The Ra Optics Guide to Artificial Lighting
This blog is meant to be a primer and a resource for people navigating a world saturated with artificial light. Having a good grasp of the basic concepts regarding man-made light is invaluable when it comes to taking practical steps towards optimizing your light environment. This article will guide you through the quantifications we use to assess light sources, the history of the light industry, along with the dangers and potential benefits of artificial light exposure. First, it will be useful to define what we mean by “artificial” light. Artificial light is any light spectra that doesn’t occur in nature without human intervention. Even the spectrum behind a glass window is considered an artificial light source. Artificial light is to natural light as digital sound is to acoustic or analog sound. Once we begin to grasp the extent to which we are subject to artificial light, the importance of understanding its effects becomes obvious.
Properties of Lighting:
Here are some basic metrics that light engineers use to quantify the basic properties of a given light source:
The total range of wavelengths present in a light source.
The power density of a light source, or the amount of electromagnetic energy delivered by the light. For biological systems, this is usually measured in milliwatts per square centimeter of tissue.
During normal operation, modern lighting like fluorescents or LEDs flicker at extremely high rates due to pulsations of power from alternating electrical currents or internal defects. This effect occurs both above and below the level of human perception.
The fixed relationship between the phase of waves in a beam of radiation of a single frequency. When the phase between the waves is constant the light is coherent. Non-coherent light has random waves.
The quality of color in a light source.
The “warmth” or “coldness” of the color of a light source measured in Kelvin. The higher the Kelvin, the cooler the color temperature.
Blackbody Radiation Curve
The pattern of emission of all natural radiant light sources, e.g. the sun, fire, etc.
Color Rendering Index
A measure of how exactly an artificial light source emulates the color quality of a reference (natural) light source like the sun.
Lux - The lux is the unit of illuminance and luminous emittance, measuring luminous flux per unit area of a light source.
The history of lighting:
Lighting, as a branch of technology, has obviously been a massive vehicle for the evolution of human civilization. It was among the first aspects of our environment that humans learned to control, and thus greatly accelerated our rate of industry and improved our quality of life. However, as with many of our contemporary industrial pursuits to manipulate the environment, humans lost sight of the fact that our physiology is acutely tuned to the influences of nature. While our minds may have the ability to diverge from nature’s laws to construct fake lighting, our physiology remains bound to the reality of our evolutionary environment.
The story of lighting technology is one that spans from combustion to electricity. Humans started with fire and ended up with cold, solid state light emitting diodes (LEDs). We went from utilizing natural light in controlled circumstances to replacing it with light surrogates, a cheap replacement for something real. Fire, which was our primary light source in the form of torches, oil lamps, and candles until about 140 years ago, retains many of the properties of natural sunlight. As humans refined the practice of utilizing electrical current in our infrastructure, we developed fluorescent light bulbs and LEDs that subtract out vast portions of the visible and non-visible light spectrum, flicker unnaturally, and have a toxic color temperature. The transition from natural combustion light sources to electrical LEDs has been extremely fast and correlates strikingly with the rise in the incidence of degenerative diseases.
The major pitfall of modern lighting is the consensus among industry leaders that invisible wavelengths are of no value and are energetic waste. In an attempt to develop “greener”, energy-efficient lighting technologies, light engineers created “cold” bulbs and diodes that subtract out ultra-violet and infrared ranges and over-emphasize blue frequencies. While these lights do a great job at minimizing energy costs, they are a catastrophe for human physiology. Contrary to the ideas of modern light engineers, the invisible wavelengths (UV & IR) are crucial for regulating human biology through circadian and metabolic mechanisms. In this way, the electrically efficient lighting of modern civilization is trans-humanist compared to the biologically supportive light of combustion and sunlight.
Different types of Lights:
It would be helpful to provide a quick synopsis of the specific types of lights we’ve encountered throughout our evolution…
The sun, and natural lighting with similar properties, was the only source of light for biological systems for billions of years. For human beings, this means sunlight, fire from combustible materials, oil lamps, candles, carbon arc lamps, and finally incandescent bulbs. The incandescent bulb powered with electrical filament was the first electrical light source without smoke and the last artificial light source with a natural spectrum. All these sources, including incandescents, emulate sunlight in terms of spectrum, flicker, chromaticity, color temperature, color rendering index, and blackbody radiation curve. Unfortunately, incandescents are being misguidedly ruled out by many governments worldwide in support of an environmentally friendly agenda.
In the last hundred years, we have become exposed to man-made surrogate lights including fluorescent and steady-state light emitting diode (LED). Since these are a very recent technological advancement, we are taking chances by exposing ourselves to them without an adequate understanding of the possible risks. These lights have an abnormal spectral distribution and color temperature, poor color rendering index, flicker unnaturally and are divorced from the blackbody radiation curve of natural light sources. While we are only beginning to understand the risks of artificial light, the proven evidence of acute dangers is mounting.
Basically, every aspect of artificial lighting is potentially damaging when over-exposed. I’ll cover them one by one…
Fluorescent and LED light peaks in the blue wavelength range and is dominated by these frequencies. The negative biological effects of blue light that is unbalanced by red light include both ocular and systemic effects. The proven ocular effects include retinal damage, blurred vision, eye fatigue, eye discomfort, and dry eyes. The ocular hazard of blue light is categorized into two classes, rhodopsin mediated and lipofuscin mediated. Class one rhodopsin mediated blue light hazard is when blue light hits and damages the membrane discs of the photopigment of the eye. Class two lipofuscin mediated blue light hazard is when lipid peroxidation caused by blue light damages the retinal structure. Blue and ultraviolet are both high-frequency wavelengths that can damage structures of the eye, but unlike UV, blue can be seen and thus reaches and damages the retina. IR-A light repairs the retina, but is absent in artificial lighting, including behind windows. Blue-enriched light or high energy visible light without RED/IRA wavelengths increase skin and retinal stress due to the lack of induction of regenerative and anti-oxidative mechanisms. The systemic effects of blue light, which are predominantly metabolic and hormonal in origin, include sleep deprivation, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental disorders.
Your brain filters out flicker, so it is mostly unnoticeable, but your biology always registers and is stressed by flicker. Your brain needs more metabolic energy to process this negative influence. When lights (especially LEDs) are connected to an electrical source that delivers power in an alternating current of varying frequencies (the US uses 60hz, the world standard is 50hz) they flicker. Biology runs on a DC (direct current) and is stressed by man-made AC electricity. LEDs that flicker must be used in conjunction with a DC converting device. The adverse effects of flicker include photo-epilepsy, stroboscopic effects, autistic behavior, migraines, and eye strain.
Benefits: Photobiomodulation (PBM)
Some of the weaknesses of artificial light technologies can be turned into strengths when regenerative wavelengths are consciously applied. This practice is known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level light therapy (LLLT). The tradition of light therapy goes back thousands of years but has been refined utilizing technologies like LEDs (steady state semi-conductive light emitting diodes). While the benefits of LLLT were originally discovered using lasers, the properties of LEDs present unique advantages during light therapy including monochromaticity, irradiance (power density), cold operation and application, and synergy with the semi-conductive characteristics of biological tissue as discovered by Robert O. Becker and detailed in his book The Body Electric. In the case of photobiomodulation, artificial light can be used regeneratively as opposed to destructively.
Because these technologies are new, our awareness of the deleterious effects may just be the tip of the iceberg. To avoid residual risks, we can't rely on governing bodies or the medical establishment, we must take responsibility for educating and protecting ourselves. While our brains perceive surrogate light as a legitimate light source, our physiology often suffers below our level of perception. Technologies like blue blocking material, natural light sources like incandescents, oil lamps, and fire, and electrical harmonizers like DC converters can help protect our retinal and hormonal integrity.
By Lucien Burke