For Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), a study of colors expresses the morphological and metamorphic processes of the active natural world, energized by the sunlight, that grow, live, and crystallize into ever new forms. Rather than focusing on static objects, Goethe saw the natural—and social—world as an expression of ongoing processes. Colors are, above all, actively developing components of a world in fux, not fxed entities. Newton, he wrote, was wrong in that he studied light as if it were an isolated feature and not an interactive part of the world. Newton's breakdown of white light into the spectrum of colors is accurate, of course; what Goethe recognized, in contrast, is the more complex and muddied realm of perception and relations between and among things and observers, studied in quantum mechanics and the new materialisms. In other words, these felds and Goethe postulate that our physical world and human existence are part of manifold engagements between energy, matter, living things, and mental perception. We are never truly "outside" of the system that we study, though most of empirical science assumes that we are or could be or at least should strive to be when undertaking objective studies. With this vision, Goethe offers what I call a proto-"ecological theory of colors" at the beginning of the newly defned geological era of the Anthropocene when human activities have left traces on environmental systems across the entire Earth.


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pp. 115-124
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