A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
This is just a quick picture-post sharing the cover art for anti-Communist works by the Jesuit priest, Raymond Feely. Fr. Feely was not a fan of the Communists, who he felt amidst all other things raised the importance of the state to a religion and beatification of the State, and that of course just would not do. He wrote these in the mid-1930's before the bestial stuff of Joseph Stalin had come out popularly in the West, and also before the Great Terror enveloped the U.S.S.R. There was still some interest in Stalin's brand of Communism in the U.S., though that was the left-over mythological and chromed-over trumpian gilted Communism that people thought existed earlier, but actually didn't.
Anyway, Feely had no use for that, and wrote about it--you can pretty much tell by the cover art what he thought of Communism.
JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding an earlier post, not having previously noticed the robot baby)
Punch, or the London Charivari published this delightful and somewhat prescient illustration ("Harlequin Aluminum; or, Jack and the Pharaoh's Serpent") in its 27 January 1866 issue. It is for me an excellent, sort-of early depiction of a steam-man, a steampunk man, a steam-driven clown robot person, that is very deeply and frequently hinged, with smoke belching from a curved smokestack coming from the back of its head, and controlling its own destiny enough so that it is actually attacking and blowing up a steam locomotive.
And that's what this image is all about--in the age of steam, the future looks more so; that, and given its extraordinarily frequent use (16 times) in the very short text, things in the future are going to get very "scientific1".
And what the (aluminum2) robot seems to be doing with its scientific poker is exploding a scientific locomotive, for reasons unknown, except that the application of the poker was very successful, if that is the proper word to describe this action--it does act to control its steam technology is busting the new technologies of the era, a rub and at the same time a statement of hope or expectation in a high-Victorian manner, a rationalism of all things via technological means. And at this time, in the mid-1860's, the new wellspring of hope was being found in electricity-based solutions--moving away from the pervasive steam-driven technologies--though as the cartoon suggests those expectations might be too soon, too fast and too deeply placed. After all, these things are being exploded by a "scientific clown" with a "scientific poker"--and that clown is being driven by steam.
Further, the steamrobot clown is pulling a scientific baby from a mortar--this is something that is unique to my experience, a robot generating a newer, younger, baby-robot in some undescribed manner. This is a generational moment among robots and something that is certainly not common in the history of early robots.
In the background-right we see a string of "scientific fairies" suspended by electricity, and beyond them, center-rear, is a comedian reading from Joe Miller's joke book (of "scientific puns") into a telephone-like device, with an audience to his mirth sitting and listening on the other end of the line--and this still 11 years away from the invention of the telephone. And so on. It is a marvelous piece of work, especially considering what was probably an ephemeral status.
(Also, the "Pharaoh's Serpent" part of the title of the illustration refers to a three-year-old phrase: "1863 W. AllinghamJrnl. 3 Oct. in H. Tennyson Mem. Tennyson (1897) I. 513 Mrs Cameron showed a small firework toy called ‘Pharaoh's Serpents’, a kind of pastille which when lighted twists about in a wormlike shape"--from the OED.)
1. It is well-known that William Whewell created the word "scientist" relatively recently, in 1834 (see below). "Scientific" goes back quite a bit further, deep into the 18th c in some uses; farther back in others.
"Scientist" in the OED: 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. WhewellPhilos. 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. "Aluminim" is a word created by Humphrey Davy in 1812.
I was working my way through a stack of volumes of William Cobbett's Political Register containing reporting for the war years for the War of 1812--this magazine/newspaper was a weekly journal of news and interpretation by an American-sympathizing radical journalist reformer Brit. Looking for one event in particular, I came across it in an official report of September 19, 1814, dated from Washington City, in the November 14, 1814 issue of the Register, Nestled in the "official reports" section is this summation of the action of September 13, 1814, in the city of Baltimore, which was under siege by a large British fleet, which was "successfully resisted by the steady and well-directed fire of the fort and batteries opposed to it".
Here's the snippet:
Source: William Cobbett, Cobbett'sPolitical Register, London, printed for the author and sold by Richard Bagshaw in Covent Garden, volume 26, November 5, 1814.
Much of the critical bombardment of the fort occurred at night, and for one observer--an official U.S. representative then being held in custody by the British on board a ship in the harbor--the outcome of the battle would not be known until the first light of day. What he saw that morning by dawn's early light was what he had seen in the evening, hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,--a U.S. flag (a "star-spangled banner") flown above the fort, meaning that the fort had survived, the defense maintained, with a victory in hand.
The fort was Fort McHenry, and the U.S. representative here of course was Francis Scott Key, who turned his experience into a national witnessing, presenting it in a poem later to to music that would become the national anthem.
There was no mistaking the victory described here at Baltimore (and also the mention of the major victory at Plattsburg), though there was not much flavor to the reporting. But here it is, a great national moment, appearing as a single sentence with four commas. Given the scanty capabilities of overseas reporting perhaps these were the scant public facts that were presented to the British people buying Cobbett's two-penny weekly (much scorned by the wealthy/well-do-do and much read by the actual working class), so the emotive significance of the event was lost to detail and translation. The impact of the victory was certainly felt very quickly in the U.S.
This is one reason why it is so interesting to read the original reports and publications of historical social and scientific events.
A Possible-reality from the visionary Robert Fludd
[Source: University of Utah, http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/naturae/id/1587/show/1265/rec/1]
Robert Fludd’s (1574-1637), title page for his Utriusque Cosmi . . . Historia (1617) features this complicated astrological wheel with a Vitruvian-man-like image at the vortex of the imaged pulls and pushes of the cosmos. In addition to everything else, real and imagined, Rosicrucianism and astrology and puffy-birds, Fludd, who was an English physician, delved deeply into the real stuff of the world in this book in addition to all of the other make-believe--optics, the musical intervals, perspective drawing, hydraulic engineering, construction of lifting machines, military engineering and many other interesting, physical science topics. But this drawing, right there on the title page, reveals Fludd’s real interests and shows what governs what he does. Everything else, the math and and the physics, services this need. Of course the image is beautiful, which is why it is here, but it is also a deeply personal, exploitative, cover-all for the things that Fludd wanted to find.
But there is a lot of other interesting, and potentially-applicable, real-world stuff and proposals in the book as we can see in the exotic and wonder-full image of the high-Renaissance "tank" that leads this short post. I'm not so sure that this thing would actually move--I assume that it has wheels or something in the front part to help it move along, otherwise that weapon would go nowhere. Even if it was assumed to be mobile, I wonder about whether four horses is enough to move along something that size plus six canon and at least three men. Even with 5'/6' wheels, it seems not so likely that this would roll across a battlefield. All that said, this did exist in the realm of possibility, and Fludd had much else. Since I've been doing research on the first battlefield appearances of tanks, this one particular image caught my attention.
This leaflet was dropped on German forces by the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F. soon after the breakout of the Battle of the Bulge/Ardennes in the end of January 1945, which is one of the two failures that this propaganda sheet screamed about. It is a little odd though that in the map it would show the German offensive at its worst for the U.S. troops, with the bulge extending far west and Bastogne being surrounded. Yet the leaflet told of the German losses of its failed offensive ("Operation Watch on the Rhine") though it did not show the progress of the month-long battle on the map, which should have shown the battle line back to its more-or-less original position by 25 January. In describing the catastrophe of the German position in the east (leading with the loss of "380,000 soldiers") the date of 24 January is mentioned, which supports the late January estimate for a printing date. This was of course the Vistula-Oder Offensive. which saw the Soviet Army advance more than 300 miles in a month, right to the Oder, only 40-odd miles from Berlin. In that campaign the German Army Group A was just about killed--of the 450,000 soldiers in retreat along this long and disastrous front during the month of January, the overwhelming majority were casualties, including nearly 300,000 killed. The wounded and other survivors became POWs. The bottom line of course was that the winter of 1945 for the German soldier was bitter and deadly, and was leading nowhere except defeat--there was no doubt what lay ahead after seeing that map of the Eastern Front.
I've been looking at early flying machines--real and imagined--and came upon this at the Library of Congress. There is very little information provided there, and I can't find anything useful online, so I'm going with this being a poster for J.M. Gaites' "musical farce comedy" The Air Ship, which was copyrighted in 1898. The cover shows a "Fly Cop" making a rather forward advance on a young woman with babies in a basket fashioned as a part of the stern of a delicate self-propelled flying machine. The cop is attached to a min-dirigible that has a small fan for its propulsion, as does the remorseful-looking butcher bringing up the rear to the scene. And the whole thing takes place high over Manhattan, looking to be well north of midtown, and probably 3k feet high. Looking south over the island we see the rivers (and a hint of the Brooklyn Bridge) and then in the harbor a suggestion of the Statue of Liberty.
In 1869 there weren't yet catchy tunes or jingles to help you remember the name of a product that you didn't need though purchased because of some subliminal twitch, and there weren't many images of a well-turned ankle stretched over the bottom rung of a farm-intended three-horse equalizer, and the colorfully pulsating repetitive splash imagery wasn't close yet to being part of The Daily Life of the Average Person--what certainly did exist was the misleading/phony bait-and-switch lede, which today I guess would be called "click bait". Here's a great example of that, not-so-deeply-nestled in the back pages of the June 1869 issue of American Agriculturalist. The column seems to announce AN EARTHQUAKE perhaps on JUNE 30TH--but all it is is an advertisement for becoming a subscriber, and it turns out to be that the journal is a very useful farmer's friend. The ad did however try to grab the attention of the passing reader--and it was still working, 147 years later.
This landscape brings to mind a certain style if not a particular artist, someone working a lonely, cool-if-not-cold landscape, and although the terrain is certainly representational nothing on the hills seem to be, save for the tree in the foreground. It seems a little in the school of Grant Wood, or 1930's, or something along those lines.
The image is a detail, and when you pull back a little, there is more a suggestion of time and place:
When I look at the scene in context, it becomes very confusing, because it is sitting in the background of a painting by Giovanni Bellini, which was painted ca. 1500. There is no doubt that this is a Renaissance painting--but for me, seeing this grab of a modernity 400 + years into the future, I wonder what it was that moved Bellini in this way.
[Source: a catalog for the sale of the paintings collected by the Bourgeois brothers (which is also a good band name), Catalogue des Tableaux Anciens et Modernes composant la Collection Bourgeois Freres .printed in Cologne, 1904, painting number 3. ]
There is hardly anything that is nothing, or a hardly-nothing that is nothing, because the more of a suggestion that in something exists nothing than we are forced to consider the nothingness which of course defeats the cause of identifying that something as a nothing. The image below is a good example of the greater expanse of a supposed nothingness--it is a simple cross section of a doric entablature ("a horizontal, continuous lintel on a classical building supported by columns or a wall, comprising the architrave, frieze, and cornice") or more simply put, the stuff between the pediment and the column. In this case we see the anatomy of the entablature more so than anything else, most of the decoration and design pretty much left aside. We are left with a map of lines, a picture of stability, firmness, and a cold comfort, somehow.
I just like the engraving.
Master G.A. (Italian, active ca. 1535) Doric entablature
[Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/415345?sortBy=Relevance&ft=doric+entablature&pg=1&rpp=20&pos=1]
I have on my desk a carbon copy of a manuscript sent to the copyright office and then on to the Library of Congress, where it went into (I guess) a dead-end collection called the "Pamphlets Collection" (which is not THE pamphlet collection, something that would no doubt contain many millions of items), and then after a number of decades that collection came to me. In any event, that is why I have it--but now, after having discovered it after owning this material for 17 years, I wonder what it is I do with it.
The work is by Yohanna Ibn al Farmouzi, The Great Oriental Dream Interpreter, a Practical Encyclopedia of Dream Interpretations, and copyrighted in 1936 (by John Pana-Fermos, which is Al Farmouzi, Americanized). The subhead reads: "Based upon the study of over 40,000 dreams, extending over a period of forty-six years" with an index of 2,644 keywords (but then confusingly moves on to say "the interpretations of Eleven Thousand Dreams"). In any event, whatever it is that is going on in the manuscript is orderly, neat, fairly well-written, and big. The typescript is 498 pages long, and I estimate contains about 250,000 words, which is a substantial thing.
All that said, it is one man's work on dream interpretation, which means that the reader depends on his insight to lead a conversation on a LOT of different topics. Perhaps it is of interest simply for its extensive index/categorizer of dream elements, which runs 15 single-space pages of four columns.
Mr. Pana-Fermos did publish pieces of this work--one part is a 1000-dream analyzer of 50pp, and another is a love-dream bit. But there is nothing it seems to match this massive work.
I'm just not sure where it should go. No doubt it would be very interesting to some set of people.
"The little zigzags of embarrassment."--J. AustenEmma I. xv. 282, 1816
Well, these be not zigzags of embarrassment, but zigzags of necessity, and the means for keeping track of them. And too there's nothing in Jane Austen to relate to submarines and their evasion except for an appearance of the word "zigzag", which is actually a fairly old word in English (coming from the French "sigsak"), reaching down into the very early 18th century. It is older than the word "submarine" as it is used to describe an underwater vessel, and curiously in light of Ms. Austen it appears in print very close to the date of Emma, in 18281. And so the course of a ship could be documented for those in control of her, keeping track of the true destination in spite of all the zigs and zgas made to confuse and elude a German sub. This is another example of an empire controlled with string, as we have previously seen here in the use of long collections of string that kept track of the British rail. String isn't as simple as it seems.
This short article appeared in Popular Mechanics, March, 1918, page 484.
JF Ptak Science Books (an earlier post from 2008 expanded and corrected somewhat)
I wanted to return and add a bit to an earlier notice concerning a series of drawings that I found utterly fascinating—what seems to be among the earliest illustrations of the active formation representing visualized human thought. (I know that this titling is ungainly, but it seems to be the least inelegant solutions to stating the idea of what the images represent.) In 1873 Miss H. R. Hudson wrote an article1 on her visualization of numbers--and later and more famously Sir Francis Galton approached this same issue first in an article in Nature2that included a number of fascinating presentations of the "suspended" numbers. Working further through this thesis he greatly expanded it, resulting in a 26-page chapter called “Number-Forms” in his book Inquiries into Human Faculties and its Development3(1883, with a second edition appearing in 1909). Galton includes another 71 images of visualizing arithmetic, plus others on general images of mental images of numbers and letters—there is also a small but beautiful section on associations between colors and numbers and letters. (These are all depicted in the first four images on this page.)
G.T.W. Patrick (a professor of philosophy at the state university of Iowa) published one of the earliest papers in response to Galton’s work. In “Number-forms”4, published in the Popular Science Monthly in 1893, Patrick addresses and expands Galton’s work somewhat, including another eighteen wonderful illustrations of similar images.
But the path back to Galton is not quite a straight one. Galton was initially concerned with imaging of numbers and numbers forms while people were performing mental calculations. Patrick on the other hand asked his subjects if they had associative images in their mind of numbers—formally, he asked them if the number series of 1-9 presented itself in a visual, representative way in their minds. In the second and third parts of his three-part inquiry, he asked the same question about letters and the alphabet, and then, thirdly, if they perceived any sense of color from letters and numbers, and what then what those exact relationships were.
It is interesting that in the studies of Galton and Patrick that over time in each of the subjects tested that (in Galton’s words) the images were “absolutely unchangeable except for a gradual development of complexity”. Since I (like Galton, which is probably the only time I will ever be able to associate myself with this man in terms of familiar traits) have no such images in my head when I think about mathematics or numbers or letter or words in general, it is remarkable to me on the human scale that people who have these associations would have the same ones time after time. A movable feast, as it were. Of course it would make sense that this reference system would be constant—but for someone that doesn’t ‘see” these images at all, the fact that they are so flowing and lucid and unchanging is simply difficult for me to imagine. (In a few weeks I'll return to this issue, looking at how some prodigiously gifted people "see" with their special attributes.)
Images below are from the Patrick paper:
"The nine digits will ascend in a straight line before my mind's eye, and the larger numbers will slant off at a queer angle", Atlantic Monthly for February, 1873.
Nature, January 15, 1880. Follow the first link to a full reprint of the paper and a short article on it that appeared in this blog.
Full text of Galton's work appears at Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11562/11562-h/11562-h.htm#1noshow
Popular Science Monthly, February 1893 (pp 504-515). Full text of the article by Patrick here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Popular_Science_Monthly/Volume_42/February_1893/Number_Forms I should also note that Patrick wrote a very early paper on the psychology of football in 1903, full article here: https://archive.org/stream/jstor-1412309/1412309_djvu.txt
There are no doubt squares in the general outline of the comic book panels of Tintin--what I had in mind was a very special square that occurs in Tintin's adventures in the Soviet Union. This was the first adventure of Tintin, and appeared in a serialized form in 1929-1930. We are introduced to the young and intrepid journalist/adventurer here in glorious black and white (this would be the only one of the Tintin adventures that was never rendered in color at one time or another), being sent off to the newish (since 1922) Soviet Union. At the time it was Stalin's USSR, and things were not--shall we say--going well for the people of the Soviet Union. Tintin's creator, Georges Remi ("Herge") was working an anti-Marxist angle for his conservative publisher, and he had no difficulty in supplying story lines to fulfill that need--some of these were exaggerated overall, and some were exaggerated but proved correct over time. The adventures there were difficult, occasionally brutal, and overall not brutal enough.
Herge depicted an unpleasant Soviet Union, working out from the "stinking slum" of Moscow out to the farms that were being destroyed in the countryside. He insinuated threats of violence in voting, death by firing squads, the starving of the peasants, and much else. The deal is that by the time the strip reached its conclusion in 1930 Stalin was already underway in his loudly quiet way in instituting the Great Famine/Holodomor in the Ukraine, and by the end of this created famine--a reverse nuclear weapon of food withdrawal--something on the order of 7 million people would be starved to death by 1934. Then of course came the Great Terror of 1936-8, and the rest of it. Herge may have exaggerated some stuff in 1929/30, but few people could have imagined (even when it was happening) the scale of Stalin's great evil.
That said, I wanted really to just talk about one square in the Tintin adventure. This is where Herge goes black (Soprano's style)--he leaves an entire panel black to depict violence. Entirely black. I'm not a comic book/graphic novel guy, but I've seen my fair share of them (most <1970) and I have to say that seeing the black panel was extremely surprising. In my experience, it just didn't happen.
And what that did was call to mind other squares--notably of course Kasimir Malevich's (1878-1935) great construction, the Black Square (beginning in 1915):
Then of course there's the Cubists...but what comes next to mind re the square (and the black one at that) are the later works by Piet Mondrian. Mondrian had gone through a tremendous period of change int he decades from 1905-1935, though it seems to me that even as early as 1909 squares began to appear in the skies (and other places) in his pre-Cubist representational paintings ( as in Sea Toward Sunset, 1909, and Church in Zeeland, 1909/1910), the geometry taking hold for good by 1916. A good example is Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Grey and Blue, 1921:
[Image source: http://www.abstractcritical.com/article/malevich-and-mondrian/index.html This illustrates an interesting article, "Malevich and Mondrian" by David Evison.]
And so we could wind our way through the history of black squares, but we'll stop there. Oh, one more: the great squares of Oliver Byrne who in his gorgeous 1847 work replaced numbers with colors in presenting the first six books of Euclid:
[Source: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/05/jf-ptak-scien-1.html I wrote a little about this in the first few months of this blog back in 2008 in "Dismantling Reality--Euclid, Mondrian, Malevich, Lobachevsky and the Appearance and Disappearance of Form Through Geometry", which I admit is a big title for a thousand-word blog, but so it goes.]
This design has all the trappings of a modern right-wingish hatchet job screed publication denouncing and de-deifying the CIO (the other part of the AFL-CIO). As it turns out this gritty, demanding, and offsetting design is the cover for a pro-CIO publication, published by the organization itself. The shattered sky raining coal tar and blood is falling on what sorta looks like a collection of imitation Soviet-y working folks. To me the art indicts the CIO for something, and that "something" is not good. But inside it is all wine and roses and fighting the good fight for teh working class. It is just a very odd job, badly done.
What the end of the war sounded like was, well, nothing--it was the absence of something, and no doubt for all of those involved it was the absence of the Everything that was manufactured to take away their lives. This photograph of the display of recorded sound at the battlefield shows the moment the war ended, at 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.