When my Mum recalls the temperament of my younger self, she explains with vividly recollected exasperation how I would argue the toss about anything whatsoever: ‘you’d argue that black was white’. I can’t deny that this is pretty consistent with my own recollection and I don’t doubt I was very annoying; it took a succession of girlfriends to (mostly) iron out this crease in my personality. But when I find myself in a boring conference paper, or quite often even in an interesting one, I can’t help thinking about how, actually, black IS white. (Not just to prove my mum wrong! But because it’s really spacy!) Even though if I’d engaged my brain I’d have known this ever since my first year of physics at secondary school, if not before, I never really appreciated it until I was sitting in a particularly boring seminar back when I worked at Helsinki, and I was looking at the black writing on the white powerpoint slides, and I realised that in fact the slides were entirely white. Ever since then, I have found this a source of unending fascination, and the time when you can really appreciate it is when you’re at a conference, because you look at a lot of powerpoint slides.

A few people are instantly okay with this concept, but most people are, like, what are you talking about you nutter?

So, imagine you’re looking at a white powerpoint slide with black writing being projected on a screen. The writing’s black, the slide is white (put them together and you learn to read and write). It’s obvious to anyone who looks at it. Anyone you ask would say the writing’s black. Some of the rooms being used at the conference have blackboards and everything, and if you compare the colour of the black writing with the black blackboard, they both definitely look black.

Or say you’re at the cinema watching the opening sequence of Star Wars, and the camera is panning along that vast grey Imperial star destroyer against a backdrop of Space. There’s no-one alive who wouldn’t at that moment tell you that Space is black.

But the writing on the powerpoint slide is white. When you watch Star Wars at the cinema, Space is white. Darth Vader’s helmet? It’s white! Look away from the powerpoint slide to the screen it’s being projected onto–unless the projection happens to fit the screen exactly, you can see the screen’s colour around the edge, right, by the ambient light of the room. Or, if they give you a chance, look at the cinema screen before they switch on the projector. It’s white. The screen is white. You see? You can project white light; you can project red, orange, yellow, green, blue and whatever colour light; but you can’t project black. It’s just the absence of light. The black writing, Space, Darth Vader’s helmet, those are all just bits of the screen where the projector isn’t casting any light. Those bits are where the screen is just left to be its normal, everyday, innocent colour: white!

It doesn’t matter how boring a presentation is: as long as there are some powerpoint slides with black on I can look at them all day in wonder and astonishment. I can see full well that the screen is white. The writing is black. But the writing is the same colour as the screen. White is black, black is white.



About alarichall
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6 Responses to How BLACK is WHITE!

  1. Richard says:

    That is quite spacy, but so obvious. You’ve just enlightened me Alaric, thank you.

  2. ExGradStudent says:

    “But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
    “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.”
    ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    So – be careful when you cross the road, will ya? 🙂

  3. greedycroc says:

    I am not going to mention this to my quantum optics theoretical physicist husband. The potential for argument here is probably weightier than any amount of dark matter, and we’d all be whirled screaming into an abyss of physics philosophy in no time… I have to say though, I do like blackboards. It’s comforting to know that black is really a dusty sort of grey. Unless it’s green.

  4. greedycroc says:

    (That’s me by the way – Amy *waving* )

  5. You know, I’ve used the same phenomenon in philosophy seminars, to demonstrate that phenomenal concepts are relational, and hence not irreducable 😀

  6. Ann Hall says:

    Now I know why I gave up arguing with you! Mum x

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