A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
Sir William Siemens (1823-1883) was an important inventor who had an even larger genius for the application of his ideas, mostly in the fields of heat and electricity and power. He occasionally strayed into the pure sciences, the work of which was sometimes fruitful and sometimes not. The illustration below is from an idea of the second variety, something where he applied his work in the regenerative furnace to the conservation of solar energy. It was an adventurous and unworkable, although the illustration he used to illustrate a paper on the subject (in Nature, 9 March 1882) was drop-dead beautiful.
Interesting bits of unintentional art--in some of these cases, unintentional, or found, Dadaist art--can be found in unexpected places. Here, in this parade of zeros, we find such a case, and the place it is taken is from Girolamo Maggi's book on fortification , printed in Venice in 1583. Aside from the crowded images like the Maturation of Zeros, I like the Embigenment of Empty Space approaches as much.
"As soone as the doore creekt, I spied a certaine Mathematitian, which till then had bene busied to finde, to deride, to detrude Ptolomey; and now with an erect countenance, and setled pace, came to the gates, and with hands and feet (scarce respecting Lucifer himselfe) beat the dores, and cried; "Are these shut against me, to whom all the Heavens were ever open, who was a Soule to the Earth, and gave it motion?" "By this I knew it was Copernicus. For though I had never heard ill of his life, and therefore might wonder to find him there; yet when I remembered, that the Papists have extended the name, & the punishment of Heresie, almost to every thing, and that as yet I used Gregories and Bedes spectacles, by which one saw Origen, who deserved so well of the Christian Church, burning in Hell, I doubted no longer, but assured my selfe that it was Copernicus which I saw." --John Donne, Ignatius his Conclave... (The full title: Ignatius his conclave : or, his inthronisation in a late election in hell: wherin many things are mingled by way of satyr. Concerning the disposition of Iesuites, the creation of a new hell, the establishing of a church in the moone. There is also added an apology for Iesuites. All dedicated to the two adversary angels, which are protectors of the Papall Consistory, and of the Colledge of Sorbon. By Iohn Donne, Doctor of Divinitie, and late Deane of Saint Pauls.)
The poem is a wide attack on the Jesuits and Ignatius of Loyola,depicting them/him int eh deep lake of fire--Copernicus may also be found there in the Devil's regions, though he wouldn't stay for long, as he was released from his torment by Mr. Donne. While there though Donne makes an interesting observation on the Devil itself, thinking that it might be from outer space, an alien from another place, "I thought thee of the race of the starre":
"To whome Lucifer sayd; "Who are you? For though even by this boldnesse you seeme worthy to enter, and have attempted a new faction even in Hell, yet you must first satisfie those which stand about you, and which expect the same fortune as you do."
"Except, O Lucifer," answered Copernicus, "I thought thee of the race of the starre Lucifer, with which I am so well acquainted, I should not vouchsafe thee this discourse. I am he, which pitying thee who wert thrust into the Center of the world, raysed both thee, and thy prison, the Earth, up into the Heavens; so as by my meanes God doth not enjoy his revenge upon thee. The Sunne, which was an officious spy, and a betrayer of faults, and so thine enemy, I have appointed to go into the lowest part of the world. Shall these gates be open to such as have innovated in small matters? and shall they be shut against me, who have turned the whole frame of the world, and am thereby almost a new Creator?"
Ignatius is also released from the confines of Hell, but--as it is stated right there in the title of the work--he is sent on to the Moon to establish himself, in a place where he would do less than than had he remained with the Devil.
I own this series of stereoviews but they have yet to surface in our recent move--I did bump into them online at the beautiful University of Heidelberg site, nicely reproduced, though without the the rich glossy blacker-than-black finish in the originals--but these will work nicely.
Max Wolf, Stereoskopbilder vom Sternhimmel (1. Serie), Leipzig, 1913.
Like many religious leaders and clerics, Martin Luther in 1539 took a dim and critical view of Copernicus and his new and substantiated theory of planetary motion and placement--he was also among the earliest important criticisms of the work, unable to provide any harmony between the new ideas and the overwhelming authority of the Bible. How did Luther come to say these things about a work that wasn't published until 1543 (as De revolutionibus orbium coelestiumor On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres)? As it turns out Copernicus' book was largely finished a decade or so before it was finally published, being constantly revised and amended and corrected, with parts of the work presented for review and comment to such people as Pope Clement VII (who came to believe in the book and who volunteered to pay for its printing but dying before this could be set into place).
The work was discussed for ten years before publication, with part of the theory finding its way into a small but select circulation in Copernicus' 40-page summary of his major work, Commentariolus1, which would have been passed hand-to hand and which itself would not see publication for another 400 years (as the De Revolutionbus was the mature version of what the Commentariolus summarized)--though few copies existed, people did lecture on the work, which is probably where Pope Clement came into contact with its ideas. So it is entirely plausible for Luther to have come into contact with these ideas before publication.
"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to
prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the
sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a
carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at
rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that
is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he
must needs invent something special, and the way he does it
must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art
of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells
us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the
earth." And there was more.2
Even still Luther never did issue a retraction for his statement, and
the Catholic Church designated the book to its list of prohibited books,
in spite of a vetting element that took place prior to publication--it should also be noted that the
book was also respectfully dedicated to Pope Paul III, leader of the Catholic Church, which was somewhat ambivalent to the work for several decades.
Thomas Wright (1711-1786) saw about as deeply into the deep as just about anyone else--he looked into the night sky and pretty much saw all of it. In his book, An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe, Founded upon the Laws of Nature1, he described a version of the universe that was influential in the thinking of Kant and Herschel, finding a rectangular/squashed "finite infinity" of stars, "a vast infinite Gulph, or
Medium, every Way extended like a Plane,
and inclosed between two Surfaces".
Our Milky Way, which at the time was thought to be the entire universe rather than a galaxy as it was later discovered to be--one galaxy in a seemingly endless sea of galaxies--was presciently seen by Wilkins as being but one assembly of stars in an "endless immensity" of stars:
"And farther since without any impiety; since
as the creation is, so is the Creator also magni-
fied, we may conclude in consequence of an in-
finity, and an infinite all-active power; that is
the visible creation is supposed to be full of si-
derial systems and planetay worlds, so on, in
like similar manner, the endless immensity is an
unlimited plenum of creations not unlike the
known Universe."--page 143. (Again, the "Universe" eferred to here is the Milky Way galaxy.)
Wright's vision of this plethora of Universes, in which each creation is one like the Milky Way--a radical thought in 1750:
[Part of me wants to include the first Wright engraving in this blog's series on the History of Lines, seeing as how they represent the great Something that seem to be infinitely binding the infinity of universes...]
Wright also writes on the minuteness of the human condition, of the perfect sense of nothingness that is the Earth in a sea of infinite possibilities of other earths and earthy creations, which was definitely an outpost of thinking in 1750:
"In this great celestial creation, the catastro-
phe of a world, such as ours, or even the to-
tal dissolution of a system of Worlds, may pos-
sibly be no more to the great author of nature,
than the most common accident in life with us,
and in all probability such final and general
doom-days may be as frequent there, as even
birth-days, or mortality with us upon the Earth.
This idea has something so cheerful in it, that
I own I can never look upon the Stars without
wondering why the whole world does not be-
come Astronomers; and that men endowed with
sense and reason, should neglect a science they
are naturally so much interested in, and so ca-
pable of enlarging the understanding, as next to
a demonstration, must convince them of their
immortality, and reconcile them to all those lit-
tle difficulties incident to human nature, with-
out the least anxiety."--page 132
1. The full title: An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe, Founded upon the Laws of Nature, and solving by Mathematical Principles the General Phenomena of the Visible Creation ; and particularly the Via Lactea. Comprised in Nine Familiar Letters from the Author to his Friend. And illustrated with upwards of thirty graven and mezzo-tinted Plates by the best Masters. London, MDCCL." Full test, here.
2. An odd note about Thomas Wright's personal history, from Science, 1902: "A word, in passing, about Wright. Like many another, so unfortunate as to live ere the
times were ripe, he has been consigned to unmerited oblivion. Even the writer of the entry upon him in the ' Dictionary of National Biography '—a work so uniformly accurate — is unaware of the sources from which information could have been obtained, and so has nothing to tell, — does not even know the dates of his birth and death, or why he was called 'of Durham."--[Science, N. S. Vol. XIII. No. 321. 2-22-1902
An interesting poem by Rafinesque to start of his edition of Wilkins:
"Where ends the range and limits have been set
To mortal eyes, there mental sight begins
To fathom space, and worlds invisible
The mind must feel that space can have no bound*,
Whatever number be of things or thoughts
Others may be beyond—and thus behind
The Nebulas and Belts, our Galaxies
Of stormy clouds and oceans
There stands the central land and throne
Of our wide Universe, the home of Angels,
The seat of Love Divine"
Rafinesque, Poem on Instability, found at the beginning of Rafinesque's 1837 American edition of Wright's 1750 work.
I was about to post this great image of the attendees of a significant meeting of the American Astronomical Society taken during the meeting in D.C. over New Year's 1924 (Dec 30 1924-January 1, 1925--certainly no one for many years has thought about holding a professional meeting on such a date!1) but I cannot let it pass that the paper on the other side of the photo was one of very high importance.
First, the photo, which I have not yet been able to locate easily online:
[More detailed closeups are available in the continued reading section, below. Source: Popular Astronomy, volume 33, April, 1925.]
The paper directly opposite the slick reverse of the photo spread is Edwin Hubble's "Cepheids in the Spiral Nebulae"--it was reported in the issue of Popular Astronomy for the 1924 meeting, though Hubble himself wasn't actually there. No matter--he was a meticulous and methodical man, and it seems he was at odd in pressing his results into print too quickly because it contradicted established thinking, which called for caution. (The results of his findings had been earlier presented in the New York Times in November 19242.) But the paper--to paraphrase my brother-in-law Mickey Digh--"was what it was", and (using Shapley's calibration for the period-luminosity relation, published in the Astrophysical Journal in 1918) announced the discovery of Cepheid variable stars in the nebulae M 31 and M 33, placing them at vast distances, well outside our galaxy. This in effect established that the belief of our galaxy being the only galaxy in he universe was incorrect, and that the Great Debate arguing these points on the nature of the nebulae and begun decades earlier was settled.
In the next year, 1926, Hubble would contribute a paper on the classification of the nebulae ("Extra-galactic Nebulae", in the Astrophysical Journal, volume 64, pp 321-369) which was highly adaptable and proved to be iconic. Three years later, continuing on the theme of the 1925 paper, Hubble published what has been seen by many as the great astronomical paper of the century, the 1929 Velocity-distance relationship, with Hubble's Constant. So not only were there galaxies existing outside of our own as he had demonstrated in 1925, but that these galaxies were moving, and quickly, away from each other, everywhere. This was the establishment of the expanding universe--the Big Bang stuff (famously put forward in the April 1 Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper by Alpher, Gamow and Herman but no Bethe, a bit of nerd humor to get ABC out of the initials of the authors of the paper on April Fool's Day, 1939) would come about to explain what the 1929 paper established.
Anyway, the 1925 paper is a major step in the history of cosmology, and perhaps the greatest effort in observational cosmology of the 20th century.
The other odd thing about this issue is that contains another "first"--not as significant as the Hubble, but still very interesting. It is a short paper by L.J. Comrie--an early visionary and practicioner of the use of the calculator and computer--on the application of the electric calculator to solving problems in astronomy. It looks like this may be the first paper on the use of the electric calculator to solve complex computation problems in astronomical issues. If this isn't the first paper on the subject, it is close to being so--I haven't yet figured that out.
Here's an interesting, short timeline that I found and and which I reprint below--it was part of the appendix to the book by J.-P. Luminet, L'Invention du Big Bang (Editions du Seuil, Paris), which was printed in 1997. "Ce texte est l'introduction de l'ouvrage A.Friedmann, G.Lemaître : Essais de Cosmologie , traduction et notes de J.-P. Luminet et A. Grib, Le Seuil, collections 'Sources du Savoir' ".
In keeping with a post earlier today on a Medieval jewel of scholarship (Sacrobosco's Sphaera) is this short note on Nicolas of Cusa's beautifully-named de docta ignorantia, or On Learned Ignorance. Nicolaus (1401-1464, Nicholas Cusanus/Kues) was a philosopher, mathematician, theologian, astronomer, cardinal, and mystic, a product of the University of Padua (1423) and then the University of Cologne, and "arguably the most important German thinker of fifteenth century" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here). He was deeply intuitive, a visionary, and in his Learned Ignorance he presented a way of the human mind to release itself to learn the mind of god (among many other things). [Image: detail in Meister des Marienlebens, located in the hospital at Kues (Germany), showing Nicolas of Cusa.]
In this work is something really amazing--here's this wide thinker at the end of the Medieval period, writing on advanced theological issues, finding time to stop and smell the astronomical/cosmological roses long enough to think about the unending nature of the universe, about infinity, about the stars being suns for other planets, about the Earth spinning on an axis and circling the Sun. And all of this done without observations, and without calculation, and without a theory--its just a bunch of the big thoughts of modernity found in a small tract about knowing the Creator. Very curious.
The astronomical views of the cardinal are scattered through his philosophical treatises. They evince complete independence of traditional doctrines, though they are based on symbolism of numbers, on combinations of letters, and on abstract speculations rather than observation. The earth is a star like other stars, is not the centre of the universe, is not at rest, nor are its poles fixed. The celestial bodies are not strictly spherical, nor are their orbits circular. The difference between theory and appearance is explained by relative motion. Had Copernicus been aware of these assertions he would probably have been encouraged by them to publish his own monumental work.--Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913
Indeed! But I doubt that last sentence--Nicolas' work was entirely theoretical, and Copernicus was very heavy and deeply laden with data. Even though Nicolas was never considered a heretic--though it must have been a close call here and there--an earlier confrontation by Copernicus with his De Revolutionibus on anything but his death bed would probably have been received with a closed fist.
Sacro Busto, or Sacrobosco (also called John or Johannes Halifax, Holyfax, Holywalde, Sacroboscus, Sacrobuschus, de Sacro Bosco, or de Sacro Busto) was a member of the Order of St. Augustine and a professor of mathematics and atronomy/astrology at Paris ca. 1230. (There are many places attributed to be his birthplace, but it seems fairly certain that he at least was educated at Oxford.) He became a celebrated member of the intelligensia, with his fame in the later centuries coming via three of his surviving works, each an elementary textbook on mathematics and astronomy: De algorismo, the De computo, and De sphaera.
[Source for this image and the third, fourth and fifth, below, come from a 1531 edition of the Tractatus viewable in full via Google Books, here.]
I think it is accurate to say that the Sphaera was the most famous of his works--it is a very long-lived fundamental textobok on astronomy (and the second astronomical text everprinted, in 1472) and went through 24 editions to 1500, and then another 40 editions from 1500 to 1547. The book was still in use in the mid-17th century but far less so, until it finally was superceded and fell away into the aniquarian dust. It was a short work--basically about 35 pages--and concisely written, even elementary, but it did receive some close attention by some of the great early thinkers in astronomy and mathematics who contributed commetaries, including Michael Scot (between 1230 and 1235), John Pecham (prior to 1279), and by Campanus of Novara between (1265 to 1292).
It may seem a little trifling after this to concentrate on the interesting aspect of the images in his Sphaera, but that is what brought me to Sacrobusto today. For example, this is the beautiful title page, showing (via an early metal engraving process utilizing little punches making those fine small dots) the structure of our existence:
The work (29 cm tall and as I said 35 pages long) is called (in full) Textus de sphaera Ioannis de Sacrobosco. Introductoria additione (quantu necessarium est) commentario[que], ad vtilitatem studentiu philosophiae Parisiensis Academiae illustratus. Cum copositione Annuli astronomici Boneti Latensis: Et Geometria Euclidis Megarensis, which was printed in Paris (Parisiis) by Simonem Colinaeum in 1527, while Sacrobusto was a professor there.
There are a number of beautiful and small woodcut illustrations throughout the book in its various editions, for example:
Meanwhile in Sacro Busto's Vberrimum sphere mundi comētū intersertis etiā questionibus dñi Petri de aliaco ...[Paris, Guy Marchand for Jean Petit, February, 1498-99.] we find this beautiful illustration of a solar eclipse--finding again those curious stick-figure humans under a very Martin-Luther-like Sun:
Where did the smile of the Sun go? Anthropomorphic images of the Sun
have appeared in books in the West for several hundred years, and in
almost every case where the Sun has a face, it is usually
expressionless, its mouth drawn into a mid-Western farmer/Abe Lincoln
horizontal, a tightly drawn nothing. Two thin lips, firmly repulsing
all emotion. The face of the Sun was insurmountable, a tabula rasa, showing perhaps that there was nothing there at all inhabiting this
iconographic image of The Creator to give the poor observer a glimpse
into the depths of the future.
This observation seems to stand for Sun Gods and Goddesses as well, even the ones who are being tugged or pulled or charioted across the vaults of the heavens—the Nordic Sól, Greek Helios , Roman Sol Invictus, Vedic Surya and of course Elijah ascending to Heaven in a Chariot of Fire, all seem pretty intractable. But in general images that we see of Sun deities like Apollo, Greece and Rome; Freyr, Norse; Garuda, Hindu; Huitzilopochtli (Uitzilopochtli), Aztec; Inti, Inca; Liza,West African; Lugh, Celtic and Re (Ra) and Isis, and on and on, show a small, set pair of lips, if they have a mouth at all, and this going back beyond the Sumerians (Shamash).
When the Sun really loses its human personae in the 17th century (the scientific sun and stars beginning much earlier, as in for example Allessandro Piccolomini's Della Sfera del Mondo, 1552, with simple star maps unadorned by icons and written in the vernacular), it is replaced with starry images which seem to somehow have more emotional authority than the sun images with faces. Perhaps the sun was meant to have this Delphic, blank-mirroring quality, given its importance as a giver (and taker) of things, and that it was not within human capacity to understand it as an emotive entity, especially during bad times. But in those times of Good and Bad it wasn’t necessary to see a frown or a smile on an image of the Sun, I guess because of the complaints of redundancy.
No matter, though, as the modern astronomical text took care of the Sun and its missing buckets of smiles in due course—until more modern times, when the Sun is made to have a matching disposition, a result of kinder modern artists.
This beautiful engraving appeared in Amedee Guillemin's Le Ciel: notions d'astronomie a l'usage des
gens du monde et de la jeunesse, which was published
by Librairie de L. Hachette and Company, and printed in 1865 (the
images from which are available here). There are many striking images in this book, and I've chosen this one because it has a certain deep depth to it, and relays a complexity and distinctness to something that is generally imaged as being less so, being a massive star cluster and all. The "Amas du Toucan", known now more familiarly as 47 Toucanae or 47 Tuc (NGC 104), is a bright element in the southern sky, a huge clsuter 120 light years wide and 16,700 light years from Earth, visible to the naked eye in the constellation Toucan (created by Petrus Plancius in 1598 or so). And here it is, in a little 9x8 cm engraving with hundreds of white points as stars, made after an engraving of Sir William Herschel (1738-1822, a German-born Engloish astronomer who--with his sister Caroline and brother John--spent decades observing and recroding stars, double stars, clusters and nebulae).
47 Tuc was first catalogued as not-a-star by Abbe Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (1713-1762), a French astronomer who found it too be too fuzzy to be a single star, and who produced a 10,000 (Southern) star catalog, Coelum Australe Stelliferum, which was published in 1762, and which also introduced 14 new constellations. 47 Tuc made another quck appearance in the great Catalogue des Nébuleuses et des Amas d'Étoiles ("Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters"), a superb and meticulous work by Charles Messier, and published in 1771.
The Guillemin work is simply a lovely and elegant thing--one of many accomplishments in a beautiful and relatively simple book.
This copy of Thomas Blundeville's (1522-1606) work on astronomy and navigation contains some very fine examples relating to imaging the history of astronomy--a high-Renaissance work of scholarship and humanism.
The book has a long and detailed title: M. Blundeuile his exercises : containing eight treatises, the titles
whereof are set down in the next printed page : which treatises are very
necessarie to be read and learned of all young gentlemen, that haue not
beene exercised in such disciplines, and yet are desirous to haue
knowledge as well in cosmographie, astronomie, and geographie, as also
in the art of nauigation, in which art it is impossible to profite
without the helpe of these, or such like instructions : to the
furtherance of which art of nauigation, the said M. Blundeuile specially
wrote the said treatises .. with this copy being the fourth edition (corrected and augmented), and printed in London in 1613--an interesting edition, which contained the new data of the circumnavigation of Sir Francis Drake.
[Sources: full text here via the Library of Congress; found via the pinterest collection of Trevor Owens.]
These small images are elements composing an engraving from the atlas volume to accompany the polymathic Alexander von Humboldt's (1769-1759) Kosmos, published in 1856 (the atlas volume online here, at the Biodiversity Library). Each of the small images is about 1.5" square, with great detail--tiny and remarkable, and very well designed.
Attributing human characteristics to extra-terrestrial bodies is an ancient practice. Constellation It is an ancient human practice of giving stuff human attributes, to allow things to have powers of reason,and understanding, in order to make them understandable, intellectuallyconsumable. This applies to (Father) time, many aspects of the possibilities of g_d, constellations, planets, the Man in the Moon, facial appellations of the Sun, winds, rain, and so on. Large chunks of our real and imagined worlds are given faces and mentions--that, plus personifications of elements, where we describe the difficult and the invisible with traits that are in our common human understandable currency: like, for example, sin "lurking" and storms "hiding" and meteors "racing". It makes the complex and uncommon more reasonable.
In all of this, particularly in the personification and anthropomorphization of celestial entities, there are very few examples of vicious and cruel representation of a subject. That is what struck me so about the following cartoon from Puck magazine--I am sure that I have never seen a racist representation of an element in the sky. Until today.
[The heavenly porter: Caption: "Brush yo' off, Suh? Ain't gwine t' be 'round ag'in foh sev'ty-five yeahs!" Illustration in Puck, v. 67, no. 1733 (1910 May 18), cover. Copyright 1910 by Keppler & Schwarzmann. Source: Trevor Owens, via the LOC.]
This is an example of how engrained racist thinking like this was at that time--and it makes a person think about the unthought aspects of racism exists elsewhere, at other times, and today.