Chapter 14

The Properties of Light Icon

The principal properties of light are:

  1. It travels in all directions about bodies that are"luminous"
  2. It travels to any distance
  3. It travels in an instant
  4. It travels ordinarily in straight lines, as rays of light
  5. These rays coming from diverse points can come together at the same point
  6. These rays coming from the same point can go out toward different points
  7. These rays coming from diverse points and going toward diverse points, can pass through the same point without impeding one another
  8. They can also sometimes impede one another, to wit, when their force is very unequal and that of some of the rays is much greater than that of the others
  9. They can be diverted by reflection
  10. They can be diverted by refraction
  11. Their force can be increased
  12. Their force can be diminished, by the diverse dispositions or qualities of the matter that receives them

There are the principal qualities that one observes in light and that all agree with this action.

  1. Light moves in all directions around luminous bodies is due to the circular motion of their parts.

  2. It can extend to any distance.

For example, supposing that the parts of the heaven between AF and DG are already themselves disposed to advance toward E, as we have said they are, one can no longer doubt that the force with which the sun pushes those at ABCD should also extend out to E, even though there is a greater distance from the one to the other than there is from the highest stars of the firmament down to us.

  1. The parts of the aethereal air between AF and DG all touch and press one another as much as possible.

The action by which the first ones are pushed must pass in an instant out to the last, in just the same way that the force with which one pushes one end of a stick passes to the other end in the same instant; or rather (so you make no difficulty on the basis that the parts of the heaven are not attached to one another as are those of a stick) in just the same way that, as the small ball marked 50 falls toward 6, the others marked 10 also fall toward 6 at the same instant.

  1. Regarding the lines along which this action is communicated and which are properly the rays of light, one must note that they differ from the parts of the aethereal air through the intermediary of which this same action is communicated.

They are nothing material in the medium through which they pass, but they designate only in what direction and according to what determination the luminous body acts on the body it is illuminating.

Thus, one should not cease to conceive of them as exactly straight even though the parts of the second element that serve to transmit this action, i.e. light, can almost never be placed so directly one on the other that they compose completely straight lines. In just the same way, you can easily conceive that the hand A pushes the body E along the straight line AE even though it pushes it only through the intermediary of the stick BCD, which is twisted.

In the same way, the ball marked 1 pushes that marked 7 through the intermediary of the two marked 5 and 5 as directly as through the intermediary of the others, 2, 3, 4, 6.

5-6. Several of these rays, coming from diverse points, come together at the same point (or, coming from the same point, go out toward different points) without impeding or depending on one another.

Figure 6 shows several of them come from the points A, B, C, D and come together at point L. Several come from the single point D and extend, one toward E, another toward K, and thus toward an infinity of other places.

In the same way, the diverse forces with which one pulls the cords 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all come together in the pulley, and the resistance of this pulley extends to all the diverse hands that are pulling those cords.

  1. Those rays, coming from diverse points and going toward diverse points, can pass through the same point without impeding one another.

This is just as in Figure 6 the two rays AN and DL pass through point E, one must consider that each of the parts of the second element is capable of receiving several diverse motions at the same time. Thus, the part at point E can be pushed as a whole toward L by the action coming from the place on the sun marked D and, at the same time, toward N by that coming from the place marked A.

One can push the air at the same time from F toward G, from H toward I, and from K toward L, through the three tubes FG, HI, and KL, even if those tubes are so joined at point N that all the air that passes through the middle of each of them must necessarily also pass through the middle of the other two.

  1. This same comparison explains how a strong light impedes the effect of those that are weaker.

If one pushes the air much more strongly F through than through H or through K, it will not tend at all toward I or toward L, but only toward G.

9-10. I explained reflection and refraction through an [60] example of the motion of a ball instead of rays of light.

The only difference between the ball and light is that it requires time for the ball to travel. Whereas the light can travel in an instant.

When the rays of light get reflected when they meet a body that does not permit them to pass. This is like a ball being reflected when it strikes a wall.

Light get refracted in water just as a ball enters or leaves a body of water obliquely.

When they enter obliquely some place through which they can extend more or less easily than they can through that from which they are coming, they must also be diverted and undergo refraction at the point of that change.

11-12. The force of light is not only more or less great in each place according to the quantity of the rays that come together there, but it can also be increased or diminished by the diverse dispositions of the bodies in the places through which it passes.

In the same way, the speed of a ball or a stone one is pushing in the air can be increased by winds blowing in the same direction that it is moving and diminished by their contraries.

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