Wednesday, August 10, 2016

us broken and partial prisms

free and inverted lens photo, my first try at such things

"To hear colors and to see sounds is an experience not vouchsafed to most of us.  Yet we all do something of the same kind that is quite as remarkable, we ascribe colors to ethical qualities.  Universally do men call goodness white and wickedness black.  Angels and devils, wherever they appear upon the surface of the earth, are clothed in these colors with an appropriateness that seems to be instinctive and inevitable.  White may be the color of mourning as it is in China.  Black may be the garb of respectibility as it often is with us.  These are matters of custom.  But when it comes to ethics all men see alike and never confuse black and white.  To turn from the power of Satan unto God is to turn from darkness unto light.  

Wherefore this certainty about what no man can prove?  Who has seen goodness that he can tell us whether it be black or white?  If we are endowed with an ethical sense, which some dispute, the eyeball is at any rate not the organ of it.  What reason is there for ascribing whiteness to goodness?  None whatever.  But when we reverse the question, and ask is there any reason for ascribing goodness to whiteness, we see at once there is.  

For black is the most selfish of colors and white the most unselfish.  They correspond then exactly with our conceptions of vice and virtue and the association of ideas is inevitable, since our highest ideal of goodness is perfect unselfishness, absolute altruism.  'Freely ye have received, freely give' is the injunction of the Master... All the light rays [white] receives, whatever their kind, whatever their source, these it returns in full measure, undiminished, unimpaired, equally, and in all directions.  But the black object does just the opposite.  What comes to it, it keeps.  Blue rays, red rays, or any rays in between, all the colors of the rainbow, all that give beauty to the world, when they come to a black surface are absorbed and seen no more.  Never again will they flash about to gladden the sight and enlighten the mind.  Their doom is forever sealed.... It is the Spirit That Denies.  It is that which retains, destroys, annihilates...
'How far that little candle throws his beams!  So shines a good deed in a naughty world,' mused sentimental Portia... A trite thought, because a true one, that virtue is always to be distinguished by its activity in radiation, by the brightness and penetration of its beams, by its effects upon its environment... A bad deed cannot radiate.  At most it is a stain, a blot which only becomes visible by contrast... Its influence is local, for the reason that it is essentially ungenerous...
There is, strictly speaking, neither black nor white in this world of ours.  There are merely things darker and lighter and variously colored.  We all specialize in the virtues, devoting our attention to such as suit our purposes.  Some of us favor the lower end of the moral spectrum and display the red badge of courage.  Others cultivate the more delicate vibrations of the blue end, purity, constancy, and truth.  Most of us are prismatic and changeable, flashing forth sometimes one color and sometimes another; perhaps in the course of a lifetime displaying them all, but never all at once and equally in all directions.  For the best of us reflect brokenly and partially what comes to us from the source of all goodness, the Sun of Righteousness."

Edwin E Slosson, from his book Sermons of a Chemist, copyright 1925



I had a stack of books to read at the beach but on the way out the door I grabbed a book in which my great grandfather had written his name in 1927.  I thought it may not translate well to 2016, but I can't put it down.  Fascinating.





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