Goethe’s polemics against Newtonian optics is not rarely men- tioned as a singular instance of incompetent stubbornness, or quickly dis- posed of as an embarrassing incident, not worthy of Goethe’s stature. None- theless, Goethe’s presence in the mind of 20th-century physicists is not a neg- ligible chapter, not only due to the pre-eminence of his literary work but to a suffused Naturphilosophie as well. Even more significantly, physicists of the calibre of Heisenberg and Pauli, while openly recognizing the ‘mistakes’ of the Goethean polemics in optics, tried to extract from that episode important lessons and expectations about the future of science.
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