JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 184
Peter Camper (1722-1789) was educated by some of the most gifted minds of the mid-18th century (and standard, daily-occurrence names in the history of science) including Willem Jacob 's Gravesande (1688-1742) and Herman Boerhaave. Camper made very substantial contributions during a long and varied career (as an anatomist, anthropologist, naturalist, paleontologist) one of which., perhaps, was the originated of the idea and practice of the study of comparative anatomy. He was very highly gifted, talented, capable, insightful; he was an excellent observer, and was also an able and capable researcher.
Unfortunately there were some stumbles along the way, or at least which look to me like stumbles; some minor, some great.
The relatively minor one is exhibited here, to the left--to me, this seems like a "what in the name of sweet holy Neptune is going on here?' category member. It occurs in his On the Points of Similarity between the Human Species, Quadrupeds, Birds, and Fish; with Rules for Drawing, founded on this Similarity (1778), and in general is an attempt at localizing, generalizing the study of anatomy, making it understandable in what seems to be multi-dimensional ways—or at least in ways that I cannot frankly understand. In this image he tries to show the similarities in the bodies of the horse and wo/man, transforming the horse into a woman by virtue of a tremendous range of allowances: dropping the hip of the horse, straightening the horse’s back, standing it upright, shortening and straightening the legs, shallowing the chest, losing the tail, straightening and shortening the neck, and so on and on…until, voila, a woman is made, showing the basic samenesses in all mammals. I think that you could also work this magic with a (green, four door) 1960 Rambler—perhaps not, and perhaps this is no doubt a cheap shot, but the engraving, the image, is just so incredible I really don’t know what to do with it.
His greater, post-creation stumble is one that he is probably best known for today—the facial angle. Ever more so than the transformation angles, the facial angle found its way into repugnant uses in the “scientific" racialist circles—it was a study of the so-called progress of nature exemplified in the visual rise of the slope in the profile of man and beast, the slope of the profile from the top of the lip to the forehead. It was a geometry of dominance employed by the dominant race against those who were different—the more “backward” the angle between the lip and forehead leaned, the closer to the baser breads and the animals one was. As a matter of fact Camper uses a progression of eight profiles to delineate changes between simian and the “ideal” man (?), the assertion being that the greater the angle of regression the greater the closeness was to the monkey. In Johann Caspar Lavater, perhaps the best known of the physiognomists, would publish a 24-profile version of Camper’s idea, showing the progression from frog to Apollo (?!). Scientific fallacies such as these would be investigated and employed with increasing venom over the 15 decades—they are largely gone now as junk science, but they still exist as mis-remembered proof in some racial thought. It would seem as though Camper's work in this theory of types (yes he was an influence on Goethe) gave much of this thought scientific credence.