Thursday, August 26, 2010

Was Griffin [Wells' invisible man] like other evil creatures?

The "Invisible Man" isn't a created monster or alien invader but a result of his own experimentation. [Somewhat akin to Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.] When I read H. G. Wells' book, I was never really sure what the motivation was other than the experiment ran amok and as usual things disintegrated and the public suffered. It is a film that is not seen very much anymore...doesn't carry the potential menace of a Frankenstein, nocturnal mayhem of a Dracula, or ripping terror of space aliens. The "invisibility" notion, like computer users, can hide the corporeal essence of a being. The potential for deviant and socially unacceptable activity is evident. Is there any real science to being invisible. From a perspective of making matter really invisible is hard to comprehend, but the illusion of invisibility [fooling the perceiver] may be a better avenue. It sometimes depends on definition. Closely related to this are numerous examples of near invisibility in nature--natural camouflage. Animals do have a way of blending in with their environment for protection or a methodology to hide their presence to gather food. And the Wellsian protagonist may do the same.

Here is a brief description of his answer:

Griffin [the invisible man] is having a conversation with his friend Kemp.

"Optical density! The whole subject is a network of riddles - a network with solutions glimmering elusively through. And being only twenty-two and full of enthusiasm, I said, 'I will devote my life to this. This is worth while.' You know what fools we are at twenty-two?"

"Fools then or fools now," said Kemp.

"As though Knowing could be any satisfaction to a man!

"But I went to work - like a slave. And I had hardly worked and thought about the matter six months before light came through suddenly - blindingly! I found a general principle of pigments and refraction, - a formula, a geometrical expression involving four dimensions. Fools, common men, even common mathematicians, do not know anything of what some general expression may mean to the student of molecular physics. In the books - the books that Tramp has hidden - there are marvels, miracles! But this was not a method, it was an idea that might lead to a method by which it would be possible, without changing any other property of matter, - except, in some instances, colours, - to lower the refractive index of a substance, solid or liquid, to that of air - so far as all practical purposes are concerned."

"Phew!" said Kemp. "That's odd! But still I don't see quite - I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is another thing."

"Precisely," said Griffin. "But consider: Visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies, - a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!"

"Yes," said Kemp, "that is pretty clear."

"And here is another fact you will know to be true. If a sheet of glass is smashed, Kemp, and crushed into a powder, it becomes much more visible while it is in the air; it becomes at last an opaque white powder. This is because the powdering multiplies the surfaces of the glass at which refraction and reflection occur. In the sheet of glass there are only two surfaces; in the powder the light is reflected or refracted by each grain it passes through, and very little gets right through the powder. But if the white powdered glass is put into water, it immediately vanishes. The powdered glass and water have much the same refractive index; that is, the light undergoes very little refraction or reflection in passing from one to the other.

"You make the glass invisible by putting it into a liquid of nearly the same refractive index; a transparent thing becomes invisible if it is put in any medium of almost the same refractive index. And if you will consider only a second, you will see also that the powder of glass might be made to vanish in air, if its refractive index could be made the same as that of air; for then there would be no refraction or reflection as the light passed from glass to air."

"Yes, yes," said Kemp. "But a man's not powdered glass!"

"No," said Griffin. "He's more transparent!"


"That from a doctor! How one forgets! Have you already forgotten your physics, in ten years? Just think of all the things that are transparent and seem not to be so. Paper, for instance, is made up of transparent fibres, and it is white and opaque only for the same reason that a powder of glass is white and opaque. Oil white paper, fill up the interstices between the particles with oil so that there is no longer refraction or reflection except at the surfaces, and it becomes as transparent as glass. And not only paper, but cotton fibre, linen fibre, wool fibre, woody fibre, and bone, Kemp, flesh, hair, nails and nerves, Kemp, in fact the whole fabric of a man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all made up of transparent, colourless tissue. So little suffices to make us visible one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living creature are no more opaque than water."

"Great Heavens!" cried Kemp. "Of course, of course! I was thinking only last night of the sea larvae and all jelly-fish!"

"Now you understand me! And all that I knew and had in mind a year after I left London - six years ago. But I kept it to myself. I had to do my work under incredible disadvantages. Oliver, my professor, was a scientific bounder, a journalist by instinct, a thief of ideas, - he was always prying! And you know the knavish system of the scientific world. I simply would not publish, and let him share my credit. I went on working. I got nearer and nearer making my formula into an experiment, a reality. I told no living soul, because I meant to flash my work upon the world with crushing effect, - to become famous at a blow. I took up the question of pigments to fill up certain gaps. And suddenly, not by design but by accident, I made a discovery in physiology."


"You know the red colouring matter of blood; it can be made white - colourless - and remain with all the functions it has now!"

Kemp gave a cry of incredulous amazement.

The Invisible Man rose and began pacing the little study. "You may well exclaim. I remember that night. It was late at night, - in the daytime one was bothered with the gaping, silly students, - and I worked then sometimes till dawn. It came suddenly, splendid and complete into my mind. I was alone; the laboratory was quiet, with the tall lights burning brightly and silently. In all my great moments I have been alone. 'One could make an animal - a tissue - transparent! One could make it invisible! All except the pigments. I could be invisible!' I said, suddenly realising what it meant to be an albino with such knowledge. It was overwhelming. I left the filtering I was doing, and went and stared out of the great window at the stars. 'I could be invisible!' I repeated."

The Invisible Man [Text]

The Invisible Man [Audio]

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