August 22, 2007

The Unbelievable Being of Lightness

2007 1524 page17 capcientist Arthur Zajonc filled a box with light. But he did it so that none of the light reflected off any internal surface. Inside the box was light, and light alone. Now if you looked inside at the light, what would you see? What does light, in and of itself, look like?
Pure darkness, the darkness of empty space, that’s what you’d see. Unless reflecting off of something, or unless you stare directly into it, light is invisible.
Zajonc then took a rod and moved it through the darkness of the box. The rod itself, on the side from which the light entered, was illuminated. It looked as if a thin light was shining on just the rod, nothing else, even though light was everywhere in the box (as if filled with water). Only when it reflected off something (the rod) did it become visible. Otherwise, the light was invisible.
Before preaching at one of our colleges, I was warned that some students were shining laser pointers at speakers. Except for whoever happened to stare directly into it, no one would see the beam. Why? Because, again, light alone is invisible.
2007 1524 page17One final proof: On earth, sunlight pouring down on the sky turns it blue, grey, or red, depending upon the weather and time of day. On the moon, no matter how much sunlight pours down, if you looked up you’d see what you’d see in Zajonc’s box, pure darkness, the darkness of empty space. That’s because the moon has no atmosphere, no air, no moisture, and none of the gases and fumes that, reflecting sunlight, turn it into the panoply of color that reigns overhead here.
This idea, that light in and of itself is invisible, so astounded me that I had to call up a physicist, Ben Clausen at the Geoscience Research Institute in Loma Linda, California, just to make sure what I had just read was true. He assured me it was.
Light, invisible, unless reflected off something? I’m still processing this particle epiphany, still trying to pry some spiritual lesson from a notion that, if nothing else, shows how our senses leave us floundering along the surface of reality, nothing more.
If “God is light” (1 John 1:5)* and “God is love” (1 John 4:8), maybe this fact about light helps us understand better the triune nature of the Deity. Love, like light, needs to reflect off something in order to be made manifest. Love, alone, makes no sense; it needs an object to love and so, even before Creation, God’s love was reflected among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Or, perhaps, darkness isn’t necessarily the absence of light, but the absence of something to reflect light.
Or, perhaps, the idea that light not reflected is light not seen explains these words: “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). We can talk about love, and about what it means to love, but unless we pour out that love on others, it’s empty gesturing. How can love, with no object to love, be love? Only by loving others does the light become manifest; otherwise, light can be everywhere but it appears as darkness.
How interesting: the absence of light itself, or the absence of something lit by light, result in the same thing—darkness.
Zajonc’s box, filled with light yet full of darkness, continues to humble me. How can light be all around and yet not be seen unless reflected off something? Can reality really be so different from how it appears?
Maybe, though, the real lesson is found in these words: “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). Light is there, because love is from God. But unless we manifest it to others, it’s darkness—the darkness of empty space, the darkness of Zajonc’s box.
*Bible texts in this column are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He also appears on CLIFF!, a television program broadcast on the Hope Channel.