Observations upon experimental philosophy to which is added The description of a new blazing world
Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of, 1624?-1674.
Page  51

18. Of the blackness of a Charcoal, and of Light.

I Cannot in reason give my consent to those Dioptri∣cal Writers, who conceive that the blackness of a Charcoal proceeds from the Porousness of its parts, and the absence of light, viz. that light, not being reflected in the Pores of a Charcoal, doth make it obscure, and consequently appear black; for the opinion which holds that all Colours are caused by the various reflexi∣on of Light, has but a weak and uncertain Ground, by reason the refraction or reflection of light is so in∣constant, as it varies and alters continually; and there being so many reflexions and positions of Light, if they were the true cause of Colours, no Colour would ap∣pear constantly the same, but change variously, ac∣cording to the various reflexion of Light; whereas, on the contrary, we see that natural and inherent Colours continue always the same, let the position and reflection of Light be as it will; besides, there being different co∣loured Creatures, if all had the same position and re∣flexion of light, they would not appear of divers, but all of one colour, the contrary whereof is proved by experience. I will not say, but the refraction and va∣rious position of light may vary and alter a natural and inherent colour exteriously so, as to cause, for exam∣ple, a natural blew to appear green, or a natural green to appear red, &c. but those figures which Page  52 light makes, being but superficially and loosely spread upon other natural and substantial figures, are so uncer∣tain, inconstant and momentary, that they do change according as the reflexion and position of light alters; and therefore they cannot cause or produce any natural or inherent colours, for these are not superficial, but fixt, and remain constantly the same. And as for blackness, that it should be caused by the absence of light, I think it to be no more probable, then that light is the cause of our sight; for if the blackness of a Charcoal did proceed from the absence of light in its pores, then a black Horse would have more or deeper pores then a white one, or a sorrel, or any other co∣loured Horse; also a black Moor would have larger Pores then a man of a white complexion; and black Sattin, or any black Stuff, would have deeper pores then white Stuff: But if a fair white Lady should bruise her arm, so as it did appear black, can any one believe that light would be more absent from that bruised part then from any other part of her arm that is white, or that light should reflect otherwise upon that bruised part, then on any other? Also can any body believe, that the reflexion of light on a decayed Ladies face, should be the cause that her complexion is altered from what it was when she was young, and appeared beauti∣ful and fair? Certainly Light is no more the cause of her Complexion then of her Wrinkles, or else she would never complain of Age, but of Light. But to Page  53 prove further, that the entering of light into the pores of exterior bodies, can neither make perception nor colours; if this were so, then the entering of light into the pores of the Eye, would make it perceive all things of as many colours as a Rain-bow hath: besides, if several Eyes should have several shaped Pores, none would agree in the perception of the colour of an ex∣terior object, or else it would so dazle the sight, as no object would be truly perceived in its natural colour; for it would breed a confusion between those reflexi∣ons of light that are made in the pores of the eye, and those that are made in the pores of the object, as being not probable they would agree, since all pores are not just alike, or of the same bigness; so as what with Air, Light, Particles, and Pores jumbled together, and thrust or crowded into so small a compass, it would make such a confusion and Chaos of colours, as I may call it, that no sight would be able to discern them; wherefore it is no more probable that the per∣ception of sight is caused by the entering of light into the pores of the Eye, then that the perception of smoak is caused by its entrance into the Eye: And I wonder rational men do believe, or at least conceive Natures actions to be so confused and disordered, when as yet sense and reason may perceive that Na∣ture works both easily and orderly, and therefore I ra∣ther believe, that as all other Creatures, so also light is patterned out by the corporeal figurative and percep∣tive Page  54 motions of the optick sense, and not that its percepti∣on is made by its'entrance into the eye, or by pressure and reaction, or by confused mixtures, by reason the way of Patterning is an easie alteration of parts, when as all o∣thers are forced and constrained, nay, unsetled, inconstant and uncertain; for how should the fluid particles of air and light be able to produce a constant and setled effect, being so changeable themselves, what instances soever of Geometrical figures be drawn hither to evince it? if Man knew Natures Geometry, he might perhaps do something, but his artificial figures will never find out the architecture of Nature, which is beyond his per∣ception or capacity. But some may object, That nei∣ther colour, nor any other object can be seen or per∣ceived without light, and therefore light must needs be the cause of colours, as well as of our optick percep∣tion. To which I answer, Although we cannot re∣gularly see any other bodies without light, by reason darkness doth involve them, yet we perceive darkness and night without the help of light. They will say, We perceive darkness onely by the absence of light. I an∣swer, If all the Perception of the optick sense did come from light, then the Perception of night or darkness would be no perception at all, which is a Paradox, and contrary to common experience, nay, to sense and reason, for black requires as much Perception as white, and so doth darkness and night. Neither could we say, it is dark, or it is night, if we did not perceive it to be Page  55 so, or had no perception at all of it: The truth is, we perceive as much darkness as we do light, and as much black as we do white; for although darkness doth not present to our view other objects, so as light doth, but con∣ceals them, yet this doth not infer that darkness is not per∣ceived; for darkness must needs do so, by reason it is opposite to light, and its corporeal figurative motions are quite contrary to the motions of light, and there∣fore it must also of necessity have contrary effects; wherefore the error of those that will not allow dark∣ness to be a corporeal figurative motion, as well as light, but onely a privation or absence of light, cannot make it nothing; but it is on the contrary well known, that darkness has a being as well as light has, and that it is something, and not nothing, by reason we do per∣ceive it; but he that perceives, must needs perceive some∣thing, for no perception can be of nothing: besides, I have declared elsewhere, that we do see in dreams, and that mad men see objects in the dark, without the help of light: which proves, it is not the presence or enter∣ing of light into the eye, that causes our seeing, nor the absence of light, which takes away our optick Per∣ception, but light onely doth present exterior objects to our view, so as we may the better perceive them. Neither is a colour lost or lessened in the dark, but it is onely concealed from the ordinary perception of humane sight; for truly, if colours should not be colours in the dark, then it might as rationally be said, that a man's Page  56 flesh and blood is not flesh and blood in the dark, when it is not seen by a humane eye: I will not say, that the smalness and fineness of parts may not make colours appear more glorious; for colours are like arti∣ficial Paintings, the gentler and finer their draughts and lines are, the smoother and glossier appear their works; but smalness and fineness is not the true cause of colours, that is, it doth not make colours to be co∣lours, although it makes colours fine. And thus black is not black through the absence of Light, no more then white can be white by the presence of light; but blackness is one sort of colour, whiteness ano∣ther, redness another, and so of the rest: Whereof some are superficial and changeable, to wit, such as are made by the reflection of light, others fixt and in∣herent, viz. such as are in several sorts of Minerals, Vegetables and Animals; and others again are pro∣duced by Art, as by Dying and Painting; which Ar∣tists know best how to order by their several mix∣tures.