A Historical Analysis On The Study Of Optics From Pre Socratic Times Through The Age Of Newton. By Adam R

4219 words - 17 pages

Our lives are constantly influenced by great thinkers of our past. Modern marvels such as the light bulb, televisions, airplanes, and the internet, are all inventions that one could argue have been in the making for the last few millennia. Hellenistic philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, Galen, Ptolemy, Archimedes, and Aristotle, have all helped pave the way for those great scientists of the modern era. One of the oldest studies by the classical natural philosophers' was optics, or the study of light and vision. The word "optics" is derived from the Greek word for eye, "ops". We know that the ancient Greeks were studying optics over two thousand years ago, and that they spent a good ...view middle of the document...

C.E. Euclid is believed to have advanced a mathematical perspective based on the "straight-line propagation of light" also known as "rectilinear propagation". Another text is Hero of Alexandria's "Catoptrics" which was mostly devoted to the arrangement of reflective surfaces for particular visual effects. Lastly, one of the more pertinent classical texts on the subject is Ptolemy's "Optics" which was written in the second century A.D. From these texts, in which there are no remaining original copies, we gain an idea of how much was known during this era, and how it progressed during this time. Although these texts did exhibit some differences in the small technical attributes, they all were based on the relatively same principal; sight will not occur without a "physical mediation between the eye and visible objects." The link between the eye and the visible object, however, was the unknown that has been debated between all optical enthusiasts during this era. For example, Aristotle believed that it was color that linked the two, and color traveled from the object to the eye, not light. Those who correctly believed that it was light that traveled between a visible object and the eye still debated as to the direction the light traveled, where it came from, or whether or not light "travels" anywhere at all.There were two schools of thought when it came to the origin of light and vision. One school, the correct one, is called intromissionism, in which the physical light comes from the viewed object and enters the eye, or intromitted. The other school of thought on optics was called extramissionist. Where the intromissionist holds the role of the eye in a passive role, the extramissionist believed the eye to be active, or that it emitted a visual ray of its own towards the viewed object. Included within the intromissionists were the atomists, or those philosophers that believed that objects are made of small, indivisible particles that are constantly in motion. The atomists tended to focus their attention on light as a physical entity. Epicurus, an atomist, believed that "particles are continually streaming off from the surface of bodies." The extramissionists were led by the Pythagoreans, such as Aristotle who believed that the eye is likened to a lantern, with a fire inside of it. Aristotle argued that one can see this "fire" by looking at a cat's eye during the night, and noticing its apparent luminescence. Although these two main schools were the ones mostly debated, other classical natural philosophers and philosophers came up with their own small variations that were related to their own backgrounds. Ptolemy, in the first century A.D., focused his studies on combining previous mathematical approaches to optics with philosophical, perceptual, and psychological matters. A physiological approach to optics by Galen focused on the operations and nature of the eye.All of these interpretations of the relationships of light, the eye, and the way we view...

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