spectrum at all, such as magenta, pink, and brown. In studying this phenomenon, Goethe performed very careful experiments chosen to probe the nature of color as perceived by humans.
Both researchers erred (apparently) in confusing the optical spectrum with perceived color. Newton and contemporaries assumed that the spectrum was the fundamental basis of perceived color, and ignored the fact that experiments on color vision yielded results that could not easily be explained in this way. Goethe erred in assuming that his research into color perception gave insight into the fundamental nature of light, leading him to posit things like "darkness" as a physical thing that competes with light, etc. You can see this summed up in the Gleick quote: "It was the perception of colour, to Goethe, that was universal and objective. What scientific evidence was there for a definable real-world quality of redness independent of our perception?" We of course, now know how to measure the optical spectrum independently of our color perception. If one identifies a particular portion of the spectrum as "red", one can certainly measure how much intensity of light there is in that portion of the spectrum, independent of human perception.
In the end, both Newton and Goethe were wrong. The modern understanding of light and color builds on both men's work, however, and correctly explains all of their experiments. Physicists naturally focus more on the optical spectrum, so Newton's classic work is a better historical background to modern physics. Psychologists and engineers working on display or printing technology would be using a model of color that is more akin to Goethe's approach (although probably would not use his conclusions about the nature of light.)--Srleffler 22:29, 3 June 2006 (UTC)
Goethe erred in assuming that his research into color perception gave insight into the fundamental nature of light, leading him to posit things like "darkness" as a physical thing that competes with light, etc.
I must reply that this assumption, rather than being an 'error', was integral to Goethe's uniquely phenomenological philosophy of science. — goethean 18:08, 5 June 2006 (UTC)
Whether or not one considers it an "error" to posit perception as defining reality or observing it really depends on whether one, philosophically, is more Empiricist or Idealist. Kant was the main philosopher claiming that consciousness determines reality, and you'd be surprised how pervasive Kant's philosophy is in modern-day thinking. While I think Aristotle and the empiricists are right and Kant was wrong, the fact that there actually is a debate on this issue would seem to me to be sufficient basis for saying that this article should label Goethe's theory of colors as at odds with mainstream science (which is based on empiricism, obviously), but not as "false" (since a great many people would disagree). - 08:14, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I made some changes. Additions were based on my reading of the External Links listed. I also added a few links. Let me know

if my changes make sense, and are warranted. --Chinawhitecotton 05:04, 15 January 2006 (UTC)

hey i added godel on too

Added Goethean's paragraph from Holism in science[edit]

to the intro because it seemed relevant here, too. Also added Category: Holism. Thoughts on this?

nice -- i didn't know about the sheldrake connection.
i've made the sentence more concise; and retaining meaning.  :)
Johnrpenner 01:04, 9 July 2007 (UTC)

What *is* Goethe's color theory???[edit]

I cannot figure out what Goethe's so-called theory is from this article. First there is a section called "Background" and then a section titled "Goethe's reasoning". Don't we need something in between to say what the substance of Goethe's theory consists of?

Nothing in the article makes much sense to me, because it is all written in such a vague manner. Whatever his failings, I do not believe that Newton would express his scientific theories in such a vague way.

I am well aware that the level of scientific understanding around 1800 was much less precise than our scientific understanding today. Still, if Goethe had anything to contribute, I would think that it could be expressed as clearly as possible, which is to say a great deal more clearly than the article expresses it. I hope to see that done in the near future so I can figure out what Goethe's theory is.Daqu 06:44, 3 December 2006 (UTC)

As far as I can tell, modern color science doesn't have much contribution from Goethe at all. --jacobolus (t) 03:02, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
You're right about that - modern science doesn't take much from Goethe. According to the Science Editor of the Kurschner edition of Goethe's works: "Through all that lives and works in the Physics and Chemistry of today, our scientists are fated in regard, whatever takes its start from Goethe in this realm, as being almost unintelligible from their point of view." -- If you'd like to read his comments on the three differences between Science, and Science as Goethe approached it, the science editor of Goethe's works did write an essay on it -- -- this would probably be one of the more useful sources to know as a background if you're going to go in and talk about Goethe's Scientific works. One hopes that anyone that edits this article would actually have taken time to actually READ Goethe's Theory of Colours. Johnrpenner 18:37, 13 May 2007 (UTC)johnrpenner
The essay you just linked was written in 1919. I'm not sure what if anything that has to do with Goethe's relevance to modern ideas about color science, color theory, etc. Note, the problem is that this article as it is currently written doesn't do a very good job of presenting Goethe's theory (the explanation is vague, and leaves readers in the dark), nor does is attempt to explain which parts of that theory have been subsequently discredited by scientists. --jacobolus (t) 17:23, 12 May 2007 (UTC)
the essay just linked, if you would care to read it, does, in fact, cover several chapters on Goethe's experiments with light, as described by the Science Editor (in 1919) of Goethe's scientfic works (i.e. Theory of Colours) -- so it could be relevant.
maybe the problem with Goethe's 'Theory', is that it is not so much a theory, as several hundred first-hand observations. what strikes one, as a reader of this book, is that Goethe is averse to any theororizing at all. he simply makes observation after observation (which are fully replicable, should the reader go to the trouble of actually making the same observations). I give an example here from the book itself:
A dark object appears smaller than a bright one of the same size. Let a white disk be placed on a black ground, and a black disk on a white ground, both being exactly similar in size; let them be seen together at some distance, and we shall pronounce the last to be about a fifth part smaller than the other. If the black circle be made larger by so much, they will appear equal (Plate i. fig. 1.) (Observation #16)
The blue appearance at the lower part of the flame of a candle belongs to the same class of phenomena [shadowed parts of nearer objects are blue when the air is charged with thin vapours]. If the flame be held before a white ground, no blue will be seen, but this colour will immediately appear if the flame is opposed to a black ground... (Observation #159)
If we LOOK through a prism, held with its refracting angle underneath, at an object above us, the object is moved downwards; whereas a luminous image refracted through the same prism is moved upwards. (Observation #318)
The luminous object being moved from its place in this manner, the coloured borders appear in the order, and according to the laws before explained. The violet border is always foremost, and thus in objective cases proceeds upwards, in the subjective cases downwards (Observation #319)
The observer may convince himself in like manner of the mode in which the appearance of colour takes place in the diagonal direction when the displacement is effected by means of two prisms, as has been plainly enough shown in the subjective example; for this experiment, however, prisms should be procured of few degrees, say about fifteen. (Observation #320)
That the colouring of the image takes place here too, according to the direction in which it moves, will be apparent if we make a square opening of moderate size in a shutter, and cause the luminous image to pass through a water prism; the spectrum being moved first in the horizontal and vertical directions, then diagonally, the coloured edges will change their position accordingly. (Observation #321)
Whence it is again evident that to produce colour the boundaries must be carried over each other, not merely move side by side. (Observation #322)
Here too an increased displacement of the object produces a greater appearance of colour. (Observation #323)
This increased displacement occurs, 1. By a more oblique direction of the impinging luminous object through mediums with parallel surfaces. 2. By changing the parallel form for one more or less acute angled. 3. By increasing the proportion of the medium, whether parallel or acute angled; partly because the object is by this means more powerfully displaced, partly because an effect depending on the mere mass co-operates. 4. By the distance of the recipient surface from the refracting medium so that the coloured spectrum emerging from the prism may be said to have a longer way to travel. 5. When a chemical property produces its effects under all these circumstances: this we have already entered into more fully under the head of achromatism and hyperchromatism. (Observation #324)
Goethe never stops to talk and theorize about all these individual observations - that is left as an exercise to the reader -- and i think maybe this is why it is actually really hard to present goethe's 'Theory' -- because in the book he absolutely refrains from setting up any theory. he simply gives us 920 individual observations, and leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions ('the observer may convince himself'). all we can do is look at these individual observations (like the several i've posted above), and try to write about *THAT*. there is no theory to write about, because for Goethe, 'THE OBSERVATION *IS* THE THEORY'.
Thus, it is hard for us to comprehend Goethe, he appears vague, because we do want everything to be explained. But Goethe took pains not to explain things, but to simply let the observations rest on their own. To explain them would actually go counter to his particular method. Goethe doesn't draw conclusions which he asks you to believe -- rather, he asks you to try the experiment -- 920 of them -- and they are still reproducible. If you doubt this, I'd challenge you to actually read the book, try the experiment, and find an observation that a modern scientist could actually disagree with.
you ask about Goethe's relevance to modern ideas about color science, color theory, etc. -- this is answered in the article -- its pretty well been rejected by modern physics. it has been useful for physiologic study and artists. this could be made clearer.
as to the why goethe has been rejected -- this is a good question, and i think someone with more knowledge of both goethe's view, and a full grasp of newton's view could adequately answer it. i also think someone with only a newtonian background would be ill equiped to form judgements on goethe's view. he parts with the Kantianism inherent in most of our society significantly. goethe's 'empiricism' should maybe be qualified at the beginning of the article as an 'empiricism of experience' (hence his use to physiologists), and not the usual 'empiricism of matter'.
the article doesn't present Goethe's theory very well -- too vague. you're right -- it's certainly needed -- the only allusion is in the first paragraph ('The introduction to the book lays out Goethe's unique philosophy of science') -- perhaps if someone knew it well enough, they could expand on the subject. this is why we need more knowledgeable wiki-contributors. :-D
you are a good task-master to demand citations. some references have already been given, and i've entered my first citation already (paragraph #502). but there's only so many hours in a day to do the book digging! all the best, johnrpenner
I'm confused that you added quotation marks around large sections of the body text. Are these actually quotations from somewhere? If so, they should be cited written in block form, with the author's name at the bottom. Also, I'm not sure it's legitimate for wikipedia to quote at such length from another source, and certainly not without making it clearer to the reader that he is reading a quotation. If they aren't quotations, then what's the use of putting quotation marks and removing the requests for citations? --jacobolus (t) 20:47, 13 May 2007 (UTC)
When I looked, it was significantly similar, but obviously had been considerably changed. Perhaps you know the right way to handle this in the Wiki context. I could use some help with the formatting if you're willing to put in some time to improving this properly. Johnrpenner 21:01, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

(unindenting) Well, I'm not sure what you mean. If text is not explicitly marked as a quotation, it is not surprising that it would be changed. If it is indeed a quotation, or derived from one, it should be quoted accurately, with explanation and quotation clearly separated. If you sort out what is a quotation, and what is not, even using something like : to indent the quoted parts, and following them with an attribution, I can try to format it. --jacobolus (t) 22:34, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

It may be interesting to read Schopenhauer's remarks on whether or not Goethe presented a theory:

[Goethe] delivered in full measure what was promised by the title of his excellent work: data for a theory of color. They are important, complete, and significant data, rich material for a future theory of color. He has not, however, undertaken to furnish the theory itself; hence, as he himself remarks and admits on page xxxix of the introduction, he has not furnished us with a real explanation of the essential nature of color, but really postulates it as a phenomenon, and merely tells us how it originates, not what it is. The physiological colors … he represents as a phenomenon, complete and existing by itself, without even attempting to show their relation to the physical colors, his principal theme. … it is really a systematic presentation of facts, but it stops short at this.

— Schopenhauer, On Vision and Colors, Introduction

If Schopenhauer is right, we cannot know Goethe's theory because he did not have a theory. User:Daqu is therefore justified in not being able to know Goethe's theory.

Schopenhauer built a theory of color from Goethe's data. He tried to prove that color is completely subjective and exists only in the eye and brain of the observer.Lestrade 18:30, 13 May 2007 (UTC)Lestrade

criticism is easy, to do better may be difficult.

thx for the offer to help w/formatting. after your comments, i've looked up the intro -- and most of it does indeed come out of the Physics Today article -- that totally needs to go. this is frusterating, because i wrote my own (original) intro a couple years ago, but it seems someone else went and replaced it with stuff from the Physics Today article -- should i just delete it, and revert to my own (original) intro?

also, i spent some time tracking down what is what -- it appears that exactly three paragraphs (332 words) in Goethe's Reasoning are quoted from a lecture by the Science Editor of Goethe's works (Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, December 25th, 1919) -- i've moved it forward by getting the quotes made accurately, and citing the source in the REF tag.

now here's a question -- the wikipedia guidelines state: 'in the United States for example, almost all works published prior to 1923 are public domain' ( the three paragraphs are from 1919 (thus, BEFORE the 1923 copyright limit), and they've now been attributed. i'd like to rewrite, but is there anyone willing to invest the time in making a thoughtful rewrite?? i feel that quoting these three paragraphs by someone who is qualified to speak on the subject (the Science editor of Goethe's work) is better than an absence of any material on the subject, and certainly better than my own attempts to represent the subject accurately. since they are from before 1923, and are (now) attributed, are these three paragraphs within Wikipedia parameters?? oh heck -- i might just skip dinner and try and do it myself anyways... :-P

btw -- thanks lestrade -- that quote from Schopenhauer was a good and useful contribution. since there seemed to be a need for understanding Goethe's 'Theory', i hope you don't mind if i add it to the beginning of the article. Johnrpenner 21:58, 29 May 2007 (UTC)

Schopenhauer actually worked with Goethe. They had many discussions about color and also collaborated on many experiments. For that reason, I believe Schopenhauer's opinion on the subject should be given some weight. I assume that anyone who is interested in this topic would be glad to read the quote that you have added to the article.Lestrade 12:29, 30 May 2007 (UTC)Lestrade
A paragraph or two of quotation is fine if it is reasonable, but it should be clearly marked as a quotation, so that it is not confused for article text. --jacobolus (t) 23:42, 29 May 2007 (UTC)


In Newton v. Goethe it is stated the Goethe is "consistently more empirical". It is not clear than who (than Newton?) There are a few more dangling comparatives. I removed them. If Goethe disciples want to reintroduce them it is OK by me, but please make clear what the object or subject of the comparison is.--P.wormer 15:14, 23 February 2007 (UTC)

Yes, it's not clear to me that Goethe was very empirical at all. This claim of empiricism is one of the main reasons I added an NPOV tag at the top of the page. --jacobolus (t) 03:01, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
It is actually James Gleick quoting Feigenbaum that calls him 'empirical'. However, I've removed the word from the article proper, since Goethe parts significantly with the Kantian Critical Idealism inherent in most of our society. Goethe's 'empiricism' should probably be qualified immediately as an 'empiricism of experience', and not the usual 'empiricism of matter'. In terms of accurately depicting the individual subjective states of his organism, Goethe was rigourous, and hence his use to physiologists. Johnrpenner 20:58, 13 May 2007 (UTC)
Hmm -- this is interesting -- in addition to the Feigenbaum calling Goethe 'Empirical', i just reread the Physics Today article, and was surprised to find it there too, for they say, 'For Newton, only spectral colors could count as fundamental. By contrast, Goethe's more EMPIRICAL approach led him to recognize the essential role of (nonspectral) magenta in a complete color circle, a role that it still has in all modern color systems' -- so, it would seem that the article itself DOES NOT claim goethe being 'empirical' (since i removed it) -- but two of the cited sources DO claim him as such -- if this is the reason for your NPOV tag -- could you please be more specific as to the offending content actually in the article so we can fix them?? Johnrpenner 22:10, 29 May 2007 (UTC)
Sorry, by empirical I mean based on more rigorous study than personal observations. That is, twentieth-century color science took massive numbers of measurements of various human observers, with carefully controlled conditions. And the mechanisms he imagined (at least those which have been discussed in this article, such as having colors be like magnets) don't seem to have much basis, i.e. were invented without testing to find their faults. Instead of claiming that Goethe was empirical, particularly if using that as a contrast with Newton, the article should attempt to give an impression of what that means. Saying "he made meticulous personal observations of color phenomena" or similar would be more accurate IMO. --jacobolus (t) 23:39, 29 May 2007 (UTC)
The article (no longer) claims that Goethe was empirical. He was called such by the authors of the Physics Today article, and also by James Gleick citing Feigenbaum. I'm fine with 'meticulous personal observations of color phenomenon' -- and that's why I removed the text that called Goethe 'empirical'. Would you remove the Gleick/Feigenbaum quote as well? He was a physicist, after all... Johnrpenner 04:58, 30 May 2007 (UTC)


When reading Goethe's Doctrine of Color, it is important to realize that he used the word spectrum in a different sense than the one that most people understand today. For Goethe, a spectrum is an after-image or after-vision (Scheinfigur, Scheingestalt, Scheinbild). It is an image that is seen, but is not a mental idea or representation of an actual material object. For example, if you stare at something for a few minutes and then close your eyes, you will see a ghostly after-image or spectrum. Goethe used the adjective "fading" (abklingendes) to describe the spectrum. Newton, on the other hand, used the word "spectrum" to designate a band, range, sequence, array, spread, or series of colors. As a result of Newton's authority, this is the meaning that is usually understood at present, even though it is not strictly the more correct meaning of "spectrum". This word comes from the Latin word meaning "appearance" or "apparition" and therefore is not specifically related to a sequence of colors. It is more properly related to a phantom, ghost, or after-image.Lestrade 18:26, 23 February 2007 (UTC)Lestrade

That should instead be described as an “afterimage”, in that case, rather than a “spectrum”, to avoid ambiguity. --jacobolus (t) 02:59, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

Goethe's theory reads like pseudoscientific rambling[edit]

It's very hard from this article to figure out exactly what Goethe's theory is, because the whole thing is written in a very roundabout way. But even more importantly, Goethe's impressions are passed along as truth, when as far as I can tell all of this has been thoroughly discredited by modern color science. It would be good for this article to be cleaned up, clarified, and then injected with a healthy dose of skepticism. --jacobolus (t) 00:44, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

Its all fine to come in here with an atttitude presupposing 'this MUST be wrong...'; but could you point out at least one passage from the book that has been discredited? Johnrpenner 23:09, 29 May 2007 (UTC)
Well, for instance the bit you just added about colors being "magnetic" is just complete nonsense, as far as I can tell. But really, the key problem with this article so far is not the clarity or lack thereof of Goethe's theory, but rather the inability for a reader of this article to understand what the theory actually is. I'd rather not presuppose anything, but rather have those who have read and understood Goethe explain it, as a first step. --jacobolus (t) 23:30, 29 May 2007 (UTC)
That analogy isn't actually from his book, that's commentary from the Science editor (it is in quotes, with a reference; maybe we should be more explicit?). He doesn't say that colours are 'magnetic', he says that Goethe pictures to himself that light and dark are related like north and south poles of a magnet. That's an analogy. Concerning this position of Goethe's the article goes on to say, 'This reification of darkness has caused almost all of modern physics to reject Goethe's theory as unscientific' -- so it doesn't seem to me that it tries to pass this off as accepted scientific doctrine -- how could this be stated more clearly?
Goethe may have been right or wrong about the whole light dark thing -- but I think the purpose of the article is to represent his views accurately -- first and foremost. In contributing to this Wikipedia article (and I've only provided a part, I respectfully try to leave what others contribute), my aim is to try and represent what Goethe expressed as accurately as possible. The reader can form their own opinions on the matter.
If you've read the article, you should know at least: i) Goethe was a phenomenologist. ii) Hence, the book consists of a long series of observations, but fails to provide any particular theory about these observations ('the observation IS the theory'). The Schopenhauer quote puts this quite nicely. We certainly know that Goethe’s understanding of the physical nature of color left much to be desired, but his conclusions about human perception are surprisingly accurate. As phenomenology, its not bad. iii) He subscribed to the view that he believed colour to arise from the interplay of light and dark (with a step-by-step explanation of how he came to this conclusion) -- whatever you believe, one must state this if one is to accurately portray Goethe's position. iv) Several links to sources for further investigation are provided should one be interested enough to pursue it.
If your interest to understand Goethe's theory is genuine, why not read the book yourself? MIT press sells a copy on Amazon. He even provides plates you can look at yourself with a prism. Then you can put things to the test, and needn't accept anyone's word for it. This was the fundamental mood in which he wrote -- he assumed the reader would be diligent enough to try the experiments himself.
> the key problem with this article so far is not the clarity or lack thereof of Goethe's theory,
> but rather the inability for a reader of this article to understand what the theory actually is
May I ask if your not understanding is also representative of what other people get from the article? Is it possible that maybe others found it more illuminating than yourself? Are you to be the yardstick? If your aim isn't merely criticism, but to improve the comprehensibility of the article, then perhaps we need someone like you to write something better. I'd welcome that, and I'm sure many other readers would as well. :-D
All the best Johnrpenner 04:42, 30 May 2007 (UTC)

thanks for the removal of the NPOV tag -- i've expended some amount of effort to improve the quality of the article -- removing several eggregarious claims, expanding explanations on goethe's theory, adding a table comparing newton and goethe, and adding new animations and illustrations. i've also tried to be more explicit in indicating which sections are stated from the historical PoV.

i noticed you left the 'This article does not cite any references or sources' tag. however, the article now has over a dozen references added, and an alphabetized bibliography -- which is more than the number existing in the wikipedia article on 'color' -- how many references does it take to change a 'does not cite any references' tag? i believe enough information has been given that any user can verify any of the historical claims made in the article. further -- one can follow the meaning of the article even if one disregards the quotations -- i.e. even with the quotations removed, the thread of the article still makes sense. i'm going to wait a month, and if there's no (specific) objections before then, i will recommend removing this tag. Johnrpenner 02:24, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

btw -- i've deleted some of the rambling under Goethe's reasoning -- the second (of three) quoted paragraphs is now gone. less is better, if the meaning still holds. Johnrpenner 17:24, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

Much of intro taken directly from a Physics Today article?[edit]

It seems that much of the intro to this article was lifted without substantial change from this Physics Today article referenced in the "external links" section. Wikipedia should not be in the business of copying other sources without clear attribution. Also, that article has explanation --jacobolus (t) 22:45, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

The two sentences in question are the following -- although they contain the same names, and also the same Feigenbaum quote - the sentences are not exact quotations:

A number of philosophers and physicists, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Kurt Gödel, Werner Heisenberg, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hermann von Helmholtz were fascinated by Goethe's theory.
Mitchell Feigenbaum was convinced that 'Goethe had been right about colour!'.

i could not find any other parts of the intro that were directly lifted, although they certainly seem to have used the Physics Today article as their source. If you can specify any other part that has been directly 'lifted' -- please do so. i've isolated these two sentences into the second paragraph (do with them what you will); the other four paragraphs seem independent. Johnrpenner 21:16, 25 June 2007 (UTC)

i've taken time to rewrite a lot of the intro. it could probably use the work of another good editor, but its better than what we had. i've also added reference tags to the relevant sections so that they properly attribute the physics today article. thx for the encouragement after expending effort to improve it. Johnrpenner 02:05, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

ZUR Farbenlehre[edit]

In agreement with Schopenhauer, I must point out that Goethe's work, Zur Farbenlehre, is translated, in English, as Toward a Theory of Color. Schopenhauer has it as Data for a Theory of Color. If it was supposed to be the theory itself, it would have been titled, in German, Die Farbenlehre.

As a native speaker of German, I rather understand that title to mean something like "On the Science of Colours", or maybe "[Notes/Contributions/...] to the Science of Colours".
The translation "Toward a Theory of Color" could not possibly work because "zur" contains the definite article. (talk) 08:56, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I'm not a native speaker but thoroughly acquainted with the language, and the previous comment is correct. What plays a role here is the pretend-modesty that characterised German science later on in the 19th and early 20th century: a scientist would produce a definitive three-volume and its title would read: Einige Bemerkungen zur... "A few remarks about..." A far-cry from modern-day academia, where every trivial fart is passed off as a ground-breaking publication. (talk) 10:37, 26 March 2012 (UTC)

GA Notes[edit]

This article is confusing and should be cleaned up. Some suggestions would be to remove some of the quotes to make the article flow easily. Also the addition of {{Infobox Book}} will greatly improve the article. I hope this helps improve the article until a reviewer with more experience on this topic is able to review this article. Tarret talk 22:31, 2 October 2007 (UTC)

I'd like the lead section to be somewhat shorter, without the quotations, per WP:LEAD, among other changes. --jacobolus (t) 22:57, 2 October 2007 (UTC)
I've removed several of the quotes, edited the lead section to be shorter, and added an InfoxBox-Book. Johnrpenner 05:50, 3 October 2007 (UTC)
for infoxbox-book, the wiki-template specifies: Publisher of main publication (prefer 1st edition) - in the colophon of my english translation, it only lists the publisher of the first english translation. thus, for the infobox - publisher, i've listed the first english publisher (1840). should i hunt down the first german publisher instead? Johnrpenner 15:16, 3 October 2007 (UTC)
What you've done seems reasonable. It would probably be worth listing both in the bibliography, at least. Maybe this is useful? I don't speak german. :) --jacobolus (t) 23:53, 3 October 2007 (UTC)
thanx jacobolus. i checked several sources, and couldn't find the original german publisher. i'll keep looking, and when i find it, it shall be added here. in the meantime - i'll leave it how the MIT version cites it - with reference to the first english publication (i.e. john murray publishers).
i've also tightened up the intro a bit more - consolidating the last two paragraphs, and moving the wittgenstein quote over to the 'theory' section. there's also more specific detail about the book (i.e. comprised of three sections). i may re/move one of the quotes in the theory section, but only if what it says can be said with less words. let me know of anything else you can think of to help improve this to GA standards. all the best... Johnrpenner 16:06, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

Re: the link in the lead section to achromatism. Is chromatic aberration really the place we want that link to point? --jacobolus (t) 16:12, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

Actually, I'm in general not sure what the usefulness of the sentence talking about “dioptrical colours and achromatism/hyperchromatism”, given that none of the three is defined or described later in the page, or anywhere else on wikiepedia. --jacobolus (t) 16:37, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

Hmm -- The word 'achromatism' is the archiac term for chromatic aberration' -- its use here is probably because that is the way it actually appears in the table of contents. Upon checking the revision history of these articles, it seems that the wiki article on chromatic aberration originated from this article's use of the word achromatism -- but as that article grew, it became less connected to its use here. I've updated the link to reflect the changed child article. The wiki article on Colored shadows is also weak (i.e. a stub) -- someone should do some work to improve that as well.
There does seem to be an excess of examples here though -- i've replaced the five of them with three, and replaced the archiac form (achromatism) with the modern form (chromatic aberration). Johnrpenner 21:15, 9 October 2007 (UTC)
Okay, that's better. Having several undefined terms in the introduction which didn't seem to be discussed later on was the main thing I was worried about. --jacobolus (t) 01:05, 10 October 2007 (UTC)

2nd Op. GA Review[edit]

The following was produced by a second opinion from another user:

  • Manual of Style compliance: most of the inline citations will need to be moved to sit outside the punctuation rather than inside it (so they look like the one at the end of the first para of Historical background).
  • It's not strictly a GA criteria, but we recommend editors use the templates on WP:CITET to format references. This lets them be parsed by bots for things like tracking down archived versions of dead web-page links, or converting 10-digit ISBNs to 13-digits.
  • There are a few instances of possible editorialising that need to be rewritten (or sourced). For example:
"Today, Goethe's Theory of Colours is still remarkable for its phenomenological observations." Who says so?
"His claim that colour arises from the interplay of light and dark has caused almost all of modern physics to reject Goethe's theory as unscientific..." Prove it
  • I spotted at least one contraction in the prose ("didn't"). This should be written in full.
  • The article is in British English, so spelling should be consistent ("analyzed" could be changed to "analysed", and the same for "characterized" - editors might see this as nitpicky though!)
  • Section order: this should be Lead; Main body; See also; Notes; References; Further reading/Bibliography; External links (the See also section needs moving)
  • Only full dates should really be wikilinked; there is no need to link years unless it adds depth to the article... which in my experience it never has yet! (there is an instance of this in the lead). Linking decades is fine.
  • There are a number of gaps in the referencing (this partly relates to my 'editorialising' comment above). The rule of thumb for GA is currently to have one cite at the end of each paragraph to cover the content of that paragraph, with additional cites where needed (eg quotations, controversial statements etc). For scientific articles the cite-per-pragraph may not always be necessary (some theories etc are commonly accepted), but the content should still be referenced somewhere.
  • More wikilinks would help the reader and add depth to the article.

I have put this article on hold for a max of 7 days. Hopefully this article will be ready near the end of the week, but if not feel free to renominate this article when it is ready. If you feel that this review was in error feel free to take it to WP:GA/R. Tarret talk 01:44, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

I have failed the article since it has been on hold for 15 days and nothing has changed since then. -Yamanbaiia 07:14, 7 November 2007 (UTC)

Rudolf Steiner[edit]

I believe Rudolf Steiner thought highly of Goethe's Theory of Colours and it is still taught in Anthroposophical colleges.

Meltingpot (talk) 10:00, 29 February 2008 (UTC)

True. Steiner obsessed about Goethe and was very impressed by his "Farbenlehre". The kook Rudolf Steiner is probably the reason why this article exists at all. (talk) 17:49, 29 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree. What a strange article this is. "not well-received by physicists"? That is quite the understatement! (talk) 10:38, 26 March 2012 (UTC)

Kandinsky Citation[edit]

At the top of the article there is something that looks like a quote from Kandinsky. The linked source has the quote as body text - not as a quote from the painter. This should be clarified. Opinions? I'll specify the quoting language if no one objects.

--Dgetzin (talk) 04:27, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

Minor Grammar and Flow[edit]

Nice to see some good editing and new references here. Really superb in many respects. :-D So,I don't want to overshadow this good with nit-picking. However, the two phrases, 'light already contains all the colours and that they mix in it to produce white' and, 'Already early in 1794, he but began...' seem to me to be awkward in English.. :-^ Otherwise - nice work!! :-D

'If my changes make sense and have merit' Johnrpenner (talk) 11:55, 6 July 2011 (UTC)

Thank You for the hint! — I, generally, use to trust in such criticism, though I, as a poet, also always fear I could simply be misunderstood, resp. be underestimated. --Hans Dunkelberg (talk) 14:16, 6 July 2011 (UTC)

Citing Steiner's chapter VIII / III[edit]

Rudolf Steiner's work Goethe's Conception of the World, Chapter VIII: The Phenomena of the World of Colour is cited twice. First in the section "Light and darkness", and this has now been corrected and linked. The second in "Newton and Goethe", but while Steiner is there giving an objective account of Newton's view in order to explain where Newton and Goethe differed, it would be better to cite the passage in Newton's own writings, which would require a separate citation.Qexigator (talk) 22:28, 22 October 2012 (UTC)

Two translations of Steiner's Goethes Weltanschauung (Written 1897; GA 6) are offered at [1]
  • 1_Goethe's Conception of the World, first English publication edited by Harry Collison, The Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London 1928. Chapter VIII: The Phenomena of the World of Colour
  • 2_Goethe's World View, new translation (from Goethe's Weltanschauung, published by Verlag der Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Switzerland, 1963) by William Lindeman, published by The Mercury Press,1985. III. The Phenomena of the World of Colors.
Today's revision restores an earlier revision which had cited the later of those two, but an explanatory link to the RS Archive page is now added.Qexigator (talk) 14:56, 23 October 2012 (UTC)

Newton and Goethe[edit]

The paragraph which quotes (an English translation of) Steiner about Newton vis-a-vis Goethe would benefit if the passage in Newton's Opticks which corresponds to the quotation from Steiner were identified, or, if there is no such single passage, perhaps some explanation should be put in the main text of the article, or in the footnote?

At the end of the paragraph the quotation had been attributed to Steiner, but at first sight the quotation may be read as from Newton directly. Today's revision has added some introductory words at the beginning.Qexigator (talk) 11:51, 24 October 2012 (UTC)

  • Noting Hans Dunkelberg's revisions of July 2011, and that he appears to be sufficiently equipped for the comment of 23:20, 6 July 2011[[2]] to have deserved a cogent answer such as that later given by Johnrpenner; and noting User Talk:Johnrpenner[[3]]: this is to record that the comment and answer (now removed from the article) drew attention to a need for some further revision such as recently made by ...Qexigator (talk) 08:20, 25 October 2012 (UTC)
--Now further revised by another editor to clarify without ref. to Steiner (21:51, 26 October 2012). --Qexigator (talk) 22:16, 26 October 2012 (UTC)

Goethe's color wheel[edit]

Beside the question of whether the reddish color should be magenta or red, am I wrong in noticing that the picture caption has the primaries and secondaries reversed? — kwami (talk) 19:23, 4 February 2013 (UTC)

AFAIK Goethe did not define a triad of colors at all; attempts to classify his 6 colors to 3 primary and 3 secondary likely are later interpretations. The word “magenta” in a caption apparently is yet another attempt to invent an English name for the Goethe’s schön (antigreen). From theoretical view, it’s a purple color, but it is apparently something between modern magenta and crimson. Goethe himself referred to this color either as to Rot or as to Purpur in different texts, despite the fact that he definitely made a distinction between these two terms and understood that Purpur is extra-spectral. Incnis Mrsi (talk) 20:11, 4 February 2013 (UTC)
Maybe different wording, then? It is from Goethe's book, and the red/magenta is physically the primary. — kwami (talk) 20:17, 4 February 2013 (UTC)
What means "physically the primary"? Express your thoughts tidier. The only "physical primaries" are spectral colors, and they form a continuous (not discrete) family. From the point of view of receptors in retina there are no "pure colors" at all; see chromaticity. Incnis Mrsi (talk) 20:58, 4 February 2013 (UTC)
Physically, in paint. He may not have spoken of primary & 2ary colors, but his illustration is of three 1aries blended into three 2aries. It's rather bizarre to say that two 2ary colors are blended to form a primary color. — kwami (talk) 21:24, 4 February 2013 (UTC)
What (and from where) do you known about compositions of Goethe’s orange, green and "violet" (actually, something with the hue of indigo)? Did he wrote anywhere that these are mixes of dyes? Though, I agree that the opposite statement (that schön is made of neighboring orange and indigo) is much less plausible. Incnis Mrsi (talk) 21:54, 4 February 2013 (UTC)
It's there in the image: whoever made it mixed RBY to get the others. You can see it in how only RBY bleed off the edges. — kwami (talk) 00:28, 5 February 2013 (UTC)

Traditional English translations[edit]

What is known about English translations made in 19th and early 20th century? These translation almost certainly erased the distinction between Gelbrot (= edel) and Orange, Blaurot (= unnöthig) and Violett. Some could even (mis)translate Purpur as “red”, which led to the popular belief that the complementary to green is red, and that Goethe was the crank who asserted this fool thing. Early translations might have more impact to English-speaking world than Zur Farbenlehre itself and late fixes to erroneous translations. Apparently, the misconception about green and red is specific to languages which were contaminated by such rubbish (from either (mis)translations of Goethe or another sources). I never read nor heard this rubbish in Russian except for Wikipedia, where ru:Дополнительные цвета refers to a translated book of Bride M. Wheelan. Incnis Mrsi (talk) 19:51, 1 April 2013 (UTC)