prism

Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

broken II, 420

NC I, 16 (totality is broken up by the medium of time), 31 (in time, meaning is broken into an incalculable diversity, which can come to a radical unity only in the religious center of human existence)

focus I, 26
light II, 493, 495
prism I, 64-66

NC I, 99-102
NC II, 561

“De Structuur der rechtsbeginselen en de methode der rechtswetenschap in het licht der wetsidee” (1930)

ray
refraction I, 66, 70-71, 73, 81
II, 407, 408, 492NC II, 532 (time refracts the totality of meaning); 561

Dooyeweerd uses the symbol of a prism to explain his cosmology (I, 64-65; NC I, 99-102). He compares the numerous aspects of our experience to the colours that are refracted by a prism. The unrefracted light of the sun contains all the colours but these are colours are actually differentiated only in the refracted spectrum. Each of the colours exists in coherence with all the others, but none of the colours can be derived from the other. Dooyeweerd cautions us not to interpret this symbol in a physical sense; the world is not a physical emanation from God. Dooyeweerd rejects every idea of analogy of Being, refusing to see God in terms of any creaturely reality, such as the physical. But the prism symbol shows his belief that the diversity of the world in some way derives from and relates to a unity or “totality” of meaning. This totality is beyond time, since cosmic time is the prism that refracts reality into its diversity.

The unrefracted light is the time-transcending totality of meaning of our cosmos with respect to its cosmonomic side and its subject-side. As this light has its origin in the source of light, so the totality of meaning of our cosmos has its origin in the Arché through whom and to whom it has been created (NC I, 102).

See my discussion of issues relating to this temporal refraction in my article “

Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy,” (2006). The article discusses how the image of the prism should not be regarded as a monistic view of reality, but as a way of explaining temporal individuation from out of an undifferentiated supratemporal totality. I relate this issue to the Wisdom tradition within which Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is situated, and show how other writers also use the prism image to explain temporal individuation.

Dooyeweerd’s first use of the prism is in the article where he first speaks of cosmic time, in the 1930 bundle Wetenschappelijke Bijdragen

De Calvinistische wetsidee doet heel onzen tijdelijken kosmos zien als een organischen samenhang van in eigen kring souvereine wets- en subjectsfuncties, die vanaf de getalsfunctie tot de meest gecompliceerde geestesfunctie, de geloofsfunctie, een zinbreking zijn in den kosmischen tijd van den onvergankelijken, religieuzen, all tijdelijkheid transcendeerenden wortel van het menschengeslacht in zijn onder-worpenheid aan den eeuwigen religieuzen zin der wet: den dienst van God.[…] De kosmische tijd is, symbolisch uitgedrukt, het prisma, waaardoor de onvergankelijke, boventijdelijke religieuze zin haar straalbreking vindt in de zinfuncties der in eigen kring souvereine weskringen (“De Structuur der rechtsbeginselen en de methode der rechtswetenschap in het licht der wetsidee,” 232-33, Verburg 123-24).

[TheCalvinistic law-Idea sees our whole temporal cosmos as anorganic coherence of law-functions and subject-functions, sovereign in their own sphere, from the arithmetical function to the most complicated normative [spiritual] function, the function of faith; they are a refraction of meaning in cosmic time from the unchanging, religious, time-transcending root of the human race in its subjected-ness to the eternal religious meaning of the law: the service of God.[…] Cosmic time is, symbolically speaking, the prism by which the unchanging, supratemporal religious meaning finds its refraction of rays in the meaning-functions of the law-spheres sovereign in their own sphere.]

Dooyeweerd uses the prism analogy to show not only the different modal aspects of our life, but also of individuality itself, and the emergence of individuality structures from a central unity:

…de integrale tijdelijke uitdrukkingsvorm van den geest des menschen die zich uit geen der modale aspecten ven den tijdshorizon laat uitsluiten. Zoals het zonlicht door het prisma gebroken wordt in de zeven kleurengammas van het lichtspectrum, zo breekt zich de geestelijke wortel-eenheid van’s menschen existentie door den tijdshorizon in de rijke verscheidenheid van modale aspecten en individualiteits-structuren van het lichamelijk bestaan. (“Individualiteits-structuur en Thomistisch substantie-begrip,” (Philosophia Reformata IX (1944), 33)

[…the integral temporal expression of the spirit of man that does not let itself be excluded from any of the modal aspects of the temporal horizon. Just as the sunlight is broken by the prism into the seven colours of the spectrum, so the spiritual root-unity of human existence is broken by the temporal horizon into the rich diversity of modal aspects and individuality structures of bodily existence]

Dooyeweerd says that the prism is ‘a very old symbol’ (NC I, 101). But he does not indicate from whom he obtained the analogy. Plotinus and Eckhart use the symbol, but only in the sense of a variety of rays of light coming from one source, and not in the sense of a spectrum of independent colours. The analogy of the prism must post-date Newton’s discovery that a prism breaks up light into the spectrum.

All human experience remains bound to a perspective horizon in which the transcendent light of eternity must force its way through time. In this horizon we beocme aware of the transcendent fulness of the meaning of this life only in the light of the Divine revelation refracted through the prism of time (NC II, 561).

The Prism in Baader’s Writings

The very title of one of Baader’s edited works contains a reference to rays of light: Die Weltalter: Lichtstrahlen aus Franz von Baader’s Werken. Now this title is not Baader’s own, but it does reflect the view that his editor Hoffman had of his works.

Baader himself uses the analogy of a prism breaking light into colours. He says, ‘Das klare Licht der Gottheit bricht sich in einer Vielfalt von Farben’ (Werke 8, 82; cited by Schumacher 41). He also says that Wisdom is the magic mirror that contains all colours and forms (Werke 1, 186). to say that true humanity is not individual. No individual is completely and perfectly Man. The true humanity, or the divine within us, is divided among all. The one divine ray is broken into millions of colours; these are only fractions of the same Oneness and Image of God (Weltalter 52). Susini says that in Baader’s thought, each individual being is like a central point, receiving from all the other beings outside of the infinite periphery that constitutes his horizon, all that he can receive, and he sends in turn all that he can send. But for all the different particular centers, there is a general center, and a principal ray uniting each the first to the second. All the force of the influences of each individual on the others is channeled in the ray towards the center and then sent again to the points. Everything that is emanated from God is directed eternally towards Him, and nothing perishes of what He has expressed, and He is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28) (Werke 9, 42; Susini 107).

Humanity’s original task was to reverse these rays of the prism by uniting them:

Das ursprüngliche zeitliche Werk des Urmenschen war, all Strahlen dieser zentralen Aktion (des Wortes) nach und nach in seinem Wesen zu vereinigen und also das Wort in sich Mensch werden zu lassen. Ein Menschwerdung, welche, wie man weiß, Gott selbst übernahm, nachdem der Mensch sie vernachlässigte (Zeit, 39 ft. 20; Werke 2, 89)

[The original temporal work of original Man was to gradually unite within its being all rays of this central action (of the Word), and therefore to let the Word become human in itself. A becoming human which, as we know, God Himself undertook, after humans neglected it.]

The collection and return of rays to their source is an idea that is similar to Lurianic Kabbalah, with which Baader was familiar. See also sparks.

In another passage, Baader refers to diversity out of unity, and refers to multiplicity of colours. He then says,

Mit andern Worten: das Leben wird der Einheit auf solche Weise entfaltet und in der Zahl der Legbensglieder vervielfacht, verdoppelt und reflexirt zurückgegeben, und der Sinn und Zweck des Organism war eben kein andrer, als dieser Reflex, durch dessen Vollendung das Eine mit seiner realisirten Lebensfülle (Vielheit) ganz in allen einzelnen Gliedern und ganz in sich selber lebt.” (Philosophische Schriften I, 89)

[In other words: the meaning and goal of each organism is no other than this reflex, through this fulfillment of the One with its realized fullness of life (multiplicity) in each individual limb and completely in itself ].

Other Writers

The analogy of the prism has been used by other writers to show that diversity arises only in the temporal world. Rudolf Otto says that Meister Eckhart used the analogy of the prism in a mystical way in referring to the unity of all things beyond time:

In space and time the One cannot also be the other; objects fall into distinction. Let me however conceive them without this dispersing prism, then should I see them in their identity. (Mysticism East and West, 83; Otto does not give a reference).

The prism analogy is sometimes used to illustrate that the only true reality is the One reality. For example, Otto uses the prism analogy to explain the advaitic thought of the Hindu advaitic philosopher Shankara:

As the one homogeneous, white light, seen through a prism, breaks up into seven colors, and as the basis of the existence of the seven colors is not the prism alone, but is chiefly the white light and its own nature, so, in the prism of the Avidya [ignorance] the one “only Being” breaks itself up into Ishvara[personal God] with soul and world. But the reason that it breaks, and must so break, lies unquestionably in “Being” itself.” That is also apparent in Shankara’s Maya-doctrine. Brahman is the great Mayin, the Magician who “deludes” the man without knowledge; the magician is the reason for the world’s appearance in its present form to the person without insight. (Mysticism East and West, 129).

In this quotation, what breaks up the one true Being into the diversity of the world is our ignorance of our true nature. The true reality is one, and this world is maya. In my book on Abhishiktananda I have shown that other Hindu sources regard maya not as illusion but as the creative power of God

St. Gregory of Nazianzus also makes reference to a a rainbow of colours:

Now as, amidst a clearing, rain-laden air,
meeting the clouds with circulating reflection,
the sun’s ray unwinds a many-colored rainbow,
while, from above, all the ethereal element gleams
with manifold circles, which break up further out:
such also is the nature of the lights which radiate always
from the highest light, illuminating lesser intellects with their beams. (On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, p. 57)

Frederik van Eeden also makes a reference to a prism splitting white light into the many colours of the diversity of the world.

In his Foreword to Gesellschaftslehre (a book owned and carefully read by Dooyeweerd), Othmar Spann refers to true knowledge in the social sciences as related to both totality and coherence, using the image of light spreading from its focal point into individuation:

…wo das Wissen aus dem Brennpunkt der Ganzheit, aus dem über den Teilen stehenden Zusammenhange heraus auf das Einzelne Licht verbreitet.

[…where knowledge spreads from out of the focal point of totality, out of the Coherence that stands over the parts, into the individuated light.]

Revised June 29/06