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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Cosmology and Human Evolution
Color Theory
GA 91

The Theory of Color and Light VI

9 August 1903, Berlin

When the light rays of a candle are reflected back from an object, a dark shadow image is produced by the object on the surface. If one lets the Sun rays pass through the candle rays, the dark shadow turns blue, according to the law that the dark seen through light gives blue. Apparent colors come about according to the law that light and dark produce colors at their boundaries where they meet.

But the eye itself also produces colors where objectively there are none. One can make the experiment with a disk, whose different circles are colored for the most part black, so that black jags project into the half which remained white, whose semicircles are thereby of unequal length. If this disk is rotated very quickly, colors of various shades will appear. At great speed, the disk could produce all colors of the rainbow. The colors are perceived subjectively in the eye as color nuances by the fast collisions of light and dark. The eye holds color impressions for a while. It has just received white and does not react as fast to black as the turned wheel demands. It will soon see black through light in all nuances of blue, and soon through the black impression see white in all nuances of yellow. Thus the eye has color sensations that are not objectively present.

This is because what now appears to us legitimately as color was once really experienced countless periods of time ago. The colors we perceive in substances are only differentiations of matter; they are living karma, the result of work. Prana created them by taking from the rays of light all that it needed to process its substances; and those it could not use, it threw back, and these rays thrown back by the substance, which were not absorbed, became visible to us as the apparent color. For example, prana needed the heat, absorbed its red rays and its chemical rays for chemical purposes, and threw back the green ones as useless, and now we see the plant world as green. An object appears to us as white when it throws back all the rays, as black when it absorbs all the rays. That is why a white garment is perceived as cooler, and a black one as warmer.

When man lived only in the Kamic (astral) world countless ages ago, he could not yet consider things as separate from himself. He was in them; he connected himself with them. He felt the red directly; it flowed through him as warmth. And so, like a memory, the red color awakens the feeling of warmth; the blue and violet as a color antipode produces the feeling of cold. Involuntarily, now, when the eye perceives a color, it demands its contrasting color, its complementary color: red demands green, yellow demands indigo, and so on. These are the colors that dissolve into white, and only such colors are pleasing to the eye, all others are displeasing.

The aesthetic effect of colors is deeply rooted in human nature. What we perceive kamically as lawfully subjective is a memory of an objective law in external existence in which man participates, which he carries within himself from times when he himself was not yet a separate being, but one with the whole cosmos.

What appears to us now lawfully as color, was once really experienced innumerable ages ago. The colors we perceive in substances are only differentiations of matter; they are living kama, the result of work. Prana (life force) created them.