Sir Isaac Newton discovered the fundamental principles of what is now modern color theory. One of the most important of these principles is that objects have no inherent color as we see them, instead reflecting colors that come from light.
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What we perceive as white is the reflection of all colors, themselves specific wavelengths from the part of the electromagnetic spectrum of radiation we can see. Color as we perceive it is the mix of light waves reflected by an object, with multiple colors mixing and being distorted by texture to form the familiar range of colors we know. Black is the color perceived when little to no light waves are reflected.
Varied materials reflect light waves differently, resulting in the assortment of composite colors like browns. Lightness and darkness in color, of course, are also the effects of absorption and reflection. Lighter colors reflect more light and darker ones absorb more. Black, white, and the midtones in between (gray) form the achromatic scale, reflecting merely the intensity, presence, and absence of light.
This interplay of light and shadow creates contrasts, which help the human eyes define shape. This is especially evident in achromatic schemes. Choosing the appropriate tonal contrasts can help pop out sections of the wall such as crown molding.
Because the principle of reflection also applies to the heat given off by the light source, darker-colored objects absorb more heat and lighter ones reflect heat. This is evident in clothing; people find lighter clothing more comfortable in the sweltering heat of the summer. Rooms and walls painted a lighter color thus are substantially cooler than those painted in darker shades.
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