Poe and Optics

Classical Optic Theory.


      Platonic Optic Theory

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       According to Platonic theory, the process of vision occurs when the eye emits rays of light, which impacts objects at varying intensities, causing vision. Platonic belief held that the eye is the “source of light [that] vision results from the impact on objects of ocular beams emanating from the eye… light rays [are derived] from luminous objects and that vision is the results of the reflection of the images of these objects upon the watery surface of the eye. (Scheick)” In other words, the source of light is from the eye, and when the light hits an object, the reflections hit the surface of the eye where the information can then be interpreted by the brain.


Aristotelian Optic Theory

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Aristotle's theory of optics was significantly more accurate than Plato's.  Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that objects emitted light, and that the light detects this emitted light.  While he failed to grasp that most objects are visualized via light reflected from sources, unlike Plato he realized that the eyes themselves are not a source.  Further, he believed that the watery surface of the eye created a kind of screen onto which light could be projected.


Newtonian Optic Theory

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       Newton had the idea that light was not solely for the purpose of sight. This was shown by Newton when he created a prism which separated light into particles which could not be further reduced. 

       “Light was only a means of sight and so was nothing itself…(Scheick)" This idea suggested that light was undulatory rather than corpuscular and wave-like in motion, which was the idea that Plato proposed. An explanation of sight according to the Newtonian view stated that “... a luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether. The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina; these again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation (Scheick).”