Rainbow

One thing I like about the Pride flag is that it shows a properly stylized rainbow – the three primary colors red, yellow, and blue, and the three secondary colors orange, green, and purple, producing a flag with six horizontal stripes (preferable to vertical stripes since that’s the way a flag flies). 

Of course, the spectrum contains an infinitude of colors, but showing six of them is a logical and visually appealing abstraction. But didn’t we learn in school that there were seven? Doesn’t the mnemonic “Roy G. Biv” stand for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet? Where does this “Indigo” come from? Wikipedia informs us that:

Indigo was defined as a spectral color by Sir Isaac Newton when he divided up the optical spectrum, which has a continuum of wavelengths. He specifically named seven colors primarily to match the seven notes of a western major scale, because he believed sound and light were physically similar, and also to link colors with the (known) planets, the days of the week, and other lists that had seven items. It is accordingly counted as one of the traditional colors of the rainbow.

Ah, Newton. One of the great geniuses of the previous millennium, but still not entirely a man of science as we now understand that term. The designation of “indigo” as a color of the rainbow simply to get to the number seven seems similar to a hypothetical situation in which we decided that five is a special number, and so imagined five cardinal directions – North, East, South-East, South, and West. 

But I wonder whether this seven-color Newtonian version – the product of a man who believed that the “Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect… and from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being,” as he says in the Principia – might not be a way to distinguish the rainbow for those who wish to “take it back” from the Gay Pride movement. It would certainly fit with the Christian idea that six is the number of “man” or “imperfection,” and seven the “totality of perfection” or “completeness.” So a seven-striped rainbow could be “Christian,” and a six-striped rainbow could be “gay.” 

In the meantime we do wish everyone a happy Pride Month!

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