Light Fantastic

February 27, 2010

Here I would like to provide a wonderful documentary complied by the BBC on the story of light, and how it came to change the way we perceive the universe around us. As is the case with these stories about understanding, things are not always as they first seem… Thus I feel it is a good starting point to grasp the idea of how easily we can sometimes be deluded about things we think we know about i.e. how the physical world, human psychology and the physics of light were not as well understood – nor as easy to understand – as we first thought they were… And how the quest for understanding is about the constant revision of knowledge, rather than set dogmatic modes of understanding.

Once again… I take my hat off to the BBC. Many thanks guys and gals!

Light Fantastic explores the phenomenon that surrounds and affects nearly every aspect of our lives but one which we take for granted – light.

Light is why the sea is blue and the grass is green. Without light, there would be no life, no art – there would be nothing. Light is a necessity for human life but we are still trying to understand it…

The greatest names in science – Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Leonardo, and Einstein – have struggled to unravel its mysteries. This is the story of man’s attempt to understand the most elusive phenomenon; told through the dramatic reconstruction of events and experiments that have advanced our knowledge and broadened our understanding. From rainbows to photosynthesis, from brown skin to quantum theory, light affects everything.

1. Let There be Light

Greek and Arab scholars, and later Europeans such as Descartes and Newton all tried to understand light to gain a better understanding of God. Episode one shows how much of modern science’s origins came from the desire to penetrate the divine nature of light.

2. The Light of Reason

The second programme explores the link between the development of practical tools that manipulate light and the emergence of new ideas. For example, Galileo’s observation that the sun did not go around the earth, was made with a telescope that had been invented for Venetian soldiers and traders.

3. The Stuff of Light

Episode three charts the discovery of the true nature of light and its impact on the modern world. All of today’s technologies – electricity, mobile communications and our ability to illuminate the world 24 hours a day – stem from unravelling the mystery of light.

4. Light, The Universe and Everything

In the final programme Simon Schaffer finds that as more people were able to manipulate light, the more puzzling and tricky it became. This led to investigations into the strange relationship between light, the eye and the mind, and the development of new technology such as photography and cinema.

To find out more about the BBC, please click here.

OR to find out more about the Light Fantastic documentaries, please click here.

AND to find out about Professor Simon Schaffer, please click here and/or here.