Thinking Dark Anew
Dark(ness) is Our blindness To other lights
Light by its gradations always speaks of its other, the dark. But as opposed to light which we assume we know the nature of, the nature of dark remains elusive. A key reason for this is that dark is often defined in terms of (absence of) light, and light in turn in relation to the sensibilities of our vision, which makes the demarcation line between light and dark rather arbitrary and difficult to define.
I explore the nature of dark by considering a set of thresholds of dark and ask what the limit of such thresholds may be. Starting with the limitations of the human vision, and those of other species – as well as the physical properties of the electromagnetic waves of which the visible part, light, constitutes a very small part - I define the notion of relative darkness, in relation to any limited vision. The observer-dependence of this definition raises the interesting question of possibility of absolute darkness - i.e., dark(ness) for all possible visions, whether biological or artificial, terrestrial, or extra-terrestrial - defined as the absence of electromagnetic waves across their entire range of wavelengths.
I argue that as opposed to relative darkness that does exist in the natural world, at least within the limits of the sensitivity of our (or any other limited) vision, absolute darkness does not naturally occur in the Universe at present. Furthermore, strictly speaking, it cannot be constructed artificially through any physical process which involves a finite number of steps. I explore the possibility of absolute darkness occurring in the very far future of the Universe and argue that only asymptotically in time (assuming the Universe is future eternal), can the Universe possibly tend towards such a state. But long before such epochs the Universe is likely to be devoid of any observers, with its physics becoming more and more uncertain given our present knowledge.
I also briefly discuss the colour black and ask whether absolute black can exist in the Universe. I argue that this is similarly unlikely.
Despite the observer-independent nature of the discussion here, dark (and black) carry deep psychological and metaphoric meanings for us. The conceptual realisation of the impossibility of absolute dark in our Universe, where all possible visions would fail, can have great symbolic significance, as well as reminding us of the vast vistas open to other possible visions, that forever remain closed to our eyes
Adams, F. C.; Laughlin, G., `A dying universe: The long-term fate and evolution of astrophysical objects’, Reviews of Modern Physics, vol. 69, no. 2, 1997, pp. 337–372.
N. Aghanim, Y. Akrami, M. Ashdown, J. Aumont, C. Baccigalupi, M. Ballardini, A. J. Banday, R. B. Barreiro, N. Bartolo et al. (172 more) `Planck 2018 results - VI. Cosmological parameters’, Astronomy & Astrophysics, vol. 641, 2020, A6.
Baden, T and Osorio, D., `The retinal basis of vertebrate color vision’, Annual Review of Vision Science, vol. 5, 2019, pp. 177-200.
Badiou, A. (2019) Black, The brilliance of non-color. Polity Press.
Christopoulos, M., Karakantza, E.D. and Levaniouk, O. (Eds) (2010), Light and Darkness in Ancient Greek Myth and Religion. Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Cronin, T.W., Douglas, R.H, `Seeing and doing: how vision shapes animal behaviour’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, vol. 369, 2014, 20130030.
Cui, K. and Wardle B. L., `Breakdown of Native Oxide Enables Multifunctional, Free-Form Carbon Nanotube–Metal Hierarchical Architectures’, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, vol. 11, no. 38, 2019, pp. 35212-35220.
Desmond Ramirez, M., Speiser, D., Sabrina Pankey, M., & Oakley, T., `Understanding the dermal light sense in the context of integrative photoreceptor cell biology’, Visual Neuroscience, vol. 28, no. 4, 2011, pp. 265-279.
Dyson, F., `Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe’, Rev. Mod. Phys., vol. 51, 1979, pp. 447-460.
Freese, K., Kinney, W.H., `The Ultimate Fate of Life in an Accelerating Universe’, Physics Letters B, vol. 558, no. 1-2, 2003, pp. 1-8.
de Grasse Tyson, N.; Tsun-Chu Liu, C.; Irion, R. (2000), One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos. Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 978-0309064880.
Gross, C., `The fire that comes from the eye’, The Neuroscientist, vol. 5, 1999, pp. 58-64.
Hawking, S. W., `Black hole explosions?’, Nature, vol. 248, no. 5443, 1974, pp. 30–31.
Hecht, S., Schlaer, S. & Pirenne, M. H., `Energy, quanta and vision’, J. Opt. Soc. Am., vol. 38, 1942, pp.196–208.
Heeck, J., `How Stable is the Photon?’, Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 111, 2013, 021801.
Holmes, R. et al., `Determining the Lower Limit of Human Vision Using a Single-Photon Source’, in Research in Optical Sciences, OSA Technical Digest (online) (Optical Society of America, 2014), paper QTu2A.2.
Hooper, D., `Life Versus Dark Energy: How An Advanced Civilization Could Resist the Accelerating Expansion of the Universe’, Phys. Dark Univ., 2018, vol. 22, pp. 74-79.
Jacobs, G.H., `Evolution of colour vision in mammals’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, vol. 364, 2009, pp. 2957–2967.
Krauss, L.M. and Starkman, G. D., `Life, The Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe’, Scientific American, vol. 281, no. 5, 1999, pp. 58-65.
Leanhardt, A.E., Pasquini, T.A., Saba, M., Schirotzek, A., Shin, Y., Kielpinski, D., Pritchard, D. E. , Ketterle, W., `Cooling Bose-Einstein Condensates Below 500 Picokelvin’, Science, vol. 301, Issue 5639, 2003, pp. 1513-1515.
Lemmelijn, B., `Light and darkness: from reality to literature’, Scriptura, vol. 111, 2012, pp. 555-568.
Masanes, L., Oppenheim, J. A., `General derivation and quantification of the third law of thermodynamics’, Nat Commun, vol. 8, 2017, 14538.
Osorio, D. and Vorobyev, M., A review of the evolution of animal colour vision and visual communication signals, Vision Research, vol. 48, 2008, pp. 2042–2051.
Sahai, R. and Nyman, L.Å., `The Boomerang Nebula: The Coldest Region of the Universe?’, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, vol. 487, 1997, pp. 916-920.
Schwab, I.R., `The evolution of eyes: major steps. The Keeler lecture 2017: centenary of Keeler Ltd’, Eye, vol. 32, 2018, pp. 302–313.
Sorrensen, R. (2008), Seeing Dark Things, Oxford University Press.
Stoddard, M.C., Eyster, H. N., Hogan, B.G., Morris, D.H., Soucy, E.R. and Inouye, D.W., `Wild hummingbirds discriminate nonspectral colours’, PNAS, vol. 117, no. 26, pp.15112-15122.
Tavakol, R., `World without Colour and its Photographs & Optical Images’, Philosophy of Photography, vol. 11, nos. 1-2, 2020, pp. 79-97.
Tinsley, J., Molodtsov, M., Prevedel, R. et al., `Direct detection of a single photon by humans’, Nat Commun, vol. 7, 2016, 12172.
Tomassoni, R., Galetta, G., & Treglia, E., `Psychology of Light: How Light Influences the Health and Psyche’, Psychology, vol. 6, 2015, pp. 1216-1222.
Williams, D.L., `Light and the evolution of vision’, Eye, vol. 30, 2016, pp. 173–178.
Zubairy M.S. (2016) A Very Brief History of Light. In: Al-Amri M., El-Gomati M., Zubairy M. (eds). Optics in Our Time. Springer, Cham.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Reza Tavakol
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.