JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 450
In closing out my first year of blogging, I'd like to take an incidental look at one of our language's most important fragments. Like Mr. Eliot's observations of Baudelaire being a fragmentary Dante, and like the brilliantly arranged frammenti of Piranesi, the great bits of our communication processes owe a breathy thanks to the lowly period. A dot. A point. It separates to provide analysis and coherent recognition of thought.
A simple dot. (.) But dots are as little or as big as you need: there's "Little Dot" (the cartoon character of Harvey Comics, created 1947, who was fascinated bylines and dots and dashes), "Admiral Dot", polka dots, Mama Dots. Dots get considerably ratcheted up in quantum dots, and then expanded beyond that with the idea of the dot as an abbreviation for the multiplication sign, both of which increase things rather than bringing them to an end, a conclusion. The dot used after a musical note delineates that there is an increase in time by half, which would be an interesting notation to adopt in literature, if we were somehow able to magnify and increase that which would normally have been ended by the same notation.
Dots have formed the background to some of the most significant scientific illustrations of all time, like these two images, the first of which Descartes' illustration of the decomposition of the rainbow, found in his Dioptrics, a fabulously important illustration. The second is from Descartes' Principia Philosophiae (1684) which display his theory of vortices, accommodating an idea of physics eliminating atoms and vacuums and joining matter and space, matter being constantly deflected from moving in a straight line, moving in vortices. Then of course there's the fantastically appreciated advancement of Samuel Morse's telegraphic instrument and his abbreviated transmitting alphabet (his "code"), which fascilitated the distribution of information in the 1840's in the same sort of way that the internet increased the flow and ease of data in the 1990's. (Actually that's only half correct for Morse, as his was a system of dots and dashes.)
Things get more interesting if we expand the idea of the "dot" to a "point", as just about everything we have discussed in math for thousands of years has been based upon the idea of a "point in space", forming the bits of the coat hanger on which the whole fabric of the heavens has been hung. Going the other way, there's the decimal point, which brings us to negative powers of ten, into smaller and smaller worlds, to the incomprehensibly small, showing that "nothing" probably doesn't exist. (We'll leave the idea of "spot" alone, tonight.)
That's quite a bit of expansion from a word that starts out life in Middle English as the definer of the head of a boil.
But this year will end in about 50 minutes from now, and I wll be able to put the final keystroke to the final sentence to my final post of the year, and put it all to sleep. And the year will end, at 12:00, precisely. On the dot.