The molecular chemistry of dots of 1947 is a beautiful thing, worthy of a powers-of-ten episode, though I can only do a gigantically scaled down version of it (a powers-of-two maybe) given pixelation and its dot-defeating and necessary tendency to relieve roundness and introduce squares everywhere.
This story is more about Ho Chi Minh's capture of French silk than about anything else--it is a peep into the future following the end of the French endgame in Vietnam, which came abruptly with their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
[Detail/larger image below.]
The siege there started on the 13th of March, and lasted 57
days, until May 7th, 1954. The
commanding general of the Viet Minh forces, Vo Nguy Giap, achieved an enormous
victory over the French—the first time a guerrilla force readjusted itself into
a conventional force to defeat a Western army. It was the end of the line for the French military involvement there and it just so happened to be
the beginning of Vietnam as an object on the American foreign policy event horizon.
Just a week after this notice appeared, Dwight Eisenhower made his domino
“Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would
call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set
up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the
certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a
disintegration that would have the most profound influences.conference…”
Vietnam was supposed to be one of those dominoes. Evidently all of the dominoes were the same size regardless of the size or international presence of the country. It was also the same sort of domino even if had appealed for American recognition of its democracy-laced post-WWII government. And it was a domino still even if the United States had helped fashion the events that necessitated the movement of that country toward domino-hood. No matter. The U.S. decided to back the French in reclaiming their war-lost possession, in spite of the fact that the French were still doing business during the war with the Japanese occupying force in Vietnam, and in spite of the fact that the French re-armed Japanese troops to help fight against the "insurgent" forces of Ho Chi Minh. It was an ugly decision, and I suspect FDR was just too sick to deal with it properly.
Nine years later, the French had finally been soundly defeated and Vietnam thought that it had finally gained independence. Not so.
The picture here is of dots--the field of battle at Dien Bien Phu, littered with silk parachutes--cargo dropped by the French air force to the defenders of the garrison....most of which, evidently, fell well outside the French-controlled perimeter and into the hands of the attacking Vietnamese army. These were the exploding dots of the falling domino.
If these dots stood for something, they could stand for the coming wave of death and misery, a graphical representation of what was to come over the next 25 or so years.
I reckon there to be about 500 parachutes/dots in this picture. Each of these dots could be assigned a number, each representing a gross statistic for the war, from 1950 to 1975:
U.S. forces killed in action: 100/dot (58,000 killed)
U.S. forces wounded in action: 300/dot (313,000)
Army of the Republic of Vietnam, killed in action: 500/dot (263,000)
Army of North Vietnam, killed in action: 2,000/dot (1.1 million killed)
Civilian deaths, North & South Vietnam: 4000/dot (2 million killed)
Civilian deaths caused by North Vietnam during the war: 300/dot
Civilian deaths caused by "North" Vietnam, postwar consolidation and reeducation: 1,000/dot
Civilian deaths caused by the U.S.: 175/dot
All deaths for the war, 1950-1975: 8,000/dot (using a figure of 4 million).
of the History of Dots series that I find so attractive is the dot’s great
equalizing effect.The dot has the
potential of making everyone, everywhere, feel the wonder of mighty
insignificance—the Earth, for example, depicted from far away, a dot in the
cosmos, the solar system a dot in the galaxy, the galaxy a dot in the realm of
galaxies.And then back again, powering perspective
back inside us, finding the common thread of humanity again at the cellular level,
a dot of sameness.
example, the map drawn by Sir William Herschel must have been a staggering
thing to see when it was first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1785--at least
by the popular viewer.The enormity and
expanse of galaxies was not yet understood, and to see (at this time) our own
sun relegated to a point of sameness in what he deduced to be a spiral-shaped Milky
Way Galaxy among many others could well have been an astonishing experience to
a first-time viewer.
to for at the other end of the spectrum with the embryological work of Karl
Ernst von Baer (an Estonian educated in Germany
who worked in St. Petersburg)
as it was published in his De ovi
mammalium et hominis genesi (1827).
His work established beyond all doubt that the reproductive processes
for all mammals were generally the same—or without fundamental difference—from other
animals.And since “mammals” included “man”,
it came as quite a shock to the popular audience that the basic facets of
reproduction were little changed between dominant predator and all the other
stuff. At the professional level Baer’s work was of enormous importance in the development
of cell theory which would lead to natural selection…and he also established embryology
as a discipline.
And so the substance of dots at opposing ends of measurement, bringing about a similarity of recognition. Dots.
Donne (1801-1878), physician, experimenter, microscopist and
photographer, is best known for things other than what he should
probably be best known for: his discovery of the third element of the
blood, platelets. Donne had a wonderful vision, and was among the very
first on the scene to write about and employ the spectacular invention
of the daguerreotype in chemistry and microscopy. As a matter of fact,
Donne, along with his collaborator Leon Foucault, produced the very
first engraved images of photomicrographs for his cytology paper of
1840. (He was also the first to use electricity in producing a medical
illustration, and was among the first modern physicians to write on the
great efficacy of mothers using their own milk in breast feeding their
children.) The discovery of platelets paper of 18421--preceding two
other works published in the same year--does indeed identify the new
object, but actually fails to make a methodological examination of the
new body, calling the new units "globulins du chyle" (or small globules, derived
from plasma). He also fails to make a drawing of what he saw; so, the
combination of these two important elements asked the reader to accept
his findings on faith, the tools of reproduction of his observations
not being present.
And so we remember Donne for some other significant
things, and less so for his lightly-interpreted and un-illustrated, and missing, "dots".
Notes 1.Donne, Alfred. De l'origine des globules du sang, de leur mode de formation et de leur fin. Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris, 1842, 14: 366-168.
(Overall the history of the
discovery of platelets is complicated:Leewenhoek (1675) and Henson (1782) were the first to fully describe the “undefined”
particles of the blood; Donne’s work was then more fully described by Beale in
1850, and then again (identified as “small corpuscles” by Zimmerman in 1860 and
then again by Schultze in 1874 and Laptschinski (also in 1874). William Osler
then enters the scene in 1880, followed by Giulio Bizzozzero who was the
first, in the years 1881 -1882, to establish central role of platelets
not only in physiological haemostasis, but also in thrombosis.Anyway it is a longish and not-clear-to-me
In closing out my first year of blogging, I'd like to take an incidental look at one of our language's most important fragments. Like Mr. Eliot's observations of Baudelaire being a fragmentary Dante, and like the brilliantly arranged frammenti of Piranesi, the great bits of our communication processes owe a breathy thanks to the lowly period. A dot. A point. It separates to provide analysis and coherent recognition of thought.
A simple dot. (.) But dots are as little or as big as you need: there's "Little Dot" (the cartoon character of Harvey Comics, created 1947, who was fascinated bylines and dots and dashes), "Admiral Dot", polka dots, Mama Dots. Dots get considerably ratcheted up in quantum dots, and then expanded beyond that with the idea of the dot as an abbreviation for the multiplication sign, both of which increase things rather than bringing them to an end, a conclusion. The dot used after a musical note delineates that there is an increase in time by half, which would be an interesting notation to adopt in literature, if we were somehow able to magnify and increase that which would normally have been ended by the same notation.
Dots have formed the background to some of the most significant scientific illustrations of all time, like these two images, the first of which Descartes' illustration of the decomposition of the rainbow, found in his Dioptrics, a fabulously important illustration. The second is from Descartes' Principia Philosophiae (1684) which display his theory of vortices, accommodating an idea of physics eliminating atoms and vacuums and joining matter and space, matter being constantly deflected from moving in a straight line, moving in vortices. Then of course there's the fantastically appreciated advancement of Samuel Morse's telegraphic instrument and his abbreviated transmitting alphabet (his "code"), which fascilitated the distribution of information in the 1840's in the same sort of way that the internet increased the flow and ease of data in the 1990's. (Actually that's only half correct for Morse, as his was a system of dots and dashes.)
Things get more interesting if we expand the idea of the "dot" to a "point", as just about everything we have discussed in math for thousands of years has been based upon the idea of a "point in space", forming the bits of the coat hanger on which the whole fabric of the heavens has been hung. Going the other way, there's the decimal point, which brings us to negative powers of ten, into smaller and smaller worlds, to the incomprehensibly small, showing that "nothing" probably doesn't exist. (We'll leave the idea of "spot" alone, tonight.)
That's quite a bit of expansion from a word that starts out life in Middle English as the definer of the head of a boil.
But this year will end in about 50 minutes from now, and I wll be able to put the final keystroke to the final sentence to my final post of the year, and put it all to sleep. And the year will end, at 11:59:59, precisely. On the dot.
I like bumping circles as modes of graphically conveying
quantitative data—it is more unusual than most ways of portraying statistics
and belongs mostly in the 19th century.
The first example is relatively early, in the first class of
this sort of information display, published in Thomas Bradford’s (1802-1887)
superior Comprehensive Atlas
Geographical, Historical and Commercial in Boston in 1835. Circles are the entire métier
of this chart, showing the sizes of the continents and oceans, concentric circles
nested inside each other, then branching out into three columns of
progressively smaller circles showing the comparative sizes of islands, seas
and lakes, all (interestingly) presented on the same scale.It is a virtual one-stop, single-image display
showing the graphical sizes of 59 geographical entities in relation to one
another, making the understanding of their comparative sizes a simple,
Prettier but (initially) more difficult to use are the next
two charts, the first showing the areas and populations of countries compared
to that of the United States
(in 1890), and the second showing the public debts of those same
countries.At first the display looks a
little confusing. But once you settle in and get your eyes accustomed to the
manner of presentation, the charts are actually very easy to use and very
Moving over from circles to dots is this population map by
Frère de Montizon Armand Joseph, Carte
philosophique figurant la population de la France, published in 1830 (as
the first of its kind).
The ubiquitous pie-chart only made its first appearance in
1801, the work of he gifted and possibly polymathic William Playfair.He was an engineer (serving as apprentice to
the inventor of the threshing machine, Andrew
Meikle, and personal assistant to James Watt)
and economist, and occasional mathematician, who also invented the line graph
(1786), bar chart (1801)and
circlegraph(1801).But for this and all of his other work, he
died in poverty and not comfortable1.
1.Works by William Playfair include:
1786. The Commercial and
Political Atlas: Representing, by Means of Stained Copper-Plate Charts,
the Progress of the Commerce, Revenues, Expenditure and Debts of England
during the Whole of the Eighteenth Century.
Breviary; Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every
State and Kingdom in Europe. London: Wallis.
1805. A Statistical
Account of the United
States of America by D. F. Donnant.
Whiting. William Playfair, Trans.
1807. An Inquiry into the
Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations:
Designed To Shew How The Prosperity Of The British
Empire May Be Prolonged.
This installment of the continuing thread on the history of dots questions the sublime machinery of the primum mobile in the work of Galileo, particularly in his The Siderreal Messenger (Sidereus nuncius) of 1610. The reception of this extraordinary work was deep and profound, and the images of the “dots” were of extraordinary importance.
of the Creator’s plan was being shown to be not-so-perfect in the late Renaissance, a major chink
showing up in the work of the dead Copernicus in 1543, which showed that the
Earth was not the center of the great cosmological eye.In the same year the body was also shown to
be not so much built in god’s image with its bitter working revealed in one of
the greatest anatomy books ever written, Vesalius’ revolutionary De Humani Corporis Fabrica .
started showing up regularly wrapped in scientific proof:the existence of a vacuum, thought to be
impossible given the perfection of creation, was shown to exist inOtto von Guericke's Experiemnta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de
vacuo spatio (Amsterdam,
stupendous idea of additions to the night sky, which had been thought to be
immutable and unchanging, came into being with Tycho Brahe’s 1572 discovery of
a new star (Nova) in Cassiopeia and added to in 1602 by Kepler’s announcement
of another new star—both events showing that the night sky was not complete and
that it was actually changing.
consider Galileo and his use of the newly-invented telescope it is usually a little
far down on the list of accomplishments that his explosion of the night sky is
considered.In addition to everything he
did (applying mathematics to the study of physics, understanding
the physics of motion, developing the telescope and the microscope and other
precision physical instruments and so on) Galileo pointed the
not-yet-astronomically-used telescope to the sky and expanded the size of the
universe by a factor of ten.It was so
utterly astonishing an idea I can hardly think how the not-prepared mind of
1610 would’ve reacted to the idea.Certainly it was not a happy acknowledgment coming from the Holy
Father, though a simple defense could’ve been that this miracle was divinely
revealed ,and that it was there all of the time but just unknown to humans, and
so not threatening the orthodoxy of Christian belief.But that wasn’t the case, and Galileo would
soon enough be in trouble with the church and its inquisition in short order.
The dots in this image are the dots of never-before-seen stars, part of an
unobserved sky that was revealed only under magnification.The size and scope of the new bigness of the
universe was staggering, and of course opened the question immediately to the
possibilities of yet a larger universe revealed under yet more
magnification.I don’t know the answer to
this, and I wonder where Galileo might have publicly mused about how big the
universe might actually be, and if he ever dreamed about the possibilities of
telescopes that were 15 feet across rather than just two inches, and what those
beasts might reveal.
*I’ve looked at the use of the telescope in the hands of
Galileo before HERE (The Telescope
in Galileo’s Hands: the Expansion of the Universe, 1610).
This Scientific American article on the smart/odd/analog transmission of pictures via telegraph (14 September 1895) by W.H. Lowd, can make you say “ohhh, of course” out loud. Mr. Lowd’s insight came fifty years after the Morse telegraph came into being, thirty years after it becomes the greatest means of communication, twenty after the first multiplex telegraph, and in the same year as Marconi’s first successful wireless transmission. It was though an ingenious inspiration whose utility lasted for about 60 seconds—which is about how long it took to develop a smarter way of transmitting an image in its entirety.
Mr. Lowd recognized that he could transmit the outline of a picture by placing on opaque tracing of the picture on top of a telegraphic ciphering sheet and then transmitting the coordinates, which when received on the other end could be connected by short lines into the picture that was being transmitted from the sending end. Images constructed of numbers and letters and such had been made for centuries before this; this however is a very early use of this idea that was employed to human-representational transmit the object electrically over distances by wire. Emoticons—a more abstract version of this idea--such as we know them today are actually better than 150 years old. They appear as early as 1857 in the telegraphers’ world, and somewhat earlier in the typesetter’s arsenal. (For example, a later attempt, taken from Puck Magazine No. 212, page 65, 30 March 1881, shows us something that we took to be “new” in the 1980’s as having roots that spread downwards into history by another 120 years.)
But Mr. Loud’s idea was pretty, I must admit, even though it was far from being the answer to the question it addressed, with a more pleasing, technology-based solution appearing by 1899.
(A successful apparatus for the true transmission of an image by wire is seen here, below, and was produced in 1899/1900.)
The other bit that is interesting is that this transmission of an image necessitated an early Surrealist-like poem, dictated by the cipher/codes that were use by necessity to send the picture.
Soft on the Heals of
the 1898 Planetary Visits post (earlier today) is this 1541 Books of the Planets (Das Planeten Buch.
Von Natur, eygenthumb, und wirckung der siben Planeten…), which was published
in Strassburg by Jacob Cammerkander..It
is a collection of medieval German accumulated astro-data and posie, cobbled
together by an anonymous author, and strung together for the masses—it was
evidently very popular, eager fingers pulling the many editions to pieces (and such), so that very few now exist.
The dot that I have in mind here is the standard astronomical depiction of the sun, and it appears brilliantly-n-black in the bottom panel close-by the image of Saturn racing across the sky.
It is interesting to think of the importance of dots in the first revolutionary changes in 500 years in the history of art. Honestly, there wasn’t anything epochal that happened between the re-discovery of perspective (ca. 1330-1400) and the arrival of Impressionism (and just afterwards of non-representational art) in the 1872/3/4-1915 period.
Dots aren’t brought to bear formally in the revolutionary movement until the early 1880’s. Impressionism for all intents and purposes is formed with the Societe Anonyme in 1872 (whose members included Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and eleven others), and perhaps more realistically in 1874 when the Societe exhibited its first salon. (The first show held at the Nadar Studio in Paris in April 1874; a tiny, one month long affair, compared to mammoth exhibitions like the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867.)
It was Georges Seurat who brought the whole world to the dot experience with his artisitc method of Pointilism, in particular with his magnificent Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, an enormous work given its composition—dots. The dots replaced the brushstroke, and their placement in relation to their color was an absolutely brilliant innovation, establishing a perfect result for the viewer when examining the work as a whole. (It may well be that the French chemist an designer Michel Chevreul made this discovery a few decades earlier, noticing the effect and changes in color depending on placement and—in his case, with fabric—color in the dyes for his material.)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the discoverer of nothingness in art and the introduction of the first non-representational paintings in art history (1913) used his fair share of dots in his exploration of the previously invisible. One good example is his 9 Points in Ascendance (1918), which is nothing but black dots, an impossible composition just two decades prior to its creation.
In the middle of this appeared the half-tone illustration, the great liberator of photographic illustration in popular publication. Invented in the late 1870’s by Stephen Henry Horgan and used in the Illustrated London News for the first time in 1881, it made the publication of accurate images much feasible and economical. No longer were readers dependent on the accuracies of artists interpreting photographs or photographed scenes—the photographs themselves were now publishable at little cost and in high quality, vastly increasing the veracity of published reports dependent upon images. This was revolutionary in its own way, democratizing the sharing of images and icons.
And so in just thirty years the lowly dot availed itself of some of the most spectacular achievements in modernism. Of course we can say the same of the line, but this is, after all, a history of dots.
There are, in my experience, very few antiquarian images
depicting the end of the world in which we see the entire globe exploding or in
pieces or in flames. This sort of image gets more play in the 20th
century, especially after 8 August 1945, but prior to that it is really very
scarce.I own a few images that appear
in the 17th and 19th centuries, and another from 1929 (Das Weltbild which show a “giant ice
ball” colliding into and completely destroying the earth). .Then there is this new find, S.L. Lacy’s The End of the World, (necessarily) self-published
in West Point, Virginia, in 1941.It is a short and stocky, and bound in orange
wrappers—its spine title (The End of the
World) begs the casual reader to pull it from the shelf. It’s a simple
book—studying the Bible prophecies and revelations on the end of all things—and
it annoys and is insulting but doesn’t disappoint.
started to breeze through the book (back-to-front as always) and opened the
book to Chapter XIII, finding this delicious chapter heading:“The Chronological Order of Final Things”,
this being a full page pre-PowerPoint summation of the time-shrinking fireball
that is rolling inexorably towards us all.To say that one is able to put a period at the end of the world's flow
of time, that someone is able to identify the point in the future where the
future is no more, is "presumptive"--this in the most understated
fashion as to offend even the highest of high-Victorians' sense of restrained
propriety.Wrapped in a comfortable
Christian chrysalis of pre- and post-apocalyptic religious certitude, Mr. Lacy
delivers his interpretation of biblical prophecy for the coming of the end,
hustling it to the front of the religious line of things to come.
It seems that in 1941 the end was beginning, and Lacy saw
all of the images implied by prophecy that were necessary to announce the
glorious final days of broad retribution. This includes the list if the ten
things indicating "the sign of The Times", one of which (Number 5)
was "The Automobile" and another (Number 7) was "Increased
Knowledge and Travel" (announced by Nathum 2: 3,4 and old dependable
Daniel. 12:4, respectively.There's
nothing that doesn't fit into Daniel's visions or revelations, though Mr. Cash
has certainly made a lovely song of them.)When everything fits perfectly into a predictive model with no possibility
of falsification (or of proof or disproof), then the model has no validity
outside of a belief system in itself. Very tidy.
It is an annoying, cloying minor treatise, promising little
more than The Lake of Fire awaiting almost all of us, even the sleeping dead,
who would be scraped from their graves to be spit into this burning
Lacy does a lot of inspired interpretation and
philosophizing, much of which he doesn’t seem to bother separating from
biblical quotations—I don’t think it is intentional, just bad writing.A random
find in Lacy’s thinking dislodges the following nugget:
“Satan is in the atmosphere above the earth, with access to
heaven and earth with a circumscribed power over the atmospheric elements and
the earth including the inhabitants”.
But enough of this nonsense. What brought me to this work is
the folding schematic map at the front of the book.It is a slightly complex jumble of
semi-circles and circular reasoning, and I have no interest in straightening
out this jumbled linguine. What has my interest is the dissolving Earth part of
the diagram, a part of the dead earth that comes between Calvary
and Heaven-on-Earth.What makes this
image different from the others though is that the Earth reappears—different from
its former self having been vanquished and cleansed by all consuming fire, but
the Earth nevertheless.Or something
like it.Or nothing like it.
"The first principle [in science] is to not fool yourself." R.P. Feynman
is all the same, everywhere, anytime, everytime.”—James Randi on the
history ofthe pseudosciences .
Self-deception and belief in Woo-woo (spurious pseudo-scientific beliefs) is some of the stuff that separates humans from animals. And not in a good way, unless it was all chalked up to an expression of creativity and imagination. I started this post as an entry in the History of Dots category, then in the Blank and Missing Things department, and then simply to the Bad Ideas category. But the more I thought about mole mapping and how extraordinary it was, the less extraordinary it became, especially once the veil of age has been removed. As it turns out, mole mapping is neither more nor less extraordinary than any other system of belief.
a sentence one doesn’t get to write very often:Richard Saunders (1613-1692) was perhaps the foremost historian, astrologer and seer
of human moles and their predictive forces who ever lived.He was far from being the solitary member of
a one-unit class:the use of moles as
predictive and interpretive agents stretches back dozens of
centuries, so the
claim of Saunder’s being its most famous practitioner is not empty,
mega-pseudo-scientific or not.The
mystical commentary on the Torah, the Zohar (a part of the Kabbalah), gets
right to the point of the significance of moles (“the stars of the body”),
transferring the structure of the cosmos and the constellations to the
skin.The seer and soothsayer Melampus
from Greek mythology, in one of his necessarily pseudographic works, writes on
the importance of moles of the face and their zodiacal relations—an idea that
was picked up 2000 years later by the extremely significant mathematician
Jerome Cardano.There was a decent
amount of argument regarding the location of zodiac symbols on the face, as it
the leading exponent of moles is Saunders, who was also one of the leading
figures in a wide and very powdery period of European non-scientific
sciences.These wonderful images come
from the second (!) edition of his cumbersome but accurately-titled work Saunders Physiognomie and Chiromancie,
Metroscopie, the Symmetrical Proportions and Signal Moles of the Body, Fully
and Accurately Explained; With Their Natural Predictive Significations Both to
Men and Women (published in London, 1671, by Nathaniel Brook), in which he
divines the psyche and the future with peoples’ moles.
first figure, detailing the mole locations of a man’s face, is a remarkable,
weird accomplishment, not only because of the exhaustive treatment that is
given to every location of every mole (g_d help us), but also because of the
manner of the engraving.If you look
closely, you can see that it is Fresnel lens-like—it is an engraving composed
of (almost) concentric circles.I cannot
recall seeing such a thing before—needless to say the practice of engraving
would be laborious, and not much practiced.I’m not even sure what great good it causes, though it does give a
little different idea of depth and dimensionality to the image.The effect that it achieves here though is to
give a solar-system-like background to the moles—something that is much more
spectacularly achieved in the next image.
map of the moles of this woman’s body looks to me just like a constellation—and
a constellation is just what they were for Saunders, who viewed the arrangement
of moles on the body like an astronomer searching the night sky for a new
comet.But an astronomer would not be
trying to force governing connections in the starry realms to occurrences on
earth (or heaven, or whatever)—that would be the job of an astrologer, whose
job would be enormously simplified since everything it conjures is
fictional.Had Robert Hooke been Richard
Saunders-like when he made virtually the first microscopic investigations in
human history, he would have been correlating the hairs and pores of the flea
rather than making his minute and beautiful observations.
sees mole connections everywhere, even developing sub-classifications to
sub-classes: this is seen in the lovely relational map of face moles to moles
on other parts of the body. (I like the spare curved lines most.)
all looks perfectly phenomenal, unbelievable even,from out here in 2009.The fact remains though that the vast
majority of newspapers in his country still carry horoscopes, and most Americans
believe in UFOs, and a not-small percentage of those folks say that they’ve
actually been abducted by Outer Space Aliens. (I calculate that from the
“first” UFO sighting near Roswell 50 years ago that a sighting has been made about every ten seconds since
then.Why all of this interest?And here’s a question among the many that I
have about this stuff--outside the astronomical chances of actually
encountering the other life forms in the universe that do undoubtedly
exist:why do these crafts, which have
spectacular, beyond-physics capacities, have little dotty lights on them?)
so as bizarre as images like this might look, many (most?) folks in the present
really haven’t left these ideas behind—they just get changed a little,
upfitted, retro-ripped, and outfitted with flashing lights.
very long career of getting people to think in spite of themselves, James Randi (scientific
investigator, keeper of the scientific method, head of the James Randi
Educational Foundation, and formerly “The Amazing Randi” from years ago) has
one particular mythbust-lecture that I find phenomenal, with a very large “oh
my good god!” capacity for the students at the end of it--if they would but allow it.Listen:Mr. Randi would explore the possibilities of astrology, asking the group
or class who there believed in it, taking a census of belief.He would then make a very strong, convincing
case for the application of this hope in astrology (he is a very determined and
logical speaker), and then give astrological “readings" to each member of the
group.The readings would turn out to be exact and persuasive—a second tally would be taken of believers, with
the usual results being that (unless they knew who Mr. Randi was or was already
a skeptic or logically un-needy thinker) the class would now consist of an
overwhelming percentage of astrology-believers.
Mr. Randi lets the high-wind boom swing free:everyone received the same reading. (You can see a short snippet for one of these experience HERE--Mr. Randi has conducted this lecture many times for many different audiences.) The shock of realization is palpable.
the telephone this morning Mr. Randi graciously explained this lovely lesson—he
also explained that even after the key ingredient of the lesson was revealed,
and even after he lectured on thought and belief and superstition and logic and
so on, that the people who had already believed in astrology would almost in every circumstance still
maintain that belief.Even in the face
of overwhelming evidence, the idea of belief was no match for fact.Truth, fact, explanation, method, logic—none
of these could put a chink in the armor of belief, and is no match for self-deception.
Woo-woo is always the same, everywhere, all the time.If its not astrology its something else, the basis for all of it is the same” (my
paraphrase) says Mr. Randi.After approaching belief
systems like UFOs and astrology and mentally bending spoons and mind-reading
and on and on, Mr. Randi says that at their base, the stories have a common heritage of need.
And they’re unbendable, and certainly unbreakable, for all of those who need
the belief.There’s no room for
constructive debate and exchange in such belief systems, whether it is
astrology or creationism (I just can’t call it by its other, cleaned-up
name), as they cannot satisfy the basic tenets of knowledge growth and scientific inquiry which, according to RP Feynman, is the willingness to test your beliefs against falsity and to investigate all possibilities that might make them invalid.* Mole mapping predictions and the
fate of a life is no different from any of these other derivations in wishful/hopeful pseudosciences, either—just a different name
for the same underlying system of beliefs, though the moles are a little long in the tooth.
Anyway, creationism or astrology or life-after death--they might as well all be mapping moles.
As Feynman said:
The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are
the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.
After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other
scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
* Feynman on the scientific method: "It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought
that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over
backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should
report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what
you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain
your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some
other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow
can tell they have been eliminated " RP Feynman quoted by Ralph Leighton, 1985, p. 341
"A network of such [computers],
connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [which provided] the
functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in
informationstorage and retrieval and [other] symbiotic functions." —J.C.R. Licklider, his epochal “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, 1960
There is a famous
and most likely apocryphal story made famous in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time where a famous
“scientist” (I‘ve heard him described as James Jeans, for one and the nicest
fit, others say Bertrand Russell though it matters not) is confronted by a
member of his audience during a lecture on astronomy/cosmology.A woman rises and confronts the speaker,
determining that what has come to pass as fact regarding the universe is all
rubbish, and that the Earth was in fact a flat object resting on the back of a
turtle.The speaker then asks her what
the turtle is standing on; she replies immediately of course that it is another
turtle, and that it is “turtles all the way down”.It’s a nice story, and bears some resemblance
to Native American stories of the Earth born on the back of a turtle, of the
Hindu legend of the Earth being borne by an elephant standing on the back of a
tortoise, and so on, all the way down.Even Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle
can make an appearance in this one.
This came to mind
thinking about the contribution of (the not-entirely forgotten) John Benjamin
Dancer (1812-1887) to photography and its relation to the history of the
Internet.Dancer was in the immediate
second wave of the greats of photography following the short first wave of
Niepce and Talbot and Daguerre, and did come up with a number of very good
ideas at the birth of photography—one of them in theory is an early foundation
stone for the technical distribution of data and information.(These two slides are examples of Dancer's work and are reproduced from the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge.)
went to work immediately after reading of Daguerre’s 1839 process.The technical aspects of the Daguerre effort
were les daunting than they were messy—he found the descriptions “crude and obscure”,
and proceeded with his own series of experiments, producing a camera some six
weeks later.It is interesting too that
he seemed to have based the camera on a camera obscura:“being a practical optician the camera was
one of my own construction, such as I had frequently supplied to artists for
tracing the outline of views in the camera….”
He lectured later
in that same year (1839), showing lantern slides of his accomplishments to
crowds of up to 1500 people.His great
accomplishment was in the field of microphotography—I should say rather that he
invented the field.And it is of great
interest that the first images that he made using the brand new invention of
the camera coupled with a microscope was that of a flea.In yesterday’s post I wrote about Robert
Hooke’s Micrographia and his spectacular discovery of the fineness and detail
of biological specks like the flea, showing audiences—the world—for the first
time that these insignificant creatures represented an entirely new,
just-discovered world, and that they were as tremendously well-developed as any
other large living thing.Back to the
flea, as it were, went Dancer—I have no idea whether he knew he was calling on
Hooke’s iconic image or not.But it is
at least a lovely coincidence.
displayed images of documents that he reduced by a scale of 1/160, printing a
fully-legible copy of a printed document that was only 3mm tall.The significance of this invention seems to
have been lost until it was picked up again in 1853 by the great John Herschel,
who recognized the process as a way to archive significant documents.
I like it more for its possible impact,
perhaps, on some of the thinking on the construction of a world-wide
distribution of knowledge, as a necessary step to get to the stage where
Vannevar Bush—who was widely acknowledged as being the grandfather of the
internet at a MIT Conference about a 20 years ago—could theorize about his own
precursor to the internet--the Memex,
describing it for the popular audience in the Atlantic Monthly in June*, 1945.Among many other things,
Bush—who was also, probably, one of the great figures of WWII for his heroic
role in leading the U.S. scientific and technical war effort and seeming to
make the correct decisions all of the time—foresaw a means of distributing
data, more or less instantly, calling on the delivery of microfilmed
information. Bush, who was also a great engineer and father of one of the
countries best analog computers (in 1931/33), had the notion for a world wide
technical distribution of knowledge, but, as he wrote this in 1945 (!), could
not see far enough into the future development of the digital computer (the
ENIAC just being born at that time, though it must be pointed out that Bush was
open to the idea of magnetic storage).His ideas were very far reaching, touching on microminiaturization and
artificial intelligence, and his ideas even now aren’t so much coyly science
fiction as they are, well, implemented.There’s a lot of Bush’s memex that are in place today
So, the turtles and
wondering about Dancer’s influence in the string of inventions and discoveries
that gave birth to the www: how far down do these influences go?The touchstone for the creation of the internet
is usually seen as being with JCR Licklider (see quote above) in 1960, or with
Paul Baran or Leonard Kleinrock a year later; but perhaps it is earlier still with
the implementation of ARPA (set into place immediately after the launch of Sputnik).Of course none of this is possible without
computers, so you could work your way back through time to the transistor, to
Bush, to the Stibitz (Bell)Relay Computer, to Johnny von Neumann, to the thermionic tube (Bush), and then
all of the support discoveries and inventions that rolled into these, and so
on.Back to photography, back to Babbage’s
plans for his analytical engine, back to the invention of moveable type, to the
invention of paper, to the creation of libraries, to the general idea of the
popular distribution of knowledge.All the
way down.But I do think it worthwhile
to think of Dancer’s contribution in so far as it allowed people to think of
easier, quicker ways of moving around vast amounts of data and
information.And that I think is worth
*I’ve also got to
say that at the same time Bush was writing about the future of intelligence he
was also at work developing the U.S. response to the upcoming race in atomic weapons. He and his team were busy crafting responses
and policies and the reaction of the Soviets and the sharing of the atomic bomb
data and all of that, and all before the test at Alamogordo. Really, the guy was spectacular.
Abbott’s slender Flatland is perhaps one of the best books ever written on
perception and dimensions, a beautifully insightful book that was quick and
sharp, and in spite of all that was also a best-seller.Written in 1884 when Abbott was 46 (Abbott
would live another 46 years and enjoy the book’s popular reception), it introduces
the reader to a two dimensional world with a social structure in which the more
sides of your object equals power and esteem.Thus the lowest class would be a triangle (three sides) while the
highest (priestly) class would be mega-polygons whose shape would approach a
circle. Abbott’s magistry comes in
explaining to the three-dimensional reader what it was like to be in a
to this world one day came an epochal event.
was a dot.The dot was a magnificent new
thing to the 2-D world, and what happened was this—it grew concentrically and
outwardly, expanding and then contracting in a series of circles, morphing
until it appeared as an entirely new and revolutionary form rising from the
plane of Flatland. It became a sphere.
sphere was from Spaceland and amazed the population of Flatland (Lineland,
actually); the story was (and the book’s title page saying it was written by) a
Square, whose deep interest was immediately enhanced by its great imagination.It turns out that once every millennium the
good folks of Spaceland visit Flatland to return one its inhabitants home to try and introduce them,
educate them, to the idea of added dimensions.Safely in Spaceland, the Square was presented with the radical
newness of the third dimension, it engaged the Sphere about the possibilities
of yet higher (fourth, fifth and sixth) dimensions.The Sphere was not altogether please—talk of
higher dimensions in the3-D world was outlawed just as the discussion of the
3-D world was in Flatland.Pissed, the
Sphere returns the Square home to its land of lines.
Square finds it very difficult to be home again. (Did I ever mention here that
my house is about a thousand feet away from Thomas Wolfe’s grave?) It finds it
a very tough go to convince anyone of its journey and the existence of another
dimension.To complicate things further,
Abbott has the Square dream a remarkable thing—a visit to Pointland, a totally
self-involved dimension consisting of one ruler, a Point, which exists across
all area and things.Even Square’s
introduction of an idea or question comes to the Ruler of Pointland as an idea
from its own head, because nothing and no one else exists.Fantastic!
things go badly for the Square—the edict is described making it illegal for any
further discussion of the third dimension, with dire consequences on a sliding
scale according to class./caste/sides, with death the penalty for the
Triangle.The Square itself winds up in
prison, an unhappy being locked “in” a cell and prohibited in its mind.
Abbott is certainly successful in relating the possibilities of
higher-dimension thought by introducing the view from a higher- to a
lower-dimension.Still, it’s a tough
years later dots came to further assistance to a mathematician and military man
named Esprit Pascal Jouffret*, who wrote a remarkable and beautiful geometry
book on picturing the fourth
dimension.Actually, the book was more an example of how to discus the representation
of the fourth dimension on a piece of paper, and didn’t’ offer a comprehensivetreatise on the matter.But the images of depicting space and time
would look extraordinarily familiar in just a decade in the paintings of the
Cubists.For example, the morally-lonely
Picasso’s 1910 portrait of the movement-molding art dealer Ambroise Vollard looks
very much like many of the images in the Jouffret book.Marcel Duchamp—for me the true
hero of early
modernism—also drew on the work of Jouffret, and made no secrets about the path
of his intellectual foundation (unlike the squirrely Picasso).
so from the lowly dot comes a beauty unsuspected in soliphismy Pointland.
Lucretius (95-55 BCE), in his Nature of the Universe, stated thatsince there is nothing outside the universe, it must be infinite: “the universe stretches away…just the same in all directions without limit”; it stretches far and wide into immeasurable depths.All that is in it, he reasons, is distributed equally and in the same way.But this is not the case, even in light of Edward Milne’s cosmological principle (1933),stating that all places in the universe is alike—which is true, except that there are vast disturbances in very large local areas that distinguish themselves from other places.The work of Gamow/Alpher/Herman (1939) and Penzias/Wilson in establishing the cosmic microwave radiation (CMB) shows that the observable universe to be very close to homogeneous and isotropic, and of course accelerating. (Suffice to say for this short post that there are models-- Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) model for example-- which show the observable universe to be "weakly" inhomogeneous and anisotropic; but generally and on average the isotropic models stand.)
Perhaps the earliest published “bump” in the calm waters of the equal-distribution universe occurs with William Herschel (1738-1822), who in 1785 published a revolutionary image of the “Stellar System” (the Milky Way), showing its irregular pattern and the off-center placement of our sun amidst a panoply of other stars.(His image was remarkably and substantially correct, with the most grievous error being the placement of the sun too close to the center of the galaxy.) It was an image which bought the idea of a not-so-humano-centric idea into popular philosophy. This galacto-centric view remained until the work of Harlow Shapley's globular clusters in 1918.
This varied quite widely from the images of other astronomical observers and theorists such as Thomas Wright (1711-1786), who in his book An Original Theory of the Universe (1750) gives the Milky Way a friendlier, homogenous manner, overruling his earlier theory that the stars were “promiscuously distributed through mundane space” and delivering a theory of the stars organized in a regular pattern based upon a hierarchical center of some sort around which everything else was positioned. He also provided this fabulous image of the centers of galaxies as an immutable, transcendent force, the eye of the creator, rather than the simple, positive dot.
This idea was picked up by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who in his own work, The Theory of the Heavens (1755), expanded on the multiple centers of creation(s) (an “endless immensity in an unlimited plenum of creations”) of cascading and separate galaxies, and detailed a vast system of disk-shaped galaxies which revolved around centers which in turn revolved around other centers, becoming far vaster, though all were centered on a dominant, universal center.
But it was Herschel's images of the dots that came closest, longest, to the most accurate and appealing depiction of the universe, especially with the location of our solar system's principal dot seen as a dot among dots in a universe of dots.