A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
I found this interesting story-without-words in a column in American Agriculturalist, April, 1869. The velocipdes were fairly big, and fairly new-ish to be peddle-powered at the front wheel, and apparently not so welcome on urban streets. (Within fifteen years the bike would take on a decidedly very modern look, easily recognizable as being a close family member to that Schwinn cruiser you owned in 1982.) I don't have any insight about the editorial content of the segment...
I found a news item in the April 6, 1929 issue of Nature that gives a real sense of the coming of the future, of the future-at-hand--and they seemed to have a sense of what was coming, though probably not as big as that future would be. In this case, it was the beginning of the passive visual assumption of the collective culture--the very quick and potentially immediate assimilation of pop culture, this by the invention of television and popular broadcasting.
The unidentified author was reporting on the recent activities of the Baird Television Development Company, which the author was interested in, and although it was "not presently practicable " it did "represent(s) a noteworthy scientific achievement", which I am sure was the writer's way of downplaying a very significant event.
[Woodcut, printed in 1771, from an ealier woodcut of the late 15th century; 6x4 inches. This version available from our Blog Bookstore.]
The lare Medieval/early Renaissance Tractatusartis bene moriendi was a work book of the dead--rather, a book for those about to be dead, an instructional for the process of dying the good death along the (loose) order of the Tibetan Bardo Thodol and the Egyptian book of the dead. The Ars was written in the early the 15th century (some sources say 1415) and began appearing in some of the earliest illustrated printed books by about 1460--it was a wildly popular/necessary book, going through some 100 editions by 15001.
The books basically readied the dying for death, for a holy death, a death filled with high possibilities of a rewarding afterlife, for dying in the good graces of Christ and the christian ideals. The images were such that non-readers could understand them--and this is still pretty much the case.
Many of the variants of this work include a dozen or more woodblock illustrations, an example of which is found above. We see the soon-to-be-departed at the very last instant before death, surrounded by all manner of distractions and entertainments aimed at luring the person to an earthly- rather than holy-demise. Demons, conjurers, makers of greed, and devils surround his bed in temptation, all while the Virgin Mary, Christ and the creator look down upon the besieged from behind the top of the bed.
Death was not an uncommon visitor in Europe in the early/mid 15th century, and perhaps this book served some in the way it taught people how to die a noble and religious death, especially when clergy may not have been so available.
(The blog offers a version of this print, not nearly as old as the original, but with some sort of substantial age on it--it was printed in 1771 in Leipzig, and published in Heinecken's Idee Generale d'une Collection Complette d'Estampes, and it is an attractive print suggestive of a greater age.
Here's another example, this time the dying man is beign attacked by agents of pride and greed. The images are genuinely upsetting--scary even.
1. English editions/variation of this work include The Waye of Dying Well and The Sicke Mannes Salve, and then in 1650 the Holy Living and Holy Dying.
I uncovered a somewhat found-again-lost-again paper in the collection here, an unusual small-distribution version of a great paper in the history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The work is by N.R. Schwartz and Charles Townes, "Interstellar and Interplanetary Communication by Optical Masers", which appeared in the journal Nature for April 15, 1961 (volume 190, pp 205-208), and I have seen it referenced here and there as a started-it-all sort of paper as the first applied and elaborated scientific effort "to communicate with other intelligent life [which] might exist on neighboring planetary systems". That is to say it is a more involved approach to detection than the two earlier and perhaps more-famous papers by G. Cocconi and P. Morrison, "Searching for interstellar communications" (a short paper published in Nature, volume 184, No. 4690, pp. 844-845, September 19,1959) and F. Drake's "How can we detect radio transmissions from distant planetary systems?", published in Sky and Telescope (volume 19, No. 3, pp. 140-143, January 1960).
The present copy is an offset, stapled affair sent to the editor of Physics Today; it has the annotation "Mr. Katcher" in a secretarial hand at top, that being David Katcher, the founding editor-in-chief. This is a pre-printed version, and is dated more than a month before the article's publication, and is dated February 27, 1961.
Both Schwartz and Townes were at the Institute for Defense Analysis in DC at the time of publication, Townes being the Director of Research; later in 1961 Townes would become Provost and professor of physics at MIT. In addition to the Nobel Prize in physics, Townes was awarded the Templeton Prize (in the understanding of religion and science).
The full text as it appears in six pages in Nature appears here at Coseti; it is obviously a different format from the 14-page variety that I have here, and has a few minor changes, though for all intents and purposes the text is the same.
The Cocconi/Morrison paper is located in full text here at Coseti.
Also just for the sake of it, the Drake equation (1961) for determining the number of extraterrestrial civilizations, here, again at Coseti.
The title of this post is a bit of a tweeker--the project is not to fill in the entire the North Sea, just the southern North Sea. This actually makes a pretty big difference bathymetrically, because the sea floor gets mighty deep up along the coast of Norway. Still, though, as impossibly ambitious projects go, this is still a massively unstable consideration, the entire North Sea or not.
[I owe the fun I had thinking about this project to two great sites: Modern Mechanix and Imaginary Cities--Modern Mechanix for posting it to begin with and Imaginary Cities for tweeting it. These are two great sites well worth subscribing to.]
A sort-of Atlantis was drowned some 8500 years ago, a large piece of land that connected what is today Great Britain and Europe. Rising water did away with this territory leaving behind the great island nation and much else. The plan referred to above in the title is the extraordinary thinking for "raising" that lost Atlantis-esque land, and was floated in the September 1930 of Modern Mechanics.
The author maintains some sort of possibility for recovering some 100,000 square miles of submerged land that would connect south-eastern England with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. It would be accomplished by erecting some 700+ miles of dykes and dams and then, somehow, emptying all of that surrounded and captured water into the sea that it once belonged to.
100,000 square surface miles is an area twice the size of England, three times the size of Lake Superior, nearly the size of the Caspian, and equal to the size of Colorado.
The English Channel and the straits of Dover would become a divided thoroughfare; the Thames would be part of a canal system that would extend along the old Norfolk coast to The Wash; a bay from the Straits would extend inland to Belgium, where it would be met by a canal system that would extend to the Baltic. All of this would be held in place by a 150-mile long dam of unusual shape. And just for good measure, bisecting these two would be a monster bridge from Dover to Calais.
This is of course extraordinary, but when we look north we see a breathtaking proposal for a 450-mile long, 90'-high dyke extending from the English coast to Denmark. The artwork claims that this is 90' above the water for the rest of the North Sea, which means that the structure would have to be at least 110'-150' high, plus the foundation. Luckily for the designer the southern North Sea is a relatively shallow water sea, 20-40' deep, though there is a stretch of 100' miles where the depth is considerably deeper. I haven't considered yet how wide this dyke would be, except that it would be, well, big.
There is also a drawing for a London-Berlin and points east train. The Elbe is dammed, and it looks as though the Netherlands is no longer the Lowlands, everything there being "filled in", with the sea being moved some 200 miles to the west.
This is just a short spec piece that appeared in a popular science magazine 84 years ago, but there is no mention of what these changes might mean to the currents of the south North Sea, or Jutland coastal waters, or the Continental Coastal waters; or the changes it might dictate to salinity, or nutrients to the rest of the North Sea, to say nothing of the sea floor inhabitants and fish, and so on. There would no doubt be some natural consequences to this (literal!) undertaking.
I suppose someone at some point would have to think about how all that new land would be divided, but I guess that would all take care of itself.
Another related article from Modern Mechanix posting a Modern Mechanics May 1931 addresses the issue of water removal albeit at as much lesser scale, here.
Here's an interesting and lovely little classic: A. Ritter v. Miller-Hauenfels Der mühelose Segelflug der Vögel und die segelnde Luftschiffahrt als Endziel hundertjährigen Strebens. (Roughly “The effortless gliding of birds and the sailing airships as the ultimate goal for the end of the century”).The matieral was delivered (January 18th) 1890 at the Polytechnischen Club in Graz and publisahed later that yer in Vienna by Spielhagen & Schurich. My copy of this work also happens to have been in the collection of Vicktor Silberer, 1846-1924, a pioneer aviator from Vienna and a prolific author, jorunalist, and politician.
In his lectures at Graz Miller-Hauenfels looks at the possibility of human (non-powered, gliding) flight via forward-progression bird flight, basing his work on that of Marey, Lilienthal and Parseval.
"Only within very recent years has the paramount influence of roads upon the nation's life been adequately realized", so starts this article in the Scientific American for January 5, 1918. No doubt--between 1914 and 1918, the motor vehicle registration doubled and then nearly doubled again (1.7 million to 6.1 million over five years). And since it is far more relatively easy to make cars than the roads they drove on, it is safe to assume that with this enormous increase in road traffic that it made planners and engineers of various shapes and sizes really think about the issue of roads in the future, as they could well see that car production was exploding and that car prices were making the auto affordable to just about everyone.
These artistic displays of quantitative data really do convey a message to a general audience--that aside from the engineering that went into them. It is also useful to the historian or reader in history, or anyone interested in how people got from one place to another 100 years ago, and on what sort of surface they were making their way on...and what the surface of that road meant to the traveler. I do not recall Mr. Holmes making any statements regarding travel time and the conditions of the roads on which the travel was made, but I have no doubt that he would have considered them using data much like this.
It turns out that I own a good stack of guideline publications for what was America's first news talk show,1 "America's Town Meeting of the Air", produced by the Town Hall Advisory board between 1935 and 1956.2 It was a weekly show, and in general--at least for the 90 examples I have for the 1938-1941 period--each broadcast came with a three-sheet guideline for the listeners on the subject of the weekly topic.
The first sheet was a general statement of the show's interest--for example, "What Shall We Do With the Joads?", for March 7, 1940 (the Joads being the family in the Steinbeck mega-epic The Grapes of Wrath). These intro pages are usually very concise, very well written, logical, and provocative.
The second sheet is really what surprised me so--a bibliography and suggested reading for the discussion. That means that before the radio program was broadcast the producers provided listeners a handy sheet with material to read so that they could better follow the discussion--this seems truly exceptional by today's sub-standards of a great chunk of radio political discussion, where volume/noise dictates correctness over recognized references. I wondered before looking at the list if The Grapes of Wrath would be there, because, well, it wasn't necessarily a popular read everywhere in spite of the book's critical reception. It was there, along with (shockingly) Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor's (her husband) An American Exodus; Carey McWilliams' Factories in the Field the Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California; and You Have Seen Their Faces, by Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White (described as "the Southern sharecropper in photographs and prose"). Actually all of the books and articles are given a similarly very-short description like this, in spite of their Great Classic status of today--the photographs by Bourke-White and Lange and McWilliams and their accompanying texts are really nothing short of masterpieces, difficult and challenging exposes of a national tragedy --and here they are, suggested reading for listeners of a radio talk show.
The third sheet was a "Who's Who" of the speakers for the show. In this case, they included Rexford Tugwell (an economist and former Director of the Resettlement Administration); Hugh Bennett (Chief, U.S. Soil Conservation Service); Carey McWilliams (the author of Factories in the Fields and at the time Chief, Division of Immigration and Housing for the state of California); and Philip Bancroft (a member of the executive committee of the Associated Farmers of California, the farmers of that state being a particular target of Steinbeck's in The Grapes of Wrath). There were serious people. And this was a serious radio show. Each week six pages of tight typescript on 11x8.5" sheets would be sent out, and each we the shows were of similar quality...just very impressive stuff.
[A sample broadcast-on Social Security--can be heard here at the Social Security Administration.]
The topics for conversation make for interesting discussion in themselves, and pretty much serve as a social barometer for the period. Here's a sample:
The long-spirit anarchist (and "Unterrified Jeffersonian") Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939) wrote "The Attitude of Anarchism toward Industrial Combination" in 1926, but the one I have at hand here was printed in Detroit (by Lawrence Labadie) in 1933--hardly a hotbead of anarchism in the the front yard of Henry Ford.
It is interesting to see on the inside of this tiny pamphlet that the anarchist Tucker's work was sent to H.L. Mencken, as a gift from the printer. It wouldn't stay long in Mr. Mencken's possession, as he sent it (along with a number of other works by Tucker that I can't lay my hands on at the moment) to the Library of Congress in July 1934 (and coming into my possession as part of a purchase of "the Pamphlet Collection" 65 years later.). I'm not so sure about what Mr. Mencken would have thought of most of it, only that he didn't keep it for long, I think, despite what might seem to be his "Tory Anarchism" and general oppositionist stances. left and right, whatever they might have meant at the time.
I was digging through a volume of The Emporium of Arts, and Sciences (Philadelphia, 1813-14), extracting the references for a long and fine article on the still-relatively-new steam engine (it runs 222 pages through several sections of the 448-page volume II) I stumbled upon this collection of pearls on how to raise children. Some of it is pretty good, some not, and some just compeltely and necessarily outdated and dusty and shrivelled and gone. But the first part, the very first bit, the very first sentence, is pretty much the whole enchilada. It was written by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann, who was the founder of the Schnepfenthal Institution, a new approach to education and a certainly-atypical school for the late 18th century.
[I own this volume though I've used the scans from the Internet Archive rather than spread the big-but-not-undelicate volume on the scanner.]
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord, my soul to keep;If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.--New England Primer, 1784 edition
There's nothing scary in that is there? The nightmare-maker may have its first introduction in the New England Primer, a book which was the backbone of North American education for many decades. as popular as it was and as much as it was used, print runs were not enormous, and most children would never actually own a copy of the book. It would be read to them for lessons, and that being the case much info was presented by vivid short rhymes , some of which are hard to forget because of the mental imagery they present.
For example the mnemonic devices used to help learn the alphabet is riddled with murder, mayhem, vice, death, and not all that much hope....except if you include stuff like "Job feels the rod, and praises God" as a Puritanical form of hope/salvation. Perhaps the writers were after the indelible impression as well as searing the cerebellum with the moral code. In fact, in the 24-letter alphabet presented in the edition ("i" and "v" are not included), 12 of the letters are death- or violence-related, including the statements that we are all sinners, that cats kill things, dogs bite, fools are whipped at school, life runs out like sand in an hourglass, punishment deserves prayer, offensive things as big as armies can be swallowed up whole, a teary Rachel cries over her tiny dead child, time will kill you (again), kings will do and so will so, and youthful bits can of course kill you. It is part-and-parcel I guess of the rearing of kids in the not-necessarily-glorious history of childhood. Death and the possibilities of it or some close relative of it was a lot closer to reality than it is today, especially when the average life span at the time was well under 50 and infant mortality easily an order of magnitude more prevalent than it is today1. And of course outside of the plague-of-death culture and the subjugation of kids for a better behavior there was also the screaming Calvinist theology that beat up/taught readers the abandonment of the self to the creator available to young and old.
This sort of indoctrination was hardly limited to the New England Primer, printed in this country as the first of its type beginning in the late 17th century (and with some familiarity several printings can be remember for famously having the "printed by B. Franklin" imprint in the 1760's). It would be easier to name the child's instructional that did not have this leaning (at least before 1880) though I am presently hard-pressed to think of an example off-hand).
And lest we forget, the Grimm brothers wrote stuff for kid the vast majority of which we wouldn't think of reading to our kids today--I didn't.
1. Good national statistics for the U.S. before 1870 begin to get sketchy in this area, though from 1900 onward the numbers look pretty good. Suffice to say that historians of medicine and Medieivalists and so on make pretty good educated estimates for these rates, and they're not so good. For example, in 1900 in America the average life span was 47 and the infant mortality at 16% (compared to about 80 or so and .7% today), though I cannot offhand find the stats for childhood survivability by age 10. Looking back in time the numbers get really big, with some people saying that childbirth mortality in the Medieval and Renaissance times were in the 30-50% range, and the survivability rate passed 10 was about the same. I don't have these rates for American colonial times, but I assume that they are closer to the Renaissance than they are to 1900 numbers. And of course this does not apply to slaves, whose rates of survivability were smaller still.
"...a most Plutonian sight. In no world but a fallen one could such lands exist."--Herman Melville on the Galapagos, in The Encantadas
"It is utterly useless to say anything about the Scenery...it would be as profitable to explain to a blind man colours, as to [a] person, who has not been out of Europe, the total dissimilarity of a Tropical view."--Charles Darwin in a letter not long after returning from his voyage on the Galapagos.--The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I (of II), edited by His Son, Charles Darwin & Francis Darwin
It is interesting to think of Charles Darwin and Herman Melville sharing tea prepared over a wood fire, stone chairs, looking out over the rough beach of one of the islands in the Galapagos chain from the top of the Rock Rodondo. And what I would have them talk about is their lives, reveiwed as spectres come back to Earth to see the advent of their careers as humans and what the future held in stock for them.
They certainly had different views of the Galapagos--the Melville quote from his The Encantadas, which is the "Enchanted Isles/Islands" or Galapagos is pretty much what he thought of the place, which was a cruel and wrenching world. Darwin, well... not so. (I should also point out that there is a little bit of back-up in the Melville novella regarding ghosts--one of the stories is about the encounter of the War of 1812 USS Essex with a ghost ship. And here are Dawin and Melville, two ghost ships passing in the night...)
Here is the quote to start off the tenth of ten parts of the work, "Runaways, Castaways, Solitaries, Gravestones, Etc.":
"And all about old stocks and stubs of trees, Whereon nor fruit nor leaf was ever seen, Did hang upon ragged knotty knees, On which had many wretches hanged been."
The two men weren't in the Galapagos at thew same time, though, during their living lives but did come within several years of one another on their respective voyages. Both men went on great accomplishment, though Melville's lasted only about five years, his writing and career falling out of the public eye soon after his fifth novel. Darwin was a different story.
[Photo by JF Ptak of the front door keyhole at Melville's house, Arrowhead, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The foundry work is old, the hardware is not.]
Darwin became DARWIN in 1859 and stayed there, and icon of thought. Melville achieved early fame but soon lost it. Melville's career started out very strong in 1846, and had five successful novels in five years. What he is remembered most for--Moby Dick--appeared in 1851, but the book was a critical and commercial failure. Pierre appeared in the next year, anf again very little success, and by just about that time his name as a highlight in the American literary world began to dim, considerably. He lived until 1891 and spent the '60's through the '80's and into the early '90's as an obscure footnote int eh history of American literature. As a matter of fact some of the short obituaries that appeared in New York papers had very little to say about him, and his great work in Moby Dick received scant (or no) attention. Even the New York Times didn't get the spelling correct of the title of the book1, referring to "Mobie"
Like the Mona Lisa, Melvillle didn't become his famous-self until well after his death, and the Mona Lisa did achieve her iconic nature (it can be argued) for nearly two centuries. Darwin became famous and stayed famous. In repose, perhaps Darwin would have wished for less recognition and Melville a little more--or at least enough to allow his to earn a living from his writing.
1. "Herman Melville died yesterday at his residence, 104 East Twenty-sixth Street, this city, of heart failure, aged seventy-two. He was the author of Typee, Omoo, Mobie Dick, and other sea-faring tales, written in earlier years. He leaves a wife and two daughters, Mrs. M. B. Thomas and Miss Melville."--New York Times, September 29, 1891
[This is a version of an article recently published in the Mensa Bulletin.]
The world of possibility is limitless when there are no limits and almost no impossibilities. The history of seeing possibilities in the future, the history of looking into the future, is vast (with exponential growth in publication for each of the last three generations), and organizing it for a limited discussion difficult—there is a general temptation to simply classify all of it according to an alphabet of “ramas” of all possible Futuramas.
How do we sort thousands of people writing about hundreds of thousands of future sightings in human development? Flying cars and people and cities and retrievable/liveable subconscious bits and dream, atomic blast guns, two-way wrist tv/radios, perfect places of nothing but intellect and floating intelligence, horseless cities, Soylent Green, personal computers small enough to fit into the trunk of your car, Edison's anti-grav underwear, buffalo herding from nuclear-powered sports cars, Maginot Line-sized mobile tank-ships, rockets to the Moon, rockets to the Sun, and rockets to tomorrow and to yesterday. We have futures where Manhattan is completely covered by thirty-story skyscrapers by the social warrior Thomas Nast; where George Holmes kills off cities with airplane-filled suburbs in 1912; where electric titan tank monsters with canons instead of cigarettes crushed hopeless opponents in 1918; where atomic-powered dirigible airports free up land in 1946; where a floating NYC is moored above the hole-in-the-ground where it once stood. Where spacecraft of mega-sharp ultra-fins await their cigarette-smoking pilots in 1953 and out-Eiffeled mile-high vertical airport towers, and where an identical duplicate Earth floats serenely in place above a bird's-eye view of Manhattan.
Much of the early technical thinking on the future seems neither utopian (in the traditions of Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Plato, Robert Owen, and such) nor what we would consider today to be dystopian (as with visions of Capek, Bradbury, Orwell, Burgess)--it seems to tend more towards a neutropia. And this does not include the earlier attempts at predicting the near future by looking at frothy bits of entrails or the shades of urine, or the oracles of thrown dice bones or draw of playing cards, or following the implications of human mole maps or seeking guidance in the alignment of stars in the sky.
And at the top and bottom of it all are the religious futures of endless pain and comfort and nothingness and repetitive existences—but that doesn't feed into this topic, though the way time ticks through the reckoning of Brahma is very nicely suited to calculating versions of pieces of infinity.
This effort of looking at the history of the future is easier when there are bookends, and there's no more a convenient end to the future as when it has a date. And in the past that date has often been the year 2000.
Let's look at two very unusual examples of future thought experiments—one of which visualizes life in the year 2000—and both of which entertain what may be one of the ultimate considerations for the evolution of humans.
One aspect of thinking about the future is the opposite of trying to include a sense of the future in the present—instead, it can be about removal. Removal of the present, distancing it from the present and the past. Removal of practices, though not necessarily principles.
And perhaps one of the greatest of these removals is that of the human aspect of humanity: people replaced by created entities. In a way, a sort of 19th century singularity.
A curious example of this can be found in the third edition of Jonathan Swift's tales of Lemuel Gulliver, where we see a Jorge Borgesian library-producing machine, a 20' square instrument made of cranks and cubes and turned by scribes producing an endless stream of knowledge. A wooden miracle replacing the human mind, an intelligent primum mobile with splinters.
A great example of this high removal is found in "The century of invention Anno Domini 2000 or the march of aerostation, steam, rail roads, movable houses & perpetual motion,” a terrific lithograph, made ca. 1834, the handiwork and imagination of Charles Jameson Grant, a satirist and observer of high order. He tried looking into the future 165 years hence, and in some practicable ways he got a lot of it right--the imagery wasn't there, but the iconic sense of what may come to be was.
We see small and large individual steam-powered four-wheeled vehicles, as well as plenty of balloons (in the spirit of aviation, at this point in its fourth decade and entering a great heyday) passing each other in every which way, off on adventures, or work, or in a race (as with the "out of Sight Club"). There are also numerous people flapping around in the sky ("winging it so early") with their (something)-powered wings, some of whom are ironically hunting birds.
The main sensation here is speed, though I would not say it was democratic--the means to go to Dublin in your balloon "for an appetite" and return later in the day would have been fantastic to the 1834 reader trying to imagine doing such a thing on such a whim, with a newspaper in your lap, but certainly it would be available to the leisurely class.
There was also an idea for balloonic communication, as one man in a balloon shouts to another to "give me a call by the first balloon," meaning perhaps a communication device, or a balloon-delivered letter.
The dialog certainly portrays an attitude of unremarkable observation, conveying how commonplace flight and mobile towns and steam cars would be in the year 2000. That's where one of Grant's the great insights comes into play--at lower left there is a person excitedly remarking about a race, and particularly on the great rarity of the exhibition of a live horse. That Grant would make this an issue is interesting, as it would certainly rub the 1830s consciousness the opposite way of what the brain expected to see in the street, and that was horses. Horses powered almost all transportation at this time—save for the invention of the railroad, some of which were horse-powered—and to imagine a world in which the horse would be gone would've been, well, unimaginable.
Also, too, the great and extensive coal mines fueling the Industrial Revolution going dry, the coal consumed.
At the bottom of the print is the prize, a very unusual placard concerning robotics: "a cast iron Parson will preach by steam at Fudge Church.” This is doubly intriguing because it not only invokes a steam-powered person—still fairly rare in the literature in the first third of the 19th century—but also a thinking one, a parson, a mechanical object trusted with the preaching and interpretation of a basic human belief system. This seems a bit on the primitive side in its display, but the intellectual imagery is pretty powerful stuff. I assume that the power of this would've been less so at the time of publication, guessing that Grant was making more of a not-so-subtle satire on the steam-driven puffery of some preachers with the creativity of kettles, and that in the future this would be magnified to the point of steam and smoke. But still the idea of placing the deeply emotional stuff of belief systems in the control of a machine is extraordinary for the time.
A few years earlier William Heath's March of the Intellect series (1825-1829) displayed another robotic entity witha book-driven intellect in its “crown of many towers” (London University) that swept up the great "rubbish" and "dust" of society. The robot was thinking in its way, distilling the promise of data and intelligence in its book-laden head, firing its set of gas-light eyes, iron arms, and legs made of printer's tools, sweeping away useless and insulting lawyers and jurists and their legal wigs and obsolete and repetitive rules, medical quacks, and the dust of other official abuses, "sweeping rubbish from the land.” It was making decisions and acting on them, trumping the humans in its path.
It is a remarkable leap, the consequences of which are difficult to put into perspective. I can think of an example from the novel Flatland, by Edwin Abbott, when its two dimensional characters first encounter a three dimensional figure—superbly incomprehensible at first, understanding following with some difficulty.
Visualizing the assumption of a created intelligence developed enough to supplant or supervise human thought and activity was probably beyond the 19th century sensibility—just as its technical aspects are to us now.
See also the related post from 2012 "A Bloated Alphabet of Fat Cures: Strychnine Pills, Vibrators and Hope", here.
Pushing its way past other adds in the back of the May 1903 issue of The Confederate Veteran is this contagiously interesting advertisement for a very loud quack cure for "blood poisoning". It was manufactured by the Cook Remedy Company of Chicago, Illinois, and offered their cure ("unknown to the profession") to sufferers of "the Bad Disease", which they say can affect anyone, not just confined to "dens of vice or the lower classes". "Our magic cure" they say, can help all sufferers, curing "quickly and permanently"--otherwise the bad stuff happens, not the least of which was bringing "disease to you and disgrace upon your children", which is tough hardball stuff, especially coming from con-artist quick-thieves who would say anything and offer any hope to desperate people for a buck, trading on frailty, ill-health, and fear.
By Cook Remedy was identified as a quack organization by the federal government, having a not-so-pretty appearance in the 1912 Hearings on the Pure Food and Drug Act.
I suppose that the cross in "Blood Poison" was designed to resemble a cemetery/graveyard marker...
Can We See More or Less than We Used To Be Able To See?
An early study of attention and perception (or “How Many Items Can it Embrace at Once?”) popped out at me while muscling my way through another year of Nature magazine for 1871. The article was by the polymatic W. Stanley Jevons ("The Power of Numerical Discrimination," in Nature volume III, 1871) who contributes an interesting and very early experimental bit on the success of the brain to correctly formulate an accurate memory when in a flash shown a number of items. (That is to say, when shown a certain group of X-number of items instantaneously and then removed, how often will the mind be able to remember the correct number upon recall--and without committing them to memory per se or counting them?) In this fascinating study Jevons records not only right/wrong answers but how "close" the remembered fit is to the original number, and in effect is a pioneering scientific effort towards understanding our abilities and limits in information processing. And as it turns out the ability to precisely recognize and remember groups of objects with success and without counting stops at about four items for the vast number of people texted. (It is another display of a famous four, including the four faces of Brahma, directions, Gospels, minute mile, playing card suits, seasons, corners of a square, virtues, color problem and of course four- letter words, to name a few.)