OPTICS

, the science of vision; including Catoptries, and Dioptrics; and even Perspective; as also the whole doctrine of light and colours, and all the phenomena of visible objects.

Optics, in its more extensive acceptation, is a mixed mathematical science; which explains the manner in which vision is performed in the eye; treats of sight in general; gives the reasons of the several modifications or alterations, which the rays of light undergo in the eye; and shews why objects appear sometimes greater, sometimes smaller, sometimes more distinct, sometimes more confused, sometimes nearer and sometimes more remote. In this extensive signification it is considered by Newton, in his excellent work called Optics.

Indeed Optics makes a considerable branch of natural philosophy; both as it explains the laws of nature, according to which vision is performed; and as it accounts for abundance of physical phenomena, otherwise inexplicable.

The Principal Authors and Discoveries in Optics, are the following:

Euclid seems to be the earliest author on Optics that we have. He composed a treatise on the ancient Optics and catoptrics; dioptrics being less known to the Ancients; though it was not quite unnoticed by them, for among the phenomena, at the beginning of that work, Euclid remarks the effect of bringing an object into view, by refraction, in the bottom of a vessel, by pouring water into it, which could not be seen over the edge of the vessel, before the water was poured in; and other authors speak of the then known effects of glass globes &c, both as burning glasses, and as to bodies seen through them. Euclid's work however is chiefly on catoptrics, or reflected rays; in which he shews, in 31 propositions, the chief properties of them, both in plane, convex, and concave surfaces, in his usual geometrical manner; beginning with that concerning the equality of the angles of incidence and reflection, which he demonstrates; and in the last proposition, shewing the effect of a concave speculum, as a burning glass, when exposed to the rays of the sun.

The effects of burning glasses, both by refraction and reflection, are noticed by several others of the Ancients, and it is probable that the Romans had a method of lighting their sacred fire by some such means. Aristophanes, in one of his comedies, introduces a person as making use of a globe filled with water to cancel a bond that was against him, by thus melting the wax of the feal. And if we give but a small degree of credit to what some ancient historians are said to have written concerning the exploits of Archimedes, we shall be induced to think that he constructed some very powerful burning mirrors. It is even allowed that this eminent geometrician wrote a treatise on the subject of them, though it be not now extant; as also concerning the appearance of a ring or circle under water, and therefore could not have been ignorant of the common phenomena of refraction. We find many questions concerning such optical appearances in Aristotle. This author was also sensible that it is the reflection of light from the atmosphere which prevents total darkness after the sun sets, and in places where he does not shine in the day time. He was also of opinion, that rainbows,| halos, and mock suns, were all occasioned by the reflection of the sunbeams in different circumstances, by which an imperfect image of his body was produced, the colour only being exhibited, and not his proper figure.

The Ancients were not only acquainted with the more ordinary appearances of refraction, but knew also the production of colours by refracted light. Seneca fays, that when the light of the sun shines through an angular piece of glass, it shews all the colours of the rainbow. These colours however, he says, are false, such as are seen in a pigeon's neck when it changes its position; and of the same nature he says is a speculum, which, without having any colour of its own, assumes that of any other body.

It appears also, that the Ancients were not unacquainted with the magnifying power of glass globes filled with water, though it does not appear that they knew any thing of the reason of this power: and it is supposed that the ancient engravers made use of a glass globe filled with water to magnify their figures, that they might work to more advantage.

Ptolomy, about the middle of the second century, wrote a considerable treatise on Optics. The work is lost; but from the accounts of others, it appears that he there treated of astronomical refractions. The first astronomers were not aware that the intervals between stars appear less when near the horizon than in the meridian; and on this account they must have been much embarrassed in their observations: but it is evident that Ptolomy was aware of this circumstance by the caution which he gives to allow something for it, whenever recourse is had to ancient observations. This philosopher also advances a very sensible hypothesis to account for the remarkably great apparent size of the sun and moon when seen near the horizon. The mind, he says, judges of the size of objects by means of a preconceived idea of their distance from us: and this distance is fancied to be greater when a number of objects are interposed between the eye and the body we are viewing; which is the case when we see the heavenly bodies near the horizon. In his Almagest, however, he ascribes this appearance to a refraction of the rays by vapours, which actually enlarge the angle under which the luminaries appear; just as the angle is enlarged by which an object is seen from under water.

Alhazen, an Arabian writer, was the next author of consequence, who wrote about the year 1100. Alhazen made many experiments on refraction, at the surface between air and water, air and glass, and water and glass; and hence he deduced several properties of atmospherical refraction; such as, that it increases the altitudes of all objects in the heavens; and he first advanced that the stars are sometimes seen above the horizon by means of refraction, when they are really below it: which observation was confirmed by Vitello, Walther, and especially by the observations of Tycho Brahe. Alhazen observed, that refraction contracts the diameters and distances of the heavenly bodies, and that it is the cause of the twinkling of the stars. This refractive power he ascribed, not to the vapours contained in the air, but to its different degrees of transparency. And it was his opinion, that so far from being the cause of the heavenly bodies appearing larger near the hori- zon, that it would make them appear less; observing that two stars appear nearer together in the horizon, than near the meridian. This phenomenon he ranks among optical deceptions. We judge of distance, he says, by comparing the angle under which objects appear, with their supposed distance; so that if these angles be nearly equal, and the distance of one object be conceived greater than that of the other, this will be imagined to be the larger. And he farther observes, that the sky near the horizon is always imagined to be farther from us than any other part of the concave surface.

In the writings of Alhazen too, we find the first distinct account of the magnifying power of glasses; and it is not improbable that his writings on this head gave rise to the useful invention of spectacles: for he says, that if an object be applied close to the base of the larger segment of a sphere of glass, it will appear magnified. He also treats of the appearance of an object through a globe, and says that he was the first who observed the refraction of rays into it.

In 1270, Vitello, a native of Poland, published a treatise on Optics, containing all that was valuable in Alhazen, and digested in a better manner. He observes, that light is always lost by refraction, which makes objects appear less luminous. He gave a table of the results of his experiments on the refractive powers of air, water, and glass, corresponding to different angles of incidence. He ascribes the twinkling of the stars to the motion of the air in which the light is refracted; and he illustrates this hypothesis, by observing that they twinkle still more when viewed in water put in motion. He also shews, that refraction is necessary as well as reflection, to form the rainbow; because the body which the rays fall upon is a transparent substance, at the surface of which one part of the light is always reflected, and another refracted. And he makes some ingenious attempts to explain refraction, or to ascertain the law of it. He also considers the foci of glass spheres, and the apparent size of objects seen through them; though with but little accuracy.

To Vitello may be traced the idea of seeing images in the air. He endeavours to shew, that it is possible, by means of a cylindrical convex speculum, to see the images of objects in the air, out of the speculum, when the objects themselves cannot be seen.

The Optics of Alhazen and Vitello were published at Basil in 1572, by Fred. Risner.

Contemporary with Vitello, was Roger Bacon, a man of very extensive genius, who wrote upon almost every branch of science; though it is thought his improvements in Optics were not carried far beyond those of Alhazen and Vitello. He even assents to the absurd notion, held by all philosophers down to his time, that visible rays proceed srom the eye, instead of towards it. From many stories related of him however, it would seem, that he made greater improvements than appear in his writings. It is said he had the use of spectacles: that he had contrivances, by reflection from glasses, to see what was doing at a great distance, as in an enemy's camp. And lord chancellor Bacon relates a story, of his having apparently walked in the air between two steeples, and which he supposed was effected| by reflection from glasses while he walked upon the ground.

About 1279 was written a treatise on Optics by Peccam, archbishop of Canterbury.

One of the next who distinguished himself in this way, was Maurolycus, teacher of mathematics at Messina. In a treatise, De Lumine et Umbra, published in 1575, he demonstrates, that the crystalline humour of the eye is a lens that collects the rays of light issuing from the objects, and throws them upon the retina, where the focus of each pencil is. From this principle he discovered the reason why some people are shortsighted, and others long-sighted; also why the former are relieved by concave glasses, and the others by convex ones.

Contemporary with Maurolycus, was John Baptista Porta, of Naples. He discovered the Camera Obscura, which throws considerable light on the nature of vision. His house was the constant resort of all the ingenious persons at Naples, whom he formed into what he called An Academy of Secrets; each member being obliged to contribute something that was not generally known, and might be useful. By this means he was furnished with materials for his Magia Naturalis, which contains his account of the Camera Obscura, and the first edition of which was published, as he informs us, when he was not quite 15 years old. He also gave the first hint of the Magic Lantern; which Kircher afterwards followed and improved. His experiments with the camera obscura convinced him, that vision is performed by the intromission of something into the eye, and not by visual rays proceeding from it, as had been formerly imagined; and he was the first who fully satisfied himself and others upon this subject. He justly considered the eye as a camera obscura, and the pupil the hole in the window-shutter; but he was mistaken in supposing that the crystalline humour corresponds to the wall which receives the images; nor was it discovered till the year 1604, that this office is performed by the retina. He made a variety of just remarks concerning vision; and particularly explained several cases in which we imagine things to be without the eye, when the appearances are occasioned by some affection of the eye itself, or by some motion within the eye. —He remarked also that, in certain circumstances, vision will be assisted by convex or concave glasses; and he seems even to have made some small advances towards the discovery of telescopes.

Other treatises on Optics, with various and gradual improvements, were afterwards successively published by several authors: as Aguilon, Opticorum libr. 6, Antv. 1613; L'Optique, Catoptrique, & Dioptrique of Herigone, in his Cursus Math. Paris 1637; the Dioptrics of Des Cartes, 1637; L'Optique & Catoptrique of Mersenne, Paris 1651: Scheiner, Optica, Lond. 1652: Manchini, Dioptrica Practica, Bologna, 1660: Barrow, Lectiones Opticæ, London 1663: James Gregory, Optica Promota, Lond. 1663: Grimaldi, Physico-mathesis de Lumine, Coloribus, & Iride, Bononia, 1665: Scaphusa, Cogitationes Physico-mechanicæ de Natura Visionis, Heidel. 1670: Kircher, Ars Magna Lucis & Umbræ, Rome 1671: Cherubin, Dioptrique Oculaire, Paris 1671: Leibnitz, Principe Generale de l'Optique, Leipsic Acts 1682: Newton's Optics and Lectiones Opticæ, 4to and 8vo, 1704 &c: Molyneux, Dioptrics, Lond. 1692: Dr. Jurin's Theory of Distinct and Indistinct Vision.— There is also a large and excellent work on Optics, by Dr. Smith, 2 vols 4to; and an elaborate History of the Present State of Discoveries relating to Vision, Light, and Colours, by Dr. Priestley, 4to, 1772; with a multitude of other authors of inferior note; besides lesser and occasional tracts and papers in the Memoirs of the several learned Academies and Societies of Europe; with improvements by many other persons, among whom are the respectable names of Snell, Fermat, Kepler, Huygens, Hortensius, Boyle, Hook, De la Hire, Lowthorp, Cassini, Halley, Delisle, Euler, Dollond, Clairaut, D'Alembert, Zeiher, Bouguer, Buffon, Nollet, Baume; but the particular improvements by each author must be referred to the history of his life, under the article of their names; while the history and improvements of the several branches are to be found under the various particular articles, as, Light, Colours, Reflection, Refraction, Inflection, Transmission, &c, Spectacles, Telescope, Microscope, &c, &c.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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OPACITY
OPAKE
OPHIUCUS
OPPOSITION
OPTIC
* OPTICS
ORB
ORBIT
ORDER
ORDINATES
ORDNANCE