my little shoebox (what is light?)


My experience in Thailand, especially at the temple brought back the dream I had of my father and his mysterious message: light brings the heart into this world. I studied it as I would a mathematical problem. (Okay let’s be honest I stayed with it longer.) Perhaps I thought it held a key to my Waldorf experience. But I wasn’t sure if I was trying to solve something that wasn’t really a problem at all.

During that last Waldorf teacher training year there was a segment on teaching sciences to 7th and 8th graders. I was excited about the different experiments or ways in which to teach light, color, electricity, gravity and magnetism. I felt like I had learned more during those days than I had during my entire childhood.

So the dream came first, then conducting the science experiment for graduate school and then the realization that both were related. Well. . .

We’re heard it said that light covers darkness, that is, if it is dark all you need do is turn on the light. But darkness as it turns out, is not simply the absence of light. True darkness is the absence of objects, of things and beings. Darkness is the absence of stuff like in the black hole phenomenon. The reason why it’s called a black hole is because there is nothing in there, light does not exist because there is nothing for the light to shine on.

Now isn’t that interesting?

The only reason why we see light in the first place is because there are many things that surround us all the time. In other words, there is plenty of stuff for light to illuminate. If a room is dark you can’t see the table and chairs and pictures hanging on the wall but if you turn on the light you see everything in the room.

And we mistakenly think: I see light. I see that the light bulb is sending out its beams. That’s light, right? Wrong. The light bulb may be the source of light but that’s not light. We only see the light because it shining out from the bulb.

Light needs something to shine on in order for us to see light.

When the sun rises it spreads its rays over the landscape, the trees, the grass and animals, and we see the world unfold. This is because the sun has a world to shine down on. When we walk with a candle in our hand, the candlelight reveals the room as we go because there is a staircase in front of us and a house to illuminate. Even an empty room is still a room for the light to seek out. That is why in the experiment you have to create nothingness so you can witness for yourself that light cannot exist in pure darkness.

So don’t take my word for it. Click here for the pdf science experiment and do it yourself. The experiment is easy and inexpensive to do. You’ll also impress your students and your friends. So important to constantly “1-UP” your friends.

Find a good shoebox, use flat black paint to cover the inside lid and box and poke holes in the indicated areas. Follow the directions! And grab that friend while you are at it. It will be easier. Slip into that completely dark closet or room. Not a peek of light!

With a strong flashlight have your friend shine the light into (the paper towel roll that is connected to) the box while you peek inside. What do you see? If you’ve done it correctly with no cracks or unpainted areas, you won’t see anything. You simply will not see a beam of light.

But when you lower a pencil into the box from the top hole you will see a pencil appear. Why? Because light now has something to shine on. It can’t shine on blackness, nothingness or emptiness. Light is like our eyes, eyes need something to see. If you’ve ever been in a completely dark environment you know how bizarre it feels to have your eyes wide open and see nothing.

So what is light? The gift of God’s wisdom? I’ve heard it said that God is love therefore God is light. God is love and light. He loves (shines on) all creatures even if you’re stupid and that’s why we say God is great. I figure.

Light is neutral. It shows no sympathy or antipathy. It illuminates the garbage as well as the gifts. It shines on ugly, beautiful, big and small, goodness and evil and so I started thinking it is up to us to decide what to create, destroy, erect and tear down. It’s up to us to decide what the sun will shine on each day that it inevitably arises.

All this time we thought darkness was the problem but truly it is what light is revealing and illuminating that we don’t like. Darkness is not to blame. Darkness is a snow-like reprieve - it blankets. Why do we fear the dark? The darkness holds possibilities and rest for our eyes. When we no longer fear the dark, we no longer fear a perceived lack, the unknown or our imaginations. Light just lets us know what we have done. And darkness gives us a break.

So from a scientific point of view light does bring the heart into this world. And what can the heart represent but good and kind deeds; the heart of a person trying to push though, be brave or endure. The heart can symbolize many things and to say someone has heart is indeed a high compliment. Perhaps my father’s message was take heart or maybe he was pointing the way to the notebook that had the science experiment in it. I don’t know.

The fact that we give light something to shine on gave me a lot to think about especially in terms of teaching and what it means to be a teacher. Instead of the emphasis being on light or dark, things took center stage. Things we create, things we think and things we do. And things we choose to focus on.

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