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Connect the Dots: Sir Isaac Newton, the Spectrum and our Musical Scale

Does your mind ever latch onto something by surprise? And then, before you know what’s hit you, it’s rambled off in a different direction.  Well, this pattern seems to be increasing with me at the speed of light.  Light?  Hey, that’s part of what I want to talk about.  With the spring showers and the bright sunlight that sometime shares the sky at the same time, this is one of the best times of the year for spotting rainbows.

So, when my mind latched on the idea of “rainbows” I did a little research.  I learned that in about the year 1300 a great deal was learned about rainbows by Bacon.  Now, when I see anything about BACON, those little synapses in my brain really start firing.  After the initial disappointment of finding this Bacon wasn’t the type I was hoping for, it actually referred to the scientist Roger Bacon, I read on.

Roger Bacon’s studies contributed to the work of Sir Isaac Newton—the English scientist who, among other great advances in thinking, wrote, in 1704, about how a prism can be used to split white light (not “White Lightening”) into the spectrum of colors that occurs naturally in rainbows.  Beautiful, I made it back to rainbows!

Now, did you ever notice that there are no nice, black lines separating the different colors in a spectrum or rainbow?  No.  They just transition, ever-so-gradually, from one color to the next.  We could actually divide the spectrum into tens, or even hundreds, of colors.  But Newton picked seven.  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet….or, the famous mnemonic aide, “Roy G. Biv.”

Why seven?

Here is where my brain took another detour.
I learned that Newton had a special interest in the number seven.  There were, of course, seven days in the week.  And there were seven visible objects in our solar system at that time (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon).

But, for him, the most important reason was that there were seven notes in the musical scale.

There you have it.  Music, art, nature…  all tied together.

Now I’m gonna move from my desk to the kitchen and get to work on that other kind of BACON !

Submitted by Ken Carper, NHIMA President