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Daily Archives: May 3, 2008

On dividing the rainbow

RainbowOverPotala

That beautiful if rather obvious propaganda image comes from the International Campaign for Tibet and is linked to a story about the photograph, but that is not my main concern today. Instead I want to draw your attention to the rainbow itself. There is of course a significance tied to the Abrahamic tradition’s flood stories, but that is not so much my concern either. Look at the rainbow. Do you see continuum or division? In point of fact there is only continuum; the colours we separate and name are arbitrarily separated by language itself; anyone with even a little knowledge of a number of languages knows this is so. Mandarin, for example, renders the blue-green part of the spectrum quite differently from English.

Now of course some kind of classification/division is inevitable as we could not practise science or indeed engage in everyday life and thought without it. It could be said that without schemata of various kinds we would go quite mad. But our schemata also have the power to drive us mad, or at least to separate us from the way things really are; the more wedded we are to them the crazier, and the more dangerous, we are liable to become.

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