JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 964
In the history of life there is a virtual geology of buried ideas of how living things came to be. The belief in spontaneous generation is ancient and evidently still holds a comforting sway (in a scrubbed-up way) among some moderns. There was a lot written on the subject over the centuries: for example, Virgil (Georgics) gives us directions on how to make bees, and the great mathematician Cardan/Cardano passed along instructions on how fishes are made of water, no doubt drawing on the more ancient moisture-related beliefs of Anaximander (600BCE). Aristotle was more circumspect on the issue of
spontaneous generation, though he did cast a fairly wide and more cautious net: "sometimes animals are formed in putrefying soil, sometimes in plants, and sometimes in the fluids of other animals." Even the beautiful, polymathic and occasionally very wrong (but way ahead of his critics) Jesuit Athanasius Kircher stated (in his masterwork Mundus Subterraneus, 1646) that he had seen mice generated out of nothing but plants and water. So it goes.
The more modern variations on this theme attract a varied collection of some very big names. Though the spontaneity now takes place in the extraterrestrial realm, with comets and meteors and such impacting with the earth with life debris from god knows where (literally), seeding life on earth—though the theories usually beg the question of where the stuff on the meteors and etc. came from. These names include Svante Arrenhius, Lord Kelvin, the beautiful Hermann von Helmholtz, Fred Hoyle, and many others.
the more-modern view is attributed with the name of cosmic panspermia (it seems
to my memory that the first of the most modern life-generating panspermia
theories is published in the Comptes
rendus in the id 1850’s but I cannot right now remember who it was that
wrote it). And it is this cosmic seed
bit that struck me when I first saw this title page (above) of a very rare work by
Caspar Posner (1626-1700)—Eilfertiges doch
unvorggreiffiches Bedencken… published in 1682. It seems that Posner recorded these verities
of “shooting stars” in
The images reminded me instantly of the first spermatozoa images published by Anton von Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)—and actually they were the first images of live and dead (left and right, respectively) dog spermatozoa. He did absolutely superb work, a great pioneer working with a hand-held single-lens (barely recognizable as a) 200x microscope.
there too there’s the detail in this image by the great Santiago Ramon y Cajal
( 1852-1934), who drew the first accurate picture of nerve cells in the
cerebellum (found in one convolution of a mammalian cerebellum), which helped
formulate his theory that the basic structural unit of the nervous system as
Perhaps it is a simple artistic fittingness to connect the 1682 meteorite shower with cosmic panspermia and Leeuwenhoek and Cajal; in a squinty-eyed way they look pretty good together. On the other hand of course these are just random bumped-together thoughts having nothing to do with one another. I vote for artistic nothingness.