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The invisible and illogical electromagnetic rainbow

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

This is a mix-mash of content from different people that, in my head at least, fits together and is coherent with the intent of this site. All the text is from "The invisible rainbow" by Arthur Firstenberg and "The evolution of civilizations" by professor C. Quigley.

The invisible rainbow

WHEN I LOOK at a flower, what I see is not the same as what a honey bee sees, who comes to drink its nectar. She sees beautiful patterns of ultraviolet that are invisible to me, and she is blind to the color red. A red poppy is ultraviolet to her. A cinquefoil flower, which looks pure yellow to me, is to her purple, with a yellow center luring her to its nectar. Most white flowers are blue green to her eye.

When I look upon the night sky, the stars appear as points of color twinkling through earth’s atmosphere. Everywhere else, except for the moon and a few planets, is blackness. But it is the blackness of illusion. If you could see all the colors in the world, including the ultraviolets that honeybees can see, the infrareds that snakes can see, the low electric frequencies that catfish and salamanders can see, the radio waves, the X-rays, the gamma rays, the slow galactic pulsations, if you could see everything that is really there in its myriad shapes and hues, in all of its blinding glory, instead of blackness you’d see form and motion everywhere, day and night.

Almost all of the matter in the universe is electrically charged, an endless sea of ionized particles called plasma, named after the contents of living cells because of the unpredictable, life-like behavior of electrified matter. The stars we see are made of electrons, protons, bare atomic nuclei, and other charged particles in constant motion. The space between the stars and galaxies, far from being empty, teems with electrically charged subatomic particles, swimming in vast swirling electromagnetic fields, accelerated by those fields to near-light speeds. Plasma is such a good conductor of electricity, far better than any metals, that filaments of plasma— invisible wires billions of light-years long—transport electromagnetic energy in gigantic circuits from one part of the universe to another, shaping the heavens. Under the influence of electromagnetic forces, over billions of years, cosmic whirlpools of matter collect along these filaments, like beads on a string, evolving into the galaxies that decorate our night sky. In addition, thin sheaths of electric current called double layers, like the membranes of biological cells, divide intergalactic space into immense compartments, each of which can have different physical, chemical, electrical, and magnetic properties. There may even, some speculate, be matter on one side of a double layer and antimatter on the other. Enormous electric fields prevent the different regions of space from mixing, just as the integrity of our own cells is preserved by the electric fields of the membranes surrounding them.

Our own Milky Way, in which we live, a medium-sized spiral galaxy one hundred thousand light-years across, rotates around its center once every two hundred and fifty million earth years, generating around itself a galactic-size magnetic field. Filaments of plasma five hundred light years long, generating additional magnetic fields, have been photographed looping out of our galactic center.

Our sun, also made of plasma, sends out an ocean of electrons, protons, and helium ions in a steady current called the solar wind. Blowing at three hundred miles per second, it bathes the earth and all of the planets before diffusing out into the plasma between the stars. The earth, with its core of iron, rotates on its axis in the electric fields of the solar system and the galaxy, and as it rotates it generates its own magnetic field that traps and deflects the charged particles of the solar wind. They wrap the earth in an envelope of plasma called the magnetosphere, which stretches out on the night side of the planet into a comet-like tail hundreds of millions of miles long. Some of the particles from the solar wind collect in layers we call the Van Allen belts, where they circulate six hundred to thirty-five thousand miles above our heads. Driven along magnetic lines of force toward the poles, the electrons collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere. These fluoresce to produce the northern and southern lights, the aurorae borealis and australis, that dance in the long winter nights of the high latitudes.

The sun also bombards our planet with ultraviolet light and Xrays. These strike the air fifty to two hundred and fifty miles above us, ionizing it, freeing the electrons that carry electric currents in the upper atmosphere. This, the earth’s own layer of plasma, is called the ionosphere.

The earth is also showered with charged particles from all directions called cosmic rays. These are atomic nuclei and subatomic particles that travel at velocities approaching the speed of light. From within the earth comes radiation emitted by uranium and other radioactive elements. Cosmic rays from space and radiation from the rocks and soil provide the small ions that carry the electric currents that surround us in the lower atmosphere.

In this electromagnetic environment we evolved.

The illogical rainbow

Much, if not all, of the physical world consists of continua. To say this is equivalent to saying that much of the physical world is irrational. It exists and it operates, but it does these things in ways that cannot be grasped by our conscious rational mental processes. This can be seen most easily if we consider first a few examples of continua in the physical world.

How many colors are there in a rainbow? Some answer three—red, yellow, blue. Others answer six—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. When I was a child in school, for some unknown reason, we were told that there were seven colors, the teacher inserting "indigo" between blue and violet. The proper answer, of course, is that the number of colors in the rainbow is infinite. This in itself is something we cannot grasp in any rational way. But let us consider what it means. In the first place it means that there is, in the rainbow, no real line of division between any two colors. If we wish to draw a line we may do so, but we must recognize that such a line is imaginary—it may exist in our minds, but it does not exist in the rainbow itself.

Moreover, any line that we draw is arbitrary, in the sense that it could have been drawn with just as much justification somewhere else, perhaps only a hairbreadth away. If we draw a line between red and orange and another between orange and yellow, we may call the gamut between those two lines orange, but, as a matter of fact, the color is quite different on either edge of that gamut. We may decide that orange is a narrower range than the gamut between our two lines and, accordingly, slice off the margins of the orange gamut, calling the severed margin on one side yellow-orange and the severed margin on the other side red-orange. But

once again the color is not the same across any of these three ranges. In fact, it is impossible to cut off any gamut in a rainbow, no matter how narrow we make it, in which the color is the same across the width of the gamut. We can move no distance, however infinitesimally small it may be, across the rainbow without a change in color. This means that the number of colors in the rainbow is infinite. But it also means that the number of colors in any portion of the rainbow is infinite. That is, there are as many shades of orange as there are colors in the whole rainbow, since both are infinite. Now, this is a truth that we cannot understand rationally. It seems contrary to logic and reason that we could add all the existing shades of red and yellow to all the existing varieties of orange without increasing the number of color varieties we have. The reason is not so much that infinity added to infinity gives infinity as that there are no different varieties of colors at all, because there are, in fact, no dividing lines in the rainbow itself.

When we use the plural terms "colors" and "shades" in reference to a rainbow, we are implying that there are different colors and accordingly that there are divisions in the rainbow somehow separating one shade from another and thus entitling us to speak of these in the plural. Since there are no such lines of separation, we would be more accurate if we spoke of the rainbow in the singular as "a continuum of color." But, of course, we could not do this consistently because it would make it impossible to think about or to talk about the colors of any objects. Since the continuum changes across its range, it is distinctly different in color from one portion to another, just as dresses, flowers, or neckties are different in color from one another. If we are going to talk about these very real differences, we must have different words for the different colors involved. Thus we must give different color terms to different portions of the rainbow's gamut. The important truth to remember is that, while the differences beween colors are real enough, there are no real divisions between colors: these are arbitrary and imaginary.

As is well known, the gamut of radiations of visible light that we call the rainbow is not an entity in itself but is an arbitrary and imaginary portion cut out of a much wider gamut of electromagnetic radiations. The variety of colors in the rainbow arises from the fact that the radiations of visible light come at us in wave lengths of different frequency. As the wave lengths of these radiant forms of energy get smaller (and thus their frequency gets larger), we observe this difference as a shift in color toward the blue end of the visible spectrum; as the wave lengths get longer (and the frequency less), we observe a color shift toward the red end of the spectrum. If this shift of wave length continues, the radiation may pass beyond the range to which our eyes are sensitive. Beyond the red we can notice these radiations as heat (infrared); beyond the violet we might have difficulty noticing the radiations directly, but their consequence

would soon appear as a kind of sunburn on our skin. Once again there is no dividing line between the visible gamut of radiations and the ultraviolet on one side and the infrared on

the other side.

Some persons can "see" further into these than others can, and other forms of living creatures can "see" further into one or the other range than any human could. Bees, for example, are fully sensitive to ultraviolet radiations, while humans are generally so insensitive to these that they consider glass windows, which cut off most ultraviolet, as being fully transparent.

The gamut of radiant energy is much wider than the three subgamuts we have mentioned. Beyond the invisible ultraviolet are other radiations of even shorter wave length, including soft X rays, hard X rays, and finally the very highfrequency gamma waves released by nuclear explosions. Going the other way in the radiation range, we find that there are radiations of increasing wave length beyond the infrared which we call heat. These radiations of lower frequency and longer wave length include those used to carry our radio and television broadcasts. While we sit here reading, quite unaware of their passage, these radiations are

going through our bodies. They are different from the visible light that allows us to see to read only in the wave lengths and energy content of the radiations.

This great gamut or range of energy radiations, from the shortest gamma waves at one end to the longest broadcast waves at the other end, forms a continuum. The difference between a deadly gamma radiation and an enjoyable television broadcast, like the difference between red and blue, is a very real difference, but it is only a difference of wave length (and thus a difference of distance) and not a difference of kind. Accordingly, no real lines of demarcation exist in the gamut itself, and the whole range forms a single continuum.

The quality of being a continuum that exists in the range of electromagnetic radiations is not a quality that has anything to do with energy or with radiations, but is true simply because these radiations exist in space and differ from one another because of space distinctions, namely, their wave lengths. This spectrum is a continuum, and therefore irrational, because space is a continuum, and therefore irrational. The irrationality of space sounds a little strange to most of us because we are so familiar with space that we rarely stop to think that we do not really understand it. But the irrational quality of space (which arises from the fact that space is infinitely divisible) is one of the early discoveries of ancient intellectual history.

A similar irrational quality is to be found in time. We usually think of time as a succession of intervals. It is really a continuous flow, and any intervals we may choose to put into it, be they seconds, hours, or centuries, are arbitrary and imaginary. And in consequence, any conclusions we derive or any inferences we may draw from such intervals may be mistaken. We have twenty-four hours in the day as a purely conventional arrangement going back to our early

ancestors in the Neolithic Garden cultures who had a number system based on twelve and passed on to us, as relics of that system, such arrangements as twelve eggs in a dozen, twelve inches in a foot, twelve pennies in a shilling, twentyfour parts in a carat, twelve ounces in a pound of gold, twelve deities on Mount Olympus, and many other odd facts of which one of the most pervasive today is that teenage begins with thirteen. From the Neolithic belief that day or night should each have twelve parts we derived our twenty-four-hour day, but since these divisions are arbitrary and imaginary, we could with equal justification have a day of ten hours or of twenty-three or twenty-five hours.

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