CHAPTER – 10
Light – Reflection and Refraction
We see a variety of objects in the world around us. However, we are unable to see anything in a dark room. On lighting up the room, things become visible. What makes things visible? During the day, the sunlight helps us to see objects. An object reflects light that falls on it. This reflected light, when received by our eyes, enables us to see things. We are able to see through a transparent medium as light is transmitted through it. There are a number of common wonderful phenomena associated with light such as image formation by mirrors, the twinkling of stars, the beautiful colours of a rainbow, bending of light by a medium and so on. A study of the properties of light helps us to explore them. By observing the common optical phenomena around us, we may conclude that light seems to travel in straight lines. The fact that a small source of light casts a sharp shadow of an opaque object points to this straight-line path of light, usually indicated as a ray of light..
If an opaque object on the path of light becomes very small, light has a tendency to bend around it and not walk in a straight line – an effect known as the diffraction of light. Then the straight-line treatment of optics using rays fails. To explain phenomena such as diffraction, light is thought of as a wave, the details of which you will study in higher classes. Again, at the beginning of the 20th century, it became known that the wave theory of light often becomes inadequate for treatment of the interaction of light with matter, and light often behaves somewhat like a stream of particles. This confusion about the true nature of light continued for some years till a modern quantum theory of light emerged in which light is neither a ‘wave’ nor a ‘particle’ – the new theory reconciles the particle properties of light with the wave nature.
EVOLUTION SHOULD NOT BE EQUATED WITH ‘PROGRESS’
In an exercise of tracing the family trees of species, we need to remember certain things. Firstly, there are multiple branches possible at each and every stage of this process. So it is not as if one species is eliminated to give rise to a new one. A new species has emerged. But that does not necessarily mean, like the beetle example we have been thinking about, that the old species will disappear. It will all depend on the environment. Also, it is not as if the newly generated species are in any way ‘better’ than the older one. It is just that natural selection and genetic drift have together led to the formation of a population that cannot reproduce with the original one. So, for example, it is not true that human beings have evolved from chimpanzees. Rather, both human beings and chimpanzees have a common ancestor a long time ago. That common ancestor is likely to have been neither human or chimpanzee. Also, the first step of separation from that ancestor is unlikely to have resulted in modern chimpanzees and human beings. Instead, the two resultant species have probably evolved in their own separate ways to give rise to the current forms.
In fact, there is no real ‘progress’ in the idea of evolution. Evolution is simply the generation of diversity and the shaping of the diversity by environmental selection. The only progressive trend in evolution seems to be that more and more complex body designs have emerged over time. However, again, it is not as if the older designs are inefficient! So many of the older and simpler designs still survive. In fact, one of the simplest life forms – bacteria – inhabit the most inhospitable habitats like hot springs, deep-sea thermal vents and the ice in Antarctica. In other words, human beings are not the pinnacle of evolution, but simply yet another species in the teeming spectrum of evolving life.
The same tools for tracing evolutionary relationships – excavating, time-dating and studying fossils, as well as determining DNA sequences – have been used for studying human evolution. There is a great diversity of human forms and features across the planet. So much so that, for a long time, people used to talk about human ‘races’. Skin colour used to be the commonest way of identifying these socalled races. Some were called yellow, some black, white or brown. A major question debated for a long time was, have these apparent groups evolved differently? Over recent years, the evidence has become very clear. The answer is that there is no biological basis to the notion of human races. All humans are a single species.
Evolution — Ladder versus Tree