There is so much to be told of the behavior of light that exists in the realm of the invisible, often only illuminated with the assistance of mechanical devices, including cameras and digital renderings based on mathematical observations.
Each novel study of light reveals its dazzling complexity. Recently, MIT professor Ramesh Raskar and his team created Femto-photography, which allows the capturing of light in motion, shooting at a trillion frames per second. Photographing at this speed allows for looking at light itself as it travels through medium, at how it paints a photo. Among the discoveries resulting from this device, other than the ability to literally see around corners, was that light ripples in reverse of this assumed direction when captured by this camera: “When you look at the ripples under the cap, the ripples are moving away from us. The ripples should be moving towards us,” Raskar marvels in his TED talk. “It turns out, because we're recording nearly at the speed of light, we have strange effects.”
While light can be strange, and is no doubt complex, the widespread acceptance of this agent is a carved mannequin; a notion of light that is easier for human consumption. Look no further than the definition of light, which is bound with visibility. That light is a spectrum may surprise none, but it worth considering what “visible light” truly means, when placing all collective cognition eggs in its basket. Humans can only actively sense wavelengths between 400-700 nanometers, the electromagnetic spectrum from short ultraviolet rays to the long infrareds. But the narrowing of vision in such a way is, as Prof. Merrill Ring puts it, “homo-centric.” It ignores the evolved sensory structures of other creatures and representations of their vision upon the spectrum. This narrow definition, light
, is a “[reflection] of human capacities, practices and interests.”
To double-down, let one consider the complete cognitive fabrication of colors, when regarding the definition of light. The colors, the waves perceived by human vision, are an evolutionary construct meant to distinguish between different wavelengths. This system happened to stick. That red is a shorter wavelength than blue is in line with “normal” human vision, but this is more of a standard than a truth. Visual deviations (color blindness) that relate these waves with other colors (such as “confusing” green and red tones) aren’t truly inaccurate, but are as “real” a vision as eyes and mind that perceive the mainstream hues. In fact, regarding alternative modes of visual experience in a non-hierarchical manner pulls at the threads of universal vision and light as truth.
Visual distortions, whether physiological or ephemeral, reveal the non-binary nature of light. Optical illusions are a rupture in the ontology of vision, they are the portals through which escape from the monadic is plausible. Take moiré patterns, which translate convergence of lines into oscillation or color separation. They reveal both the simultaneity of vision (seeing something still and in motion, seeing straight and curved), as well as the imperfection of light and eye as storytellers.
Other simple observations could be the way objects seem when submerged, as waves travel differently in air and in water, or experiencing color separation through a prism, which expresses the complexity and multiplicity of a singular light source. At times, catching light deviations requires releasing standard modes of seeing, such as to look without focusing, to move the eyes swiftly to create motion, or to observe through the side of the eye. For example, a quick head spin from a white projector light will reveal the red, green, and blue streams that composite it. While Al-Ghazali claims that “... the mistakes of vision are manifold, but the intelligence transcends them all,”
true intelligence is the embracing of distortions as better representations of light and vision.