Posts Tagged ‘rainbow’

It’s amazing what you can think of on a blowy Wednesday morning.

It’s sometimes amazing how people can be persuaded to believe in far-fetched tales.  I don’t say fairy tales, because it is easy to see how a loving and beautiful tale can fire the imagination.  No, I mean the sort of far-fetched tales that are usually found in serious publications.

For example.  Most people have no great difficulty in accepting the common explanation for those odd things called rainbows.  They have read how a rainbow requires three things for it to exist.  It requires sunlight : water droplets : and an observer.  Take away any one of those things, and the rainbow ceases to exist.  And most people also understand that if you approach the place of the rainbow too closely, so as to see the water droplets, the rainbow also disappears ; it ceases to exist.

The really startling thing about a rainbow is that it exists only in a sentient mind.

But how many people have thought about another of the ordinary common things that also disappear when you get close to them?  Take the leaf of a tree, for example.  From a distance, it appears to have a shape and a certain solidity about it.  But physicists assure us that the leaf is actually constructed out of minute particles called atoms ; and these atoms are constructed out of even smaller things such as neutrons, protons and electrons.  And when you approach the leaf so closely that these tiny things might be ‘seen’, you will find yourself looking at what is mostly emptiness.  And the leaf disappears entirely.  Just as the rainbow disappeared when you got too close.

We are not talking about metaphysics here, just everyday experience.  The whole world is made up of two parts ; or are there two worlds?  Firstly we have the world of rainbows and leaves (and rivers, mountains, flowers, cattle, etc., etc.) ; and secondly we have the world of what we might call the ‘particles’ (the atoms, etc.).  The first world is made up of representations in our conscious minds ; representations that arrive to us via our senses.  The second world is not represented to our minds at all, because its constituents are out of reach to our senses.

But the really startling thing is that the everyday first world cannot without the second, occult world.

So we have a first world of representations and also a second world of the unrepresented.  A manifest world and a hidden world.  And it is easy to think of these two quite different worlds when we set our minds to it ; but it is very difficult indeed to keep them near the front of our minds in our everyday living.

When we stroll in the countryside or in the town, it is hard to bear in mind that the things we see, touch, hear, etc., – the fields, the sky, the clouds, the trees, the telegraph poles, the ground under our feet – are actually comprised of entities, such as atoms, electrons, protons, etc., which are quite beyond our senses and are not represented to our consciousness at all ; and that occult world is mostly empty space ; a sort of ghost world.  There is no light there, no colour, no solidity, no softness or hardness, no heat or cold, no sounds, no scents or flavours ; for these are all sensory qualities.  And our senses cannot reach down to that world.

Is it a sub-sensory world?  or a super-sensory one?

At any rate, it is not a material world, for matter is defined by our senses.  It is a world that exists in consciousness only in the form of ideas.  And these ideas are described in complex logical propositions that only a few specially trained mathematical people understand.  And even those specially trained people do not have a satisfying explanation of what the propositions mean.  So it is that this non-material, non-sensory world is a mystery ; a mystery that can never be represented to our conscious awareness.

Either we must accept that our familiar world of things – trees, meadows, clouds, rivers, other people, etc. – is a representation (re-presentation) of the insensible world of atoms, etc., or we must reject the theories of physics as nothing more than an elaborate delusion.  We cannot have it both ways.

What are we to call this non-sensory, occult, mysterious world that underlies our familiar world?  This invisible world that we are quite sure exists, but whose existence cannot be proved by the evidence of our senses?  It sounds very much like a spiritual world.


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It’s Monday morning, and the overcast sky encourages a meditation of sorts.  How much kinder the world would be if Nature gave us a rainbow to contemplate on every cloudy day.  But she doesn’t ; for she waits until there is a particular disposition of sunshine and of particular kinds of clouds.  And sometimes she sends a single rainbow and sometimes a double one.

Everybody knows that if you approach a rainbow it will disappear long before you reach it, or it will move somewhere else.  But, even though it disappears from your view, it will remain in someone else’s.  We don’t have to plunge into the theory of light and refraction to appreciate and marvel at this.  We can just gaze in wonder and then let our thoughts wander a bit.

We don’t need to reflect too deeply on the natures of water and refraction.  We can just ask, “Where is that rainbow?”  I am quite sure that our remote-ish ancestors asked this question.  And I’m pretty sure that their answers had little to do with what we should call science.  They simply observed that the rainbow only appeared to be in the sky.  And I’m pretty sure that, one day, a towering genius among them came to the astonishing conclusion that the rainbow existed only in his own mind.

I am sure that Noah realised this.  He may even have done the experiment.  He may have done some long walking on a damp day ; he may have noticed that where the rainbow touches the hillside, it is misty and the air is full of water droplets.  He may also have noticed that, if he could see the rainbow, he could not see the water droplets ; and, if he could see the droplets, he could not see the rainbow.  He could not both have his cake and eat it.

Now this must have impressed Noah very deeply – this realisation that rainbows do not seem to be of the same kind as other objects, such as trees and rocks and mountains.  And yet it produces the same effect as other objects – provided he maintained his distance from it.  The rainbow surely exists, but it must not be approached.

By re-living old Noah’s experience (as we imagine it to have been) we can allow our thoughts to be drawn to an even more profound realisation, and perhaps many such.  For example, we know that the existence of a rainbow requires at least three things to be present :  the sun : the water : and a human mind.  Can these preconditions apply to the seeing other kinds of objects?

Some other thoughts on rainbows.

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The Rainbow’s  easy stretch, from wood to vale,
Sends out its borrowed colours, and the eyes
Remember the promise in legend old.

Green are the clothes of the Trees
And green the raiment of Earth ;
As fresh the promise grows.

Lively flow the Rivers of Life
That change in tune with Time.
And all is borne in Hope.

Far travels the Sun, what way He will ;
And fair the Moon that follows.
Gold and silver the promise lightens.

The image and likeness sees all these
And names them to existence.
And makes them known and real.

Jamie MacNab


Other ideas on rainbows.

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