A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
In one of the articles celebrating its 70th Anniversary, Scientific American published these two graphs showing the development of patents from 1836 to 1915. They appeared in the June 5, 1915 issue, and distributed the patents also according to type. It is interesting to note that for decades that the magazine kept one page (or part of it) devoted to displaying newly-recorded patents--that practice was abandoned by the time the 1915 article appeared, which is too bad, because it was enjoyable to dip into the archive and see what was being patented at weekly intervals over the years. In any event I'm not sure that I've seen visual displays quite like this, and so I share them:
Earlier in this blog, about seven years ago, I wrote about an extraordinary book by an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel called Color problems : a practical manual for the lay student of color (1902). It is "extraordinary" in a narrower sense, and that "extraordinary" might not actually be positive for its original intent. The extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really comprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. She winds up with beautiful illustrations all on their own, a pre-abstract art abstract art, predating the non-representational art world by 11 years.
Here's an example of her vision:
Here are some earlier posts on Vanderpoel on this blog:
What Color "Is"--an Unintentional Modernist Masterpiece of Book Illustration? (Here)
Quantifying art: the Art-ematics of Roger de Piles and Emily Vanderpoel (Here)
Color theory is old and pretty—as a matter of fact there is a very attractive gathering of color theory models (in black and white, though) displaying some two dozen or more color models from the last 400 years. People like Della Porta (1593), our old friend and resident oddball polymath crank Kircher (1646), the smarter-than-you-could-imagine Newton (1660), Waller (1686), Lambert (1772), the wide ranging and again polymathic Goethe (1792), Herschel (1817, who also ushered in our understanding of the other light-sensitive shape spacing medium of photography in 1840), the semi-forgotten Chevreul (1835), the beautiful Maxwell (1857), Wundt (1874, the early experimental psychologist who also looked for spirits/spiritmus and ghosts), von Bezold (1878), Rood (1879), Munsell (1918) Kandinsky (1914 and not decipherable by me) and Klee (1924), and so on towards the present, all tried to analyze the prospects of color.
The funny thing is here is that I didn't look at the Klees, so I didn't see how much they have in common with the Vanderpoel color studies. In a way it seems that they were both after the same thing: an understanding of the object in color-sense.
Here are some examples of Klee's grid paintings, so-called (by Will Grohmann) "Magic Squares", which weren't square and not even straight, necessarily, but they were magical, and they did generate a divisional articulation of the color field that Klee was studying. And in their way they do remind me of the earlier Vanderpoel work.
There is of course a lot that has been written on this aspect of Klee's work,by Klee himself and many others, so I'm not going down that road this morning--I really just wanted to get on board with the Vanderpoel/Klee attributions.
This is an image of a philosopher's cabinet, engraving (on copper?) by "I. Friedlein fec", who was Johnann Friedlein, an emigree from North Germany to Denmark, and who worked ca. 1680-1705. It shows the tools of the trade for someone working in natural philosophy (the name "scientist" would not come into use for another 130+ years or so1) and is an interesting insight into a small, polite gentleman's club for experiment and investigation.
The men surround a decent collection of scientific instruments--I can locate a compass, dividers, oil lamp, magnifying glass, microscope2 (at the right elbow of the figure on the right), terrestrial and celestial globes, a (large) clock, barometer, and various weights and scales, and behind it all looms a rather large refracting telescope3 (is it five inches?)
For all of these expensive and current instruments, the lighting these gentlemen set up for themselves is pretty poor, though of course it does add to the mystery and dark experience of the image.
Here's another example of Friedlein's work, a frontispiece to Cryptographia, oder geheime Schrifften by Johann Balthasar Friderici, printed in 1685:
Nyt dansk kunstnerlexikon: bd. Indenlandske kunstnere (fortsættelse ...)by Philip Weilbach:
1. "Scientist", in the Oxford English Dictionary ("science" is a much older word in English):
1. A person who conducts scientific research or investigation; an expert in or student of science, esp. one or more of the natural or physical sciences.computer, earth, mad, natural, rocket scientist, etc.: see the first element.
It is possible that the ‘ingenious gentleman’ referred to in quot. 1834 is Whewell himself.
1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev.51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers... Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
1840 W. Whewell Philos. Inductive Sci. I. Introd. p. cxiii, We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.
2. "Microscope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
1648 Bp. J. Wilkins Math. Magick i. xvi. 115 We see what strange discoveries of extream minute bodies, (as lice, wheal-worms, mites, and the like) are made by the Microscope, wherein their severall parts (which are altogether invisible to the bare eye) will distinctly appear.
1651 N. Highmore Hist. Generation viii. 70 The white circle..by a Microscope appears now to be the Carina or back and neck of the Chick.
3. "Telescope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
[1619 J. Bainbridge Astron. Descr. Late Comet 19 For the more perspicuous distinction whereof I vsed the Telescopium or Trunke-spectacle.]
1648 R. Boyle Seraphic Love (1663) xi. 59 Galileo's optick Glasses,..one of which Telescopioes, that I remember I saw at Florence.
As soon as I saw this pamphlet--and its cover--I thought that it was one of those perfect statements for a particular year:
The pamphlet is a program for an international expo in Brussels: Bulletin Officiel de l'Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles, and it is very heavily laden with trains and signals and track and such, all the properties of powerful movement and promise, gigantic power in a directed environment. And beautiful.
This brochure for the Computer Control Corporation Inc (of Berry Drive, Los Angeles) has that peculiar background feel similar to 1950's baseball cards--detail of the subject, while the rest of the platform is a sharp, no-nuance solid color. On the other hand I have no doubt that work was getting done in this place. For all of its simplicity, and for all that they were doing, this is a miniature and quiet monument to People Thinking.
Anthropologist Jesse Fewkes (1850-1930) was the first to use the Edison phonograph for recording legends, songs, stories, rituals and so on of North American Indians, making him a pioneer in field recording. Work like his was essential to the preservation of vanishing ways and stories and languages and music, and provided inspiration to people like Frances Densmore, John Lomax and Herbert Halpert.
This came up just now looking for a paper by Lord Rayleigh in the journal Nature, and to my surprise bumped into this short note by Fewkes in that issue for April 17, 1890 (volume 41, # 1068). This was undoubtedly the first notice of his field work reported outside of the United States. Music in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Encyclopedia (edited by William Forde Thompson) establishes Fewkes as making the very first field recordings of any kind (page XXX, chronology).
Recording sample via the Library of Congress, here.
( "Mr. Phonograph." (1:11) Text in A National Project with Many Workers. Jesse Walter Fewkes talking to the new Edison cylinder recording machine in order to demonstrate its capabilities to a visiting Passamaquoddy man. Probably recorded in Boston, late 1890-early 1891. Jesse Walter Fewkes Passamaquoddy Cylinder Collection.)
The "insect" has been around on Earth for a long time, but only in English since 1589. (The OED has an earlier use of the word, but the Cotgrave is the most poetic.) And there have been lots of them--and so my interest in this short Letter to the Editor in the January 25, 1877 issue of Nature, in which the number of species of insects is discussed. Mr. McLachlan is the writer who questions the great Thomas Huxley on his round estimate, which is recorded at "about 100,000, if not more". Huxley responds and says that yes, the 100,000 is probably quite low. And of course he was correct. I suspect that then as now that insects were about the most varied groups if animals on Earth, and accounting for half of all organisms on the planet--today though the estimates of the number of species range above 10,000,000.
If there are 10 million species, I wonder about how many bugs there are, and about their combined weight compared to the biomass of the Earth? I don't have numbers for the big questions, though I do for the number of ants, which comes out to about 10 x 10^17--a big number, and just for ants.
Advertisers for Henry M. Stanley's Through the Dark Continent could not paint Africa any darker than they did in this ad which appeared in the journal Nature on May 3, 1878. Stanley plowed his way through Africa from 1874 to 1877, and was quickly into print on his return, which may have been more armed Imperial Pushing than it was a geographical expedition.
Stanley published another book, In Darkest Africa. twelve years later in 1890, no doubt alluding to the unimaginably dark places of a dark place.
And just for the sport of it I had a quick tour around the massive 75,000,000-item database of library holdings in WorldCat and found that there may be only one other book earlier than Stanley's published with dark/darkest Africa/Continent in the title (Christian Liberia, the Hope of the Dark Continent, with Special Reference to the Work and Mission of Edward S. Morris, 1838). After Stanley's book was published there are easily dozens of other books using that phrase published between 1878-1900. So there's that. In my long career of looking at maps I cannot recall the continent appearing on world maps as simply an entirely blacked out/filled-in geographical region--certainly in earlier maps of Africa (or at least before 1900) the unknown spots were simply left blank; the older the map the more likely it was to be that the blank spots were filled in with unusual representation of flora and fauna. But never, it seems to me, was it just entirely black.
It is a very uncommon sight to see a book illustrated with the self-portrait of its engraver standing next to the unbound sheets of his own (and unrelated) travel book. But so it goes, and it goes in Jean-Jacque's great 1601 Baroque illustrated work on the occult arts, Tractatus posthumus Jani Jacobi Boissardi ... De divinatione & magicis praestigiis. The book was published by Johann/Jean Theodore de Bry, who also engraved the images after Boissard's designs, who had died 14 years earlier.
De Bry--who with his brother had earlier helped his father (Theodor de Bry) with his massive work on the American Indian and travel in general--completed some 30 volumes of illustrated travel, which was a monumental achievement, even if some heaping part of his work was based on very little reality. So Johann is standing there with the family coat of arms (on the right) and the family epigram (on the left). Theodor de Bry's self portrait also makes use of the same epigram, "Nul sans soucy", or "None without worry".