A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
I've been collecting images of 19th century robots and automatons and came across another--a very uncommon cowbot. "The Automaton Dummy : Bovine Usher" was drawn for Wallace Peck, created by William Allen Rogers (1854-1931) and published in volume 8 of Life (July 8, 1886) and also in Peck's The Golden Age of Patents (Frederick Stokes, 1888). [Image source: the Library of Congress, here, and for the Peck book, here.) This is the only robot featured in the book, though there are many other fine illustrations of future techno whatzit bits. The automaton beef was supposed to lead the other cows aboard a ship for shipment, the philosophy being that if one led the way that the others would follow.) The cowbot is also covered with brands, including a H.A.Rey-like Curious George techno bit in the midsection, the knobs and so forth forming an anthropologic face.
My friend Jeff Donlan sent along a suggestion for reading Michael Graziano'sConsciousness and the Social Brain--I don't know anything about the book, but the title has done its job in provoking the imagination. What the title asks me (apart from whatever the book might be about) is this: how long have people thought about some aspect of a "social brain" and what has that looked like over the decades (or centuries)? "Social" and "brain", like society, or Earth, or some definition or classification of people, have made for themselves something much larger than the ordinary collective. It is a very useful tool, this simple metaphor--in it are a wellspring of ideas.
I’m also interested in what anyone might know about the early use of metaphors (and analogies) relating large-scale societal techno advances and biological functions? I have no doubt that they go back to modern-ancient times (say to William Gilbert (1544-1603) and his vis electrica) and that some old mechanical/anthropomorphic examples are still in everyday use ("horsepower")—but I’m stopped today by seeing this paper by J. Norman Lockyer called “Social Electrical Nerves” (in two issues of Nature for 14 and 28 February 1878). In this paper the great astronomer (and the editor of the journal) looks at elements of the “grid” as it was and seeing how the new networks of police and fire communications via telegraph interacts with the existing electrical systems. It seems to me an early use of nervous system/electrical analogy, in spite of the fact the first “electrical highways” (as Lockyer puts it 120 years before our own “information superhighway”) appeared in England 32 years earlier though apparently without these biological metaphors.
The work pictured above is the electrically-draped world of the future, at least according to the vision of the wonderful Albert Robida, who was actually at work on these visions just at the time of the publication of the Lockyear paper . (Robida produced at least a trio of interesting and lovely and occasionally prescient works: Le Vingtième Siècle (1883); La Guerre au vingtième siècle (1887); and Le Vingtième siècle-- La vie électrique (1890)). Many of Robida’s visions of electrical connectivity seem to me to move beyond the nervous system metaphor and become a kind of societal “skin”—which is not terribly far from the truth, especially when looking at images of congested metropolitan centers ca. 1910, when utility poles fairly well sagged under 20 (!) horizontal crossbars carrying a dozen lines apiece. At the very least, you knew that something or other was happening (fast forward to the massive ductworks of Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, Brazil.)
And now that the wireless age is starting to get ridges in its fingernails (the “wireless” age being at least 115 years old, beautifully borne by Heinrich Hertz and Marconi), where are our bio-electrical metaphors going?
Philosopher of science Rom Harre is one among very many who have written on the use of metaphor in science--he finds the practice an "indispensible element...to scientific creativity and imagination".1 And he is certainly correct--the recognition of the Lockyer metaphor is instantaneous today, and must've been quite a shocking thing to see in 1878.
I know that this is just a nibble around the edge of a vast amount of thinking on this subject, and perhaps I don't want ot do this so "out loud" in the public forum, but I am interested in a dialog on this, if anyone is interested in participating.
1. Harre's reasoning is nicely summed up here in "The Function of Scientific Metaphors: An Example of the Creative Power of Metaphors in Biological Theories", by Xavier de Donato Rodríguez and Alfonso Arroyo-Santos:
"(1) New scientific theories try to provide a better understanding of reality.(2) In order to do that, these theories must be intelligible.(3) That intelligibility must ultimately derive from the intelligibility of the novel entities and forms conceived in the creative scientific imagination.(4) The novel entities and forms introduced by the theory become intelligible only if we interpret them in terms of the old entities and forms already available.(5) But, the only way to do this is by means of metaphors or analogies taking the entities and forms already available as a basis.(6) So, analogies and metaphors are indispensable for scientific theories."
"Similitude of Substance will cause Attraction, where the Body is wholly freed from the Motion of Grauity."-- Bacon,Sylua Syluarum, 1626
It seems that in variations of the future that I have read that the concept of anti-gravity-something wasn't taken so much seriously as it was a half-prank. For example earlier in this blog I wrote about one of Edison's least-known and most-nonexistent inventions, antigravity underpants. There was a time in the late 19th century when it was seen that Thomas Edison could do just about anything--so much so that the Brits in The London Punch gave him tongue-in-cheek credit for inventing (flying, so to speak), anti-gravity underwear. The funny thing about this though is that the best thing that people could do with this new invention would be to go to a super-sized art gallery to look at paintings close to the ceiling.
Another example of gravity taken not-so-heavily is the scientific publication, Electrical Experimenter, where a seated couple is no longer so in the clutches of "suspended gravitation", and again what the floating people engage in is play, the oman blowing a balloon and the man spraying selzter at it.
The odd bit here is that "gravity" is found early on in the Oxford English Dictionary back to 1622 with G. de Malynes and N. Carpenter in 1625, and then of course with Roger Bacon a year later), though "anti-gravity" does not occur in use until 1945; and clearly the concept is on display in these three quick examples, though the phrase is not. "Anti-gravitation" however is used, though for some reason it is not included in the OED.
The article, "Overoming Gravitation" by George Piggott, really did take the matter seriously, in spite of the cover illustration, as a quick read will verify. More serious than that, though was an earlier and perhaps war-infested thinking mode was the militarily enhanceable anti-gravity ray (May, 1916).
[Image source: Airminded, in a post about future weapons of the past, here.]
Better yet (?) is this appearance in 1918 of an anti-gravity craft with invisibility options:
And then of course there are examples like this, found in another early post on this blog, "Anti-gravity Atomic-powered Sun-fed Underground Woman of the Year 5000!", here.
In any event, these are a few example of the anti-gravity idea in the 1880-1920 period. No doubt there is a rich and full literature on this very thing--mainly what I wanted to do here was captued Airmnded's image to use for another day.
If New York City was populated by nothing but people wearing hats, carried mink muffs, used gold-handled walking sticks, and really didn't have to be anywhere at a particular time, then I think this invention might have been useful. But seeing that off the engineer's table that Manhattan was not god's waiting room and far more Darwinian than a high-Victorian imaginary noblese-chaste class of slow and deliberate people waiting to be waited on, then this idea wouldn't have worked very well at all. The seed of it all is found in Transportation of Passengers in Greater New York by Continuous Railway Train, or Moving Platforms. Argument in favor of equipping the East River Bridges, and connecting subway to Bowling Green, Manhattan, with a continuous railway train or Moving Platforms, which was prepared by Schmidt & Gallatin of New York in 1903. It was only 20 pages, but it had four folding plates, including two maps, and two drawings of the envisioned walkways, and that is the stuff upon which dreams are laid, made, and stayed.
"Moving Platforms for the conveyance of passengers were recommended by Mr. Horace Greeley thirty years ago. They were successfully operated, first, at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, where 2,700,000 people were transported. In 1896 they were installed at the Berlin Exposition, and again at the Paris Exposition of 1900, where they carried over eight million passengers. Few persons know what Moving Platforms are. From the face that sometimes they are called " Moving Side- walks," it is believed that they must be some sort of a pavement on rollers, on which it is difficult to step with safety and maintain equilibrium. The Moving Platforms are to all intents a railway, operated like other railways, propelled by electricity, with cars, seats, motors, passenger stations, ticket booths, guards, electric lights — in fact, everything belonging to a first-class railway."
"Where it differs from the ordinary railway is that the cars, or trains, are not running at intervals, but are coupled up continuously, so that there is no interruption of traffic at any time, but a large seating capacity at all times. It differs also in the construction of the cars, which are mere flat cars, provided with seats placed crosswise, and so ar- ranged that all rmssengers face in the direction of motion. Each of these seats may be made wide enough to accommodate one, two or more persons. The most approved plan is to provide seats on one side of the cars only and leave the other for passengers to walk, thus giving them an opportunity to further accelerate their speed if they so desire..."
This fine bit of welcome-to-the-future technology appeared in the notice "A Real Telegraph", in Nature, 6 February 1879. It is a quick report on the invention, occupying one scant paragraph of text but was accompanied by a full-page illustration of a sample of the telegraphic writing, which must have seemed in 1879 like a touch of the future--the telegraph was forty years old, but the recording telegraph was relatively new, and the idea that you could read a series of spaces and dots and dashes as though it were handwriting must have seemed like seeing color photographs in 1935.
The "real" part of the title of the note meant in this case that rather than have a key operator tap out the message in Morse Code, the sender would be writing out the message in long hand, and the receiver would gather up the message so that it appeared in recognizable letters and words rather than dots and dashes. The inventor's name was E.A. Cowper, and he brought to the telegraphic art something as "startlingly" as the "marvels" of the telephone, which had been invented just three years earlier.
The author describes the appearance of the script on the receiving end seeming as though to have been guide by a "spirit hand", such as the highly unexpected result even to the trained scientific reporter.
A somewhat longer article appeared in the New York Times a few weeks later, the full text of which is here.
It seems to me that as a representative of extraterrestrial imagination not being illustrated its hard to beat the case of the beautiful and polymathic Christiaan Huygens. Huygens (1629-1695) worked across many fields, including astronomy, biology, math and physics, and was extraordinarily productive, making numerous contributions in the physical and theoretical areas, as well as being a prolific author and correspondent.
Towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 66, completing work enough for a number of very gifted and exacting people) Huygens embarked down the science fiction road in pre-science fiction days, writing wonderful and provocative outre ideas within what was his general/.universal statement of knowledge of all things , a wonderful book entitled Cosmotheoros, The Celestial World Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets. (The book had a difficult coming-into-being, Huygens completing it at the end of his life, though he would see only one page of printed before he died on 1695, outliving his elderly father by a bit, an accomplished diplomat who died at age 91 in 1687. His request/bequest to his older brother Constantijn—named for his father—was for him to see the book through to publication. Unfortunately, the diarist/painter/gossip brother lived only two more years, and at his death the book was still not printed. The job finally fell to the direction of Burchard de Volder (1643-1709), a Leiden prof of math and physic who established the physics lab there and who was also the teacher of the "father of physiology", Herman Boerhaaver (a man of considerable taste, seeing his beautiful and tidy manor house at Oegstgeest, nearby Leiden). Happily de Volder saw the book into publication in 1698 (and survived it by 11 years). The book appeared in Latin and was in the same year (anonymously!) translated into English, followed by a Dutch translation in 1699, French in 1702, German in 1703, and Russian in 1717—in other words, a well-received an popular work.
See the introduction to the work and the digital version here at the University of Utrecht: http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/huygens/huygens_ct_en.htm
Huygens looked at everything in his world in this book, and many things outside of it: here he establishes the possibilities of life being lived on worlds other than that of Earth. He develops a detailed fabric for these new heavens, so much so that he can also establish samenesses for the ETs and humans, stating here his belief in the eternal/cosmological abilities of mathematics and music:
“It's the same with Musick as with Geometry, it's every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure and proportion. So that in all Nations the difference and distance of Notes is the same, whether they be in a continued gradual progression, or the voice makes skips over one to the next. Nay very credible Authors report, that there's a sort of Bird in America, that can plainly sing in order six musical Notes: whence it follows that the Laws of Musick are unchangeably fix'd by Nature, and therefore the same Reason holds valid for their Musick, as we even now proposed for their Geometry"--page 86
Huygens holds close to the immutable nature and close association of music and mathematics,m which would be the same here and everywhere (everywhere else, the ET communities, being referred to here as "other Nations").
"For why, supposing other Nations and Creatures, endued with Reason and Sense as well as we, should not they reap the Pleasures arising from these Senses as well as we too? I don't know what effect this Argument, from the immutable nature of these Arts, may have upon the Minds of others; I think it no inconsiderable or contemptible one, but of as great Strength as that which I made use of above to prove that the Planetarians had the sense of Seeing." page 86/7
Huygens is so sure of this that he is willing to take a bet with long odds that not only do ETs enjoy the possibilities of music but that they have also created instruments:
"But if they take delight in Harmony, 'tis twenty to one but that they have invented musical Instruments. For, if nothing else, they could scarce help lighting upon some or other by chance; the sound of a tight String, the noise of the Winds, or the whistling of Reeds, might have given them the hint. From these small beginnings they perhaps, as well as we, have advanced by degrees to the use of the Lute, Harp, Flute, and many string'd Instruments. But altho the Tones are certain and determinate, yet we find among different Nations a quite different manner and rule for Singing; as formerly among the Dorians, Phrygians, and Lydians, and in our time among the French, Italians, and Persians" page 87
Huygens then continues to make a beautiful distinction between the musics of Earthling and ETs, in that it may not sound anything like any music we have on Earth, but--since the laws that govern math and music are the same, everywhere--it still might be "very good". And not only that, the alien music might be better than our's:
"In like manner it may so happen, that the Musick of the Inhabitants of the Planets may widely differ from all these, and yet be very good. But why we should look upon their Musick to be worse than ours, there's no reason can be given; neither can we well presume that they want the use of half-notes and quarter-notes, seeing the invention of half-notes is so obvious, and the use of 'em so agreeable to nature. Nay, to go a step farther, what if they should excel us in the Theory and practick part of Musick, and outdo us in Consorts of vocal and instrumental Musick, so artificially compos'd, that they shew their Skill by the mixtures of Discords and Concords?"--page 88
And so on. But why I wonder with all of the great images painted for us in his text is there no venturing into a visual artform? There's enough information in the Huygens work to allow for a map, but then there are none, not even something along the images of de Bergerac, who was perhaps among the greatest visionary of techno-anthropormorphic human flight. Before he was the object of Edmund Rostand’s 1897 play, de Bergerac was a massively creative author, producing, among other things, the book Histoire des Etats et Empires de la Lune (History of the States and Empires of the Moon, published posthumously in 1657), followed by Histoire des Etats et Empires du Soleil (History of the States and Empires of the Sun, again, published further and deeper into his life’s surrender, 1662), both eventually collected as L'Autre Monde (Other Worlds). Bergerac introduces us, the humble reader, to one of the most important concepts in the history of literature--namely that we humans were not only not alone in the universe, but that we were not even the dominant culture, and indeed we were actually hated by some of the other more advanced species.
The foundations for structuring a visual habitat for the ideas of Huygens are abundant, as you can see easily in the table of contents (which is like an annotated table of contents for a modern book)--the signs for a road map are there, mostly--there's just no road, but there are plenty of suggestions for one.
In general though the chapter titles are fantastic, and invite themselves to their own found-poetry—by simply listing and centering them, a person with a good sense for pause and continuity could read these out loud and make them sound like a considered piece of poetry.
The Chapter heads, in order (!):
Some have already talk'd of the Inhabitants of the Planets, but went no fartherThe Objections of ignorant Cavillers prevented This Enquiry not overcurious Conjectures not useless, because not certain These Studies useful to Religion Copernicus's System explain'd Arguments for the truth of it The Proportion of the Magnitude of the Planets, in respect of one another, and the Sun The Lamell more convenient than Micrometers The Earth justly liken'd to the Planets, and the Planets to it Arguments from their Similitude of no small weight The Planets are solid, and not without Gravity Have Animals and Plants Not to be imagin'd too unlike ours Planets have Water But not just like ours Plants grow and are nourish'd there as they are here The same true of their Animals Great variety of Animals in this Earth And no less in the Planets The same in Plants Vices of Men no hindrance to their being the Glory of the Planet they inhabit Reason not different from what 'tis here They have Senses Sight Hearing A Medium to convey Sound to the Ear Touch Smell and Tast Their Senses not very different from ours They have Pleasure arising from the Senses All the Planets have Fire The bigness of their Creatures not rightly guest at by the bigness of the Planets In the Planets are many sorts of rational Creatures as well as here Men chiefly differ from Beasts in the study of Nature They have Astronomy And all its subservient Arts Geometry and Arithmetick And Writing And Opticks These Sciences not contrary to Nature They have Hands And Feet That they are upright It follows not therefore that they have the same shape with us A rational Soul may inhabit another Shape than ours The Planetarians not less than we They live in Society They enjoy the pleasures of Society They have Houses to secure 'em from Weather They have Navigation, and all Arts subservient As Geometry They have Musick The Advantages we reap from Herbs and Animals And from Metals From the discoveries of our Age The Planets have, tho not these same, yet as useful Inventions Book 2 Kircher's Journey in Ecstacy examin'd The System of the Planets in Mercury In VenusIn Mars Jupiter and Saturn the most eminent of the Planets both for bigness and attendants The proportion of the Diameter of Jupiter, and of the Orbs of his Satellites, to the Orbit of the Moon round the Earth The periods of Jupiter's Moons And Saturn's This proportion true according to all modern Observations The apparent magnitude of the Sun in Jupiter, and a way of finding what light they there enjoy And in Saturn Always the same length They see the fixt Stars just as we do The appearances of the Ring in Saturn Very little to be said of the Moon The Guards of Jupiter and Saturn are of the same nature with our Moon The Moon hath Mountains But no Sea, nor Rivers, nor Clouds, nor Air and Water The Astronomy of the Inhabitants of the Moon This may be applied to the Moons about Jupiter and Saturn The immense distance between the Sun and Planets illustrated No ground for Conjecture in the Sun The Faculty in the Sun not easily seen By reason of its Heat no Inhabitants like ours can live in the Sun The fix'd Stars so many Suns They are not all in the same Sphere The Stars have Planets about them like our Sun A way of making a probable guess at the distance of the Stars Every Sun has a vortex round it, very different from those of Cartes
"To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death..." Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 51
One way of managing parts of the present and the past is by thinking about the prospects of the future. The universal monochord of prescription, of description, of a possibility of the future, has been an attempt at the hands of a number of people, though it has not been often, and it really is basically a modern invention. And what I mean is more of the science or science fiction development part of looking into the future, and not so much the Platonic development of the ideal state of being, or promises of eternal afterlife in the presence of the creator of the universe tucked away in some ideal somewhere in folded pieces of time.
One of the very earliest of the science fiction adventures into the future belongs to Louis-Sébastien Mercier (6 June 1740 – 25 April 1814, a successful and prolific dramatist) in L'An 2440, rêve s'il en fut jamais (1771, "The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One"). One aspect of it may or may not have gotten rid of the quote leading this quick post, as different aspects of literature (useless and immoral and whatever) has been eliminated out there in the 25th century. Bad and unwanted lit is gone, along with what used to be the criminal justice system and the idea of "public space", plus taxes, armed forces, slavery, prostitution, beggars (though not necessary the idea of being poor or rich), foreign trade, guilds, individual excesses in dress, and a bunch of other things, plus priests and monks and other religious bits. It was visionary and subversive and published to wild acclaim, one of the best-selling works of the 18th century, which was also banned in France and Spain. IT was the first Utopian work to be set in the future (according to Paul Alken in his Origins of Futuristic Fiction, in a notice in Science Fiction Studies, "Revisiting Mercier...:, volume 30/1, Mach 2003, pp 130-2).
Is this the philosophical face of concern, or interest, or curiosity? It is a philosopher's face, a Flying Philosopher's face at that, pictured in 1800 or so, but the philosopher is being rather gentlemanly and philosophical about the whole adventure, and he is not letting any subterranean enthusiasms escape his studied countenance.
[Source: Memtropolitan Museum of Art, "The Flying Philosopher", ca. 1800, here, a detail of the image below.]
A variation of the studied philosopher--walking--is found below, both featured in The entertaining magazine, or, Polite repository of elegant amusement containing pleasing extracts from modern authors : with many original pieces, and new translations, in prose and verse : embellished with beautiful engravings, and published in London in 1813. In this instance the same detachment is seen in the face of the subject even though he has his own personal balloon. a portable aerostation device, which seems to make little impact on his demeanor. I think they're talking more about philosophes than philosophers in these two images, though either way it also referred in large part to a different social class of people, many of whom had their lives arranged for them at birth and whose manner and charms were studied and rehearsed, propriety being an assumed trait of privilege.
The Walking Philosopher was actually a response to the flying version--this contraption was not meant to send anyone aloft, but to elevate them just enough to facilitate walking, lessening the weight of the walker, so that they could walk faster/longer. I guess that would make some sense, but if you were going to go through the hassles of a balloon and rudders as well as the expense, why not just take a carriage? I guess the idea of bounding 15 or 25 feet or whatever would be interesting, except that I think you'd also need some ballast; and there's the danger of the Darwin Award stuff, of taking "too big" a bound, and not coming down (until it was too late?) In any event, I'm sure that this is the stuff of which some dreams were made...
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Part of the History of the Future series.]
I've written on this blog on a number of occasions about the coming of The Modern, about the coming of many modernisms that came to life in the extraordinary period of 1885-1925 (which could even be shaved perhaps to 1895-1920 and further if you're a stickler), when nearly all things "modern" in nearly all fields came to be. Sometimes though one can see a hint of the future, even though it might not necessarily be recognized at the time.
Such is the whisper of the future in this humorous, somewhat mocking piece on art in the 13 June 1863 issue of Punch, or the London Charivari. Overall its pretty funny in a 19th century fashion, but what I am taken with most of course is the first piece, the framed non-representational artwork, a taste of the future that wouldn't arrive for another 50 years with Wassily Kandinsky. But here it is, or here is something, presented as art, in 1863, and with no discernible, naturalistic subject matter.
Even in satire, seeing such a picture give some pause--if for no other reason, that even here in the early stretch of Abstract Expressionism, that such an image would appear in a very popular journal and have (a) no impact and (b) not an ounce of staying power.
"The century of invention Anno Domini 2000 or the march of aerostation, steam, rail roads, movable houses & perpetual motion" is 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 ideas were.
[And as long as were slightly on the subject, the idea of "anno domini", or "the year of our savior", was an idea controlling the past and future aspects of time that came into being about 500 years after the birth of the event upon which the savior years are based. The idea of anno domini was really in widespread use until the Middle ages were well underway, around the year 800.]
It is difficult to make out from this print (found at the British Museum site, here) but the small visual clues and textual bits are very interesting. First of all the print displays things like 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 hunting birds.
The main sensation here is speed, though I would not say it was democratic--the means to be able to got to Dublin in your balloon "for an appetite" and return later in the day would have been fantastic to the 1834 reader trying to image 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 (first time I've ever typed that!) communication, as one man in a balloon shouts to another to "give me a call by the first balloon", meaning perhaps it is 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 the great insights comes into play--at lower left there is a person remarking about a race, and the exclamation upon a great rarity being shown: a live horse. That Grant would make this an issue is interesting, as it would certainly rub the 1830's consciousness the opposite way of what the brain expected to see in the street, and that was horses. Horses powered much of transportation at this time, and to imagine a world in which the horse would be gone would've been, well, unimaginable.
Ditto too the great and extensive coal mines fueling the Industrial Revolution (and it isn't as though factory workers in 1834 woke up int eh morning cheerfully exclaiming that, "Hey, We're in the Industrial Revolution!") going dry, the coal consumed.
Also at bottom there is a very unusual placard concerning robotics: "a cast iron Parson will preach by steam at Fudge Church". Now this is doubly intriguing because it not only invokes a steam-powered person, but a (perhaps) thinking one. It is also putting the word of god into the care and trust and tending--and right into the mouth--of a machine.In short--a robot preaching to a human choir. This is still far removed from the singularity (and the assumption that Our Robot Overlords would have any interest in humans or their religious beliefs), and 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, I think.
So I think that if you hard enough at this print and don't get distracted by the images Grant uses to try and visualize his ideas of eh future and concentrate on what these things represent, then I think that Grant got a lot of his vision right.
Richard Fagley--author of Brief Guide to the Atomic Age, 1946-- took a sleepy, elementary side step through the coming decade or so in the future of atomic weaponry. The thing is, he got a bunch of it right. But where he took a wide and missed turn, where he misunderstood the power of atom weapons, was that they would provide the future us with a "Buck Rogers" style of war.
Now of course in 1946 the Soviets hadn't developed a Bomb, but anyone who knew anything knew that it would be just a matter of time before they did. Smart estimates were coming in at a decade or more--few people were prepared for the Soviet announcement in 1949 that they had achieved that goal
Fagley missed the impact of atomic warfare of the future not on his own accord--he was quoting someone who knew far more and knew better--General Hap Arnold, the Commanding General of the U.S. Air Force. But as it turns out, Arnold really didn't have the vocabulary or this discussion, and couldn't really estimate the "effectiveness" of the use of the new weapons.
So far as I know, Buck Rogers didn't have weapons like atomic bombs, at least I think in his original appeaarance as Anthony (and later "Buck") Rogers in Armageddon 2419, back in 1928, when he made his first appearance. As it turns out Buck was born in 1898, and owing to a mining disster breathed in some radioactive gas that put him to sleep until the 25th century. He wakes up in a very jaundiced post-Yellow-peril world in which America has been defeated by the "Mongols" of the East (who had beaten the "Russian Soviets" who had in turn had conquered Europe), wherein begins his mighty struggle to get America back on its feet and defeat the great menace. The idea of Rogers becomes very popular in popular culture, and he moves from this story into many other print versions, getting movies and a radio show (from 1932-1947) in the process. Somewhere in there is where he acquires his atomic pistol (called "U 235"), though the thing necessarily does not come close to what the real stuff would bring in the very near future.
In Fagley's war of the future there wouldn't be many survivors, though his vision of the massive atomic bombing outcome seems not very proximate to what the horrible coarseness of what the real thing could be--perhaps because that amount of destruction was still unimaginable when the pamphlet was being written in 1946. Buck Rogers didn't have the vocabulary for such enormous power and mass destruction, either. In any event, words to describe the coming possibility of vast annihilation just didn't seem to be at hand in 1946--the words and ideas, and the weapons, would soon (in the Ulam-Teller hydrogen bomb, 1951) be at hand to flesh out the possible true-to-life nightmares of the nuclear future. Even in a 25th century armageddon, old Buck's idea of power and devastation couldn't come close to imagining the power of the real thing.
There's a pair of short notices in two consecutive issues of Nature (September 22 and 29, 1910) that brings up a probably mostly-overlooked bit of thinking by Charles Darwin's (and Francis Galton's) grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). Way before Charles (born 1809) and Francis (born 1822) Erasmus was a powerhouse Darwin, and a powerhouse-in-general. He was primarily a physician, but was also an inventor, physiologist, abolitionist, botanist, and inventor, among other things. He famously speculated on evolution, and less-famously on the coming of the steam age.
In the first article here, pointing out a piece in The Times by R. Meldola, it is shown that Darwin saw the coming of steam from a good distance away: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.) The editors of Nature included the notice to provide a bit more evidence of Darwin's vision via his poetry, stating that he “foretold, in the following lines, the advent of aerial navigation”:
Soon shall thy arm, UNCONQUER'D STEAM! afar Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car; Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear The flying-chariot through the fields of air. -- Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above, Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move; Or warrior-bands alarm the gaping crowd, And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.
In the next issue of Nature there's a short notice by Arthur Platt, “Erasmus Darwin on Flying Machines”, (page 397 of September 29, 1910), where he quotes Dawin on the coming of powered flight: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.
That's pretty good. Over at the Erasmus Darwin House site is another interesting side of Darwin's interest in flight, where it is found in hi snotebooks a good and early understanding of teh mechanics of bird flight:
"In the 18th century there was still no satisfactory explanation for the mechanics of flight and, inquisitive by nature, Darwin appears to have set himself to the task. Sketched out in his commonplace book in 1777 at the height of the 18th century quest for automata and artificial life, the bird (technically a goose) will be brought to life in a steam punk style reminiscent of the era. Using a small reservoir of compressed air as the in-flight rewinding mechanism in the book, Darwin’s description of a bird’s flight is very close to reality, and appears to be the first complete account of a power-plant and the necessary cycle of the wings’ movement..."--Erasmus Darwin House, here.
One of the most unexpected monuments--to me at least--in the history of modern computation is the fantastic electrical calculating machine that shows up in the vast, dense, and bibliographically complicated work by Georg Heinrich Seiferheid (1757-1818), Sammulung Electrischer Spielwerke fur junge..., published over the years 1791 to 1817.
Mr. Seiferheid was an experimenter, innovator, inventor and writer, and wrapped up in one complicated ball, publishing his major and minor bits under the heading of this one large work over a period of least 16 years. And don't let the title fool you: in the vein of Chandrasekhar's Newton's Principia for the Common Reader, there wasn't all that much in these volumes by Seiferheid for kids, just like in the Chandrasekhar book, which ratcheted the phrase "Common Reader" way, way up. Even taking into account the level at which children were educated in the applied and natural sciences/philosophy, which demanded more from the 18th and 19th century kids than out grade school do now, Seiferheid's work is obvious far removed from that. Perhaps it was because he had a large number of gadgety trinkets that hung through the work like plumb lines that the word junge was included--I really don't know. The vastness of his reach though into all manner of mechanical and electrical objects is very impressive--Seiferheid evidently constructed electrically powered guns, clocks, and of course this fantastic calculating device. The calculator was much similar to the machine invented (although no version of it survived) by Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635) in 1623, followed by that in 1643 of the overwhelming Blaise Pascal (with the "Pascaline") and then again in 1675 of Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) who produced the "Stepped Reckoner"—the Seiferheid machine was more complex, and of course, electric, a true and terrific innovation, creating for its maker the sobriquet of "grandfather" of the modern computer.
* I have found very little biographical data on this man; even the very reliable Poggendorff has only about 15 lines on him: he was born in Wurtemberg, was a professor of physics at the Gymnasium at Schwabisch Hall, and that's about it for the personal data. He did write four other books in addition to this ten-volume magnum opus.
The cover for this 1939 pamphlet I just found is pretty remarkable--very striking, strong, and capable of some sort of message which could've been helped along by another identifying agent. Thomas Nast it isn't, because it really doesn't send the intended message by just visual means--you have to read the pamphlet to find out its meaning.
And as it turns out the octopus represents mail order companies. Located in cities far-ish removed from small communities, the author (F.A. Kremer?, the man who at least copyrighted the thing) maintains in his morality tale that by ordering from far-away places a person causes the failure of local business.
He's not far from the truth, especially if you update the language a bit and label the octopus "Amazon" or some such thing--even a megastore like "WalMart" would do. Or any large chain that has spelled the doom of a smaller/local business.
In any event I like the graphic, and I sincerely doubt that it has been published before, as there are no copies discernible on WorldCat/OCLC, and my copy (from the Library of Congress Pamphlet Collection) is also a copyright deposit copy. So I suspect that Kremer's effort didn't make it out too far into the world.
I'm not sure how to investigate this right off-hand, but I think that there is a special category in the history of art, subcat history of art and technology, subcat history of computer art, subcat using the image of the computer in art. The image above comes from the front cover of one of the early issues of the "new" Physics Today magazine (volume 2, number 10), in October 1949--it is the artwork of Paul Bond, who created this portrait of a juggler "on a matrix sheet used for plotting computor [sic] plug board diagrams", and is one of 11 such images. It illustrates an interesting article by pioneers R.D. Richtmyer and N.C. Metropolis ("Modern Computing"). Richtmyer/Metropolis have a very sober approach to the computer--mostly speaking about the ENIAC--and address its romance, possibilities, but seemingly (to me) most of all "a need for defining the limits of computing machine operation, as well as its promise". In effect, then, the authors really only address the known quantities of computing capacity in 1949, and even though tempted by looking into the future, they really do not. Their vision of the future is very pragmatic: when speaking to future applications, they conclude "by their very nature, these applications are not easy to foresee, and perhaps, therefore, this is the point at which this discussion should close".
Certainly there have been much earlier images of automated steam-driven robots with some sort of calculating brain, and images of imaginative computer-like objects...but art made by the computer seems to come a fair bit later than this issue, later still than what might be considered the first art generated via the computer (which were images made from manipulating an oscilloscope) in 1952. In any event, I think at the very least that the Bond artwork is very curious, interesting, and probably very early for what it is.