A while I ago I posted a rant about rainbows. It was triggered by a comment that science ruins rainbows by taking away the magic. My argument in that post was that science adds to their beauty and magic because it allows you to “see” so much more in them.
A couple of days ago I was walking across a carpark and it had just started raining. And there was a stunning rainbow on the ground:
Is it less beautiful to me because I know how the colours come to be there? Because I know the oil film is only a fraction of a micrometre thick? Because I can imagine the waves reflecting at the two interfaces, with an added pirouette at the top? Because I could write the equations and calculate the thickness of the film from the colour of the ribbon? Of course not. But is it less beautiful because I know why those ribbons are there? That the oil leaked onto the earth-covering tarmac from a petrol-gulping car? Is it less beautiful because I know the oil will flow off the carpark, and into a stormwater drain, and out to a river, and the sea? Well, it’s hard to see only beauty in a blood-red bushfire moon. It’s hard to see an iris blooming in early winter and not feel some fear. And it’s hard to see a rainbow on an oil-slick and not feel slightly sickened. But are the colours less beautiful because of that? I don’t know.
The rain has raised these
bright ribbons from the tarmac –
water, oil, air:
three layers, seven colours –
can I deny their beauty?