What Isaac Newton’s Colour Wheel Can Teach You About Light, Colour, and Optical Illusions

What Isaac Newton’s Colour Wheel Can Teach You About Light, Colour, and Optical Illusions

Isaac Newton is widely considered one of the greatest scientists of all time. In his famous 1666 book “Opticks”, he outlined the first ever colour wheel to describe the relationship between light and colour. Since then, the concept of the colour wheel has been used in art and design for centuries, and it continues to be a valuable tool for those looking to understand colour, light, and optical illusions. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what Isaac Newton’s colour wheel can teach us about the way we perceive light and colour, and how it can help us create our optical illusions.

The basics of light and colour

The most basic definition of light is that it is a type of energy that travels in waves and is composed of different wavelengths. A wavelength of light corresponds to a particular colour and this is how we perceive colour. Colour is simply the visible spectrum of light we see with our eyes. Colours have their wavelengths, and these wavelengths can be combined in many ways to create different shades and hues. The three primary colours of light are red, green, and blue, and any colour can be created by combining different amounts of these primary colours. The scientific colour wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 as an explanation of the relationship between light and colour. This colour wheel uses the primary colours (red, green and blue) as its base and builds upon them to create other colours. Newton believed that the colour wheel was a visual representation of the colour spectrum and he used it to demonstrate how different colours could be created by adding or subtracting different parts of the spectrum.

How the eye perceives colour

The rods and cones in our retina allow us to see different colours, while the brain is responsible for the final interpretations of the information. Cone cells enable us to detect colour and movement, and rods just detect movement. There are three different types of cones. Combined, these primary colours create any colour in existence. In response, light is either absorbed by the various cells on the retina, called cones or converted into electrochemical energy. Thereafter, the information is sent to the brain. There, the brain reads this data, interprets it and turns it into an image. This final process occurs with the combination of signals from three types of cone cells, the blue, red, and green cone cells. This allows for what we call the perception of a single colour sensation. In addition to the rods and cones, there is also a layer of specialised nerve cells in the retina known as ganglion cells. These cells are involved in creating the perceived sense of colour by interpreting the complex of colours detected by the rods and cones. In other words, they play a role in our brain constructing the colour image that comes from the light entering the eye.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel was created by English scientist Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 when he was experimenting with light’s properties. In Newton’s colour wheel, the relationship between colours is shown in a circle. There are three primary colours (red, yellow, and blue), three secondary colours (green, purple, and orange), and six tertiary colours (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green). Designers and artists who want to create visually appealing works can benefit greatly from using the colour wheel as a visual representation of light and colour. They will be able to achieve specific effects by understanding the relationship between colours on the wheel. Those interested in learning about light and colour should also familiarise themselves with the colour wheel.

Optical illusions

First, consider the optical illusion known as the checker shadow illusion. This illusion occurs when we perceive a grey square surrounded by smaller white squares as being darker than a grey square surrounded by larger black squares, even though the greys are the same shade. This occurs because of the contrast between the black and white squares, and how our brains interpret the colour of the grey.
The opposite illusion is called the “Titchener circles”. This illusion occurs when we perceive two circles of different sizes as being the same size, even though they are not. This occurs because of how our brains interpret the difference in light intensity between the two circles. To understand optical illusions like these, it helps to look at Isaac Newton’s colour wheel. The colour wheel allows us to see how light and darkness interact with each other, and how our brains interpret those interactions. This can help us to understand why our brains can be tricked into seeing something different than what it is.
By understanding the science behind optical illusions, we can gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of our visual system and how our brains perceive and interpret colour and light.

Final words

The colour wheel of Isaac Newton is an amazing tool for learning about light, colour, and optical illusions. By exploring the different hues, tints, and shades, we gain a deeper understanding of how colour influences our perceptions. A colour wheel from the Education Harbour can give you a head start when it comes to comprehending colour theory and light. By exploring and experimenting with various colour combinations, you can find out how they affect the visual impact of the design. When you continue to learn more about light and colour, you will be able to create visuals that stand out.

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