Saturday, October 22, 2005

Light From the Rosary (Part 2)

Light From the Rosary (Part 1)

Light From the Rosary (Part 2)


Luminescence, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, is "the emission of light from certain substances when they are relatively cool." While it is well-known that hot things, like the sun or fire, give off light (this is called incandescence) there are very few natural things – like lightning-bugs or fireflies, certain fungi, the aurora borealis – which give off light when cool.
Some four hundred years ago, at the frontier between alchemy and chemistry, strange and sometimes crazy experiments were performed. Some say it was the greed for gold; more likely it was true scientific curiosity, supported by the solid foundation of a society-wide philosophy of rational creation. [See e.g. Science and Creation by S. L. Jaki. It was not until Christianity had permeated society that things like light itself could really be studied for itself; thus was accomplished the prophecy in the Psalms: "For with Thee is the fountain of life; and in Thy light we shall see light" (Ps 35:10)] Years of futile and dangerous struggle were consumed in the search for the "philosopher's stone" (the American translation, for some reason, is given as "sorcerer's stone" – I cannot imagine why!) – a substance or process which would convert lead or some other cheap metal into gold.
Once chemistry became orderly and called on physics for assistance, the truth of atomic structure revealed the elemental nature of gold, and even suggested a ridiculously expensive way of converting lead into gold. But on that long path to truth, there were also a number of other discoveries which have been useful to us, and far more importantly, these discoveries have shed light on the nature of things.
In Bologna of 1603 Vincenzo Cascariolo was looking for the philosopher's (or sorcerer's) stone. He took barite – a mineral also called "heavy spar," which is chemically barium sulfate – together with coal, ground it to powder and heated it. Then he let it cool. One must wonder why he tried this – what curiosity, or fortuitous mistake he was pursuing – or what he thought he would get.
But, probably that evening, he found that he had something unusual, and as the discoverer of this new wonder, he gave it a name. He called it lapis solaris – the sunstone – for this mixture glowed in the dark! Cascariolo found that it could "absorb" sunlight and could be "recharged" again and again – and still shine with a bluish glow at night.
As time went on, other substances were found to have this strange property. For a while it was called phosphorus – Greek for the "light carrier" – but that name was eventually restricted to the element phosphorus itself, which also glows in the dark.
The last four centuries have brought many advances to our understanding of luminescence. There are a variety of substances which glow when cool. Some depend on pressure and are called triboluminescence; some are a result of various chemical reactions, or chemiluminescence. Other materials emit light when another kind of light hits them: these are broadly termed fluorescent. This "other kind" of light may be invisible to human eyes: in the common "fluorescent tubes," the stimulating light is ultraviolet, and the emitted light is visible. There are things like radium which glow because they are radioactive. There are even substances which emit light when struck by electrons: these are used in television and computer screens, also known as "cathode ray tubes" or CRTs. But foremost in childish delight are those substances which can "absorb" light and slowly release it, such as the one Cascariolo discovered.

Luminous Rosaries
When I was growing up, my father had his religious articles store in the first floor of our house. My sister likes to tell the story of how one day a shipment of rosaries came in. These rosaries were luminescent, made in Italy, and were tied together in clusters with wire. My brothers and sisters would hold them up to absorb the light, and then go around in the dark stockrooms of the store, "exploring" with their glowing clusters of rosaries.
I still have one of these luminous rosaries, which I believe that I was given for a birthday long ago – and which I still use. So for me, from a very early age, the word "luminous" has always been closely associated with the word "rosary" – and not simply as an item of stock in a store, but as a prayer, as a component of my faith and my parents' faith.
Imagine my shock, then, back in October (of 2002) when late one evening I heard my father say that the Pope had "added mysteries" to the rosary. I hardly knew how to react, until I had heard more detail. Finally, it was clear: the Pope had proposed five additional mysteries, to join the five Joyful, five Sorrowful, and five Glorious mysteries, which have been said for some four hundred years.
Well, I did not want to just react like some media reporter. And so I thought and waited, until I got a copy of the papal document, and after I read it, I thought some more. There was a very good reason for there being fifteen mysteries – apart from the origin of the rosary as a derivative of the 150 Psalms (10 goes 15 times into 150) and the marvelous counting of the 153 fish in John 21:11 (Don't forget that there are three extra Hail Marys at the start of the Rosary!) and the triple division into Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious.
But there was never any doubt (for me anyway) of the possibility of there being other mysteries. There were other Gospel episodes not covered, other thoughts not well-linked or well-examined, thoughts which originate in the prayers of the Rosary, or in the 15 traditional mysteries – and these deserve to be dealt with. So from a strictly intellectual perspective, a mathematician would say that the 15 mysteries do not close the set of all the mysteries of the Gospel. Moreover, the mere existence of the Coronation of Mary (G5) reveals that there is "more" to the question – as the Coronation is something which a mystic might say is still in some sense in the future – since it may be held that Our Lord would not deprive all His faithful brothers and sisters of the joy of seeing their own Mother crowned – and this can only be accomplished at the end of time! But, while this is mere speculation, it is not speculation to state that the Pope has the authority to propose new mysteries. And this is what happened on October 16, 2002 – not only were there indeed new mysteries, but they were called the Luminous mysteries!

Well, on reflection, this is what Tolkien might have called a Eucatastrophe with a capital E: a remarkable (preferably unexepected) event affecting multitudes, but a singularly good and happy event. [If you are not familiar with this term, I will deal with it in a separate discussion.] It certainly has affected me – and I have taxed my "imaginator" to come up with a hint of a parallel. Here are two.
Imagine the reaction of the cooking world if a botanist discovered in some hidden Italian valley the last remaining growth of the herb known to the ancient Romans as laser – a flavor no one has tasted for almost 1500 years! Or, perhaps, in the depth of some palimpsest, some librarian uncovered the true formula for garum. What excitement for cooks to try new recipes, and to elucidate the cookbook of Apicius! What a freedom from the plainness of tacos and pizza and sushi and hamburgers! Such a great word, too: LASER – what a bonus for the fast-food chains, advertising their new "laser-packed" french fries! (Maybe they might call them Roman fries?) Remember, it is a herb used as a flavor, not a food-in-itself. And not only the cooks and the gastronomes, but the historians would also rejoice, as they found new insight into the long-forgotten daily life of the Romans!
Or, imagine the shock to physicists and artists alike (to say nothing of computer graphics people) if someone announced the discovery of the FOURTH PRIMARY COLOR! A color which was not red, not yellow, not blue, and yet somehow harmonized with each of them. What thrills to try landscapes, portraits, still lifes, with it! What excitement would come to so many fields of study as the physicists brought all their spectroscopes, seeking its exact wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum; the ophthalmologists trying to understand the way the human retina handles it; the photographers attempting various emulsions, desperately trying to render it precisely. And the poor high-tech people revising hardware and software, scrambling to properly adapt their machinery to use it.
This last analogy, though imaginary, is based on an actual revolution in human history. It began a century after Cascariolo made his lapis solaris, when in 1704 Diesbach made a new blue pigment from two non-blue chemicals.[Painting Materials – A Short Encyclopedia by Rutherford J. Gettens and George L. Stout] This pigment is still available – it is called Prussian Blue. Continuing even until the present, chemistry has made major advances, such as the discovery of elements like chromium (named from the Greek word for "color") with its variety of colored compounds, or the vast array of new organic pigments, or the amazing breakthrough of the acrylic medium for paint – and these advances in the artistic world alone have been almost as eucatastrophic as would be the announcement of a new primary color.
But physics and art join in declaring that the set of colors is "closed" – there are only those colors which appear in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – though the computer people and elementary art teachers say there are just three, the combinations are in the tens of thousands – and you can see a few dozen of them in any art store. It is wild imagination to say there is a fourth primary color.
But it is not wild to say there is a fourth set of mysteries. Indeed, it ought to have the same effect on the world. Both the common man and the specialist can rejoice: for the "man in the street," or maybe I should say "man on his knees," there is a newness to the well-known three sets of mysteries – a newness brought by these five new mysteries. There is a new flavor, and a new delight – for unlike the lost laser flavor, the Luminous mysteries are food-in-themselves and can stand alone, though, as a good cook knows, they cannot help but "season" the others, and be "seasoned" by them. And the specialists too can rejoice – the theologians and the philosophers – they can begin writing whole new shelves of books in exploration of the larger structure, the stronger connectedness, the deeper relevance, the practical and theoretical and mystical ramifications of these mysteries, both as they stand alone and in relation to the others.
Some of this has already begun. I read somewhere that each of the Seven Sacraments are included (by some means or other) in the Luminous Mysteries.[Baptism, Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are obvious – but that is someone else's essay, not mine!] I would like to take a different approach. My approach, alas, will have all the flavors of engineering and all the hues of science and mathematics: since I have not had the time to try to be poetic or rigorous, I will do what I can.

To be continued...


At 23 October, 2005 08:13, Blogger rhapsody said...

Good morning, Dr. T,
Today you are the 'lucky' recipient of my caffeinated ramblings.
Will try to focus & remain coherent:)
As usual, a fascinating post from you.
A fourth primary color!!!
And although I am sure that Heaven has colors we have never even dreamed of, you got me thinking.
About the color white.
The color defined as being the absence of color.
Which I believe is inaccurate.
If something is absent of color, it would be "clear," not white.
And, what is added to red to make it pink?
Or black to make it gray?
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that white is the absence of pigments.
I am not a scientist, so please pardon my misuse of terminology.
When our robes are free from the stain of sin, they will be white.
And somehow, snow is white.
I know I don't know why, but it is!
Ask Chesterton!
In his essay, "A Piece of Chalk," he had left behind "...a most exquisite and essential chalk..."
to color with one day... the white one. He wrote that men have "painted the white robes of the holy virgins with the blinding snow."

Perhaps white is actually the one primary color, from which all other colors eminate.
Red, blue, & yellow, a trio of colors.
Of course this brings to mind the Trinity.
Three Divine Persons in One Holy and Living God.
(Sorry, Dr. T, this isn't over yet:)
When I was younger, the way I explained the Trinity to myself was that since we are made in the image of God, Him being the Father (His Divine mind), Son (Divine body), & Holy Spirit (Divine soul), we are the finite (although immortal) version. We are one, as He is, but our bodies & minds & souls somehow seem to separately make up the whole of our beings. Peace & happiness comes when they are not at war with each other, & are in communion with His Divine Being.

Almost done... :)

How much fun you & your siblings had!
The luminous rosaries radiating in the darkness, & impressing His Light on your souls!

Do you remember as a child, taking a small rock & writing in white on the surface of a larger rock, or on a driveway?
Remember the outcome of Chesterton's essay?
White chalk all over the place!
God's WHITE chalk!
Written with ROCK!!!
I guess every thing IS related to every other thing-
All pointing in One direction!!!

Caffeine rambling over (for now:)
Thanks, Dr. T-

&, pardon my saying so, unless you don't mind sales people- go to your dashboard and turn on the "Word Verification" option.

But sorry, it won't keep me away!

At 23 October, 2005 12:42, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

Thanks, "R" - and I think you are right. I have had to delete junk several times recently. How cheap of microsoft, and the others, who could prohibit this so easily!

Good point about GKC's chalk essay. And chalk is a rock! Such a wonderful thing, too.

Now, to your question about light and color.

There are two kinds of white, as there are two kinds of color. There is pigment which is white and there is light which is white.

I will take the light first, because it is primary. Paints (pigments) are secondary - we cannot see paint unless we have light to see it by.

Light is like sound: it has a wavelength or frequency. Just as our ears tell us that a musical note is higher or lower in pitch,
our eyes measure the higher (blue) or lower (red) frequencies. Unlike our ears, which can hear a range of perhaps TEN octaves, our eyes can only see about one octave (from the low red to the high violet). The rainbow you posted shows all the notes we can see, each one immediately beside the next. What we see in any ordinary scene, however, may be many notes sounding together, some brighter, some dimmer.

When "all" the colors are sounding at once, our eyes register this in a certain way, and we call it "white".

The pigment (let's take "titanium white" which I was just using about an hour ago in my painting) is "white" because it REFLECTS light of all colors. A pigment is "red" because it REFLECTS red light, or "green" because it reflects green light. (The other colors are absorbed by the pigment.) When you mix paints, you mix according to "subtractive" rules, because pigments ABSORB light as well as reflect it. So blue paint plus yellow paint is green paint, and so forth. And all pigments added together absorb all light, so we call that color "black". (Because no light is reflected... that's why they call those things "black holes" - nothing comes out.)

But things are different when we add different lights together. Normally that is not something we can do, unless we are stagehands, or phtographers, and can play with the various gels and change the colors of the light which we see. Until now... (I'll explain in a minute!)

When we add light, we have new rules, which are "additive". For when our eyes see red and green at the same time, we call that "yellow"! Surprise! And when we see all colors at once we call it "white" (that is, when all colors are mixed, not like in a rainbow, in which they are all split apart.)

Now for the really exciting thing: the computer in front of you can add light to light - and that's how its colors are done!

In the computer monitor you are looking at, almost certainly a color monitor, you will see thousands of dots of many colors(we call them pixels!) but in most machines there are only three "pigments" - red, green, blue - which are added to each other in any of 256 different fractions. Now I will tell you the secret number we use to make those fractions! It is 255. If you know the inchworm song, and can sing it out a few more steps, you will get to "128 plus 128 are 256". But since we need to start with zero, we can only go up to 255!

So the fractions start with zero, then 1/255, then 2/255, and so on up to 254/255, and then one.

Now, here are some examples:

If the color is
Red 0 Green 0 Blue 0
we see a BLACK dot.

If the color is
Red 255 Green 0 Blue 0
we see a bright RED dot.

If the color is
Red 127 Green 0 Blue 0
we see a dark RED dot.

If the color is
Red 255 Green 255 Blue 0
we see a bright YELLOW dot.

If the color is
Red 255 Green 255 Blue 255
we see a bright WHITE dot.

I will leave to your pondering the suggestion about the three-and-one relation here... But in considering your hints about the Trinity I might recommend the very interesting The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers... more on that another day.

At 23 October, 2005 13:07, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

Posted after I turned on the "word verification" just to check! what fun words it gives: "smtejm" sounds, uh, like some eastern European dialect... maybe it means "a single fluffy cloud hanging in a deep blue sunny sky" - sometimes English just doesn't seem to have the word I want... Whew! A friend of mine once told me: "As we say in my country, 'Jÿ Eêngloshe mõ käje smtejm vä smtëjm.' That is, 'The English can't differentiate between smtejm and smtëjm'." I assured him that I got the point.

Ahem. Sorry. Back to your comment.

In one sense, you are right about "clear" - and GKC also points out the important truth about it:

"So few people ever look at windows, unless they are stained glass windows. But glass is a very beautiful thing, like diamonds; and transparency is a sort of transcendental colour."
[GKC The Poet and the Lunatics]

At 23 October, 2005 14:18, Blogger rhapsody said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain, Dr. T,
Funny you should mention diamonds...
From what I understand, they are the hardest substance on earth-(from carbon?)
& when you look at a well-cut diamond, you see little rainbows all over the place!
This is after all the work that has gone into getting them to that point, of course.
But, when you look at a little raindrop on a spider's web, what do you see?
They sparkle like the finest diamonds-
God's little rainbows, all over the place!

Seemingly effortlessly.

Well, time to decipher the word thingy-
Glad I don't have to try and pronounce it...


At 23 October, 2005 15:22, Blogger rhapsody said...

(a late PS)


Excuse me...
Just one more question...
A fresh canvas?
Titanium white?

(Ok, that's three more questions)...



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