JF Ptak Science Books Post 2613
Two days ago (or yesterday?) it seemed as if everything that I touched or read or researched involved the year 1932--and two of the blog posts were on things from that year. Over in the science bookstore side of what I do here, I was also working on the discovery of the positron by C.D. Anderson (announced in the Physical Review, and which showed that yes indeed there were things smaller than the atom)' Chadwick's discovery of the neutron, and Cockcroft1 and Walton's splitting the lithium atom--all in that big year of 1932. And this all somehow put me in the mind of dots and circles, and then concentric circles, and then to Hell.
This was not the physical Hell of what was to come in 1945 and it wasn't the future beckoning call of Armageddon that came as one of the results of decades of nuclear research--instead it was a stronger but make-believe Hell of infinite belief, brought to us via the development of numerous religions and then more beautifully described by Milton and Dante...and, in the case here, Caedmon.
All of this boils down to one picture that I had in mind when I was messing around with the 1932 stuff--the opening of the boundary of Hell into that of Chaos. The image comes from a very early manuscript of Caedmon--who was a 7th century figure and the earliest English poet whose name is known. name is known--illustrating a part of the story of the fall of man. The image has stayed in the back of my mind for a long time, encountered in an interesting (and thickly spongey) book from 1896 by Stephen Gurteen (1840-1898) called The epic of the fall of man; a comparative study of Caedmon, Dante and Milton2. The striking picture is the third in the book (on page 108), though plenty of other images appear behind it through the course of the rest of the book, another 35 in all.
What we see is a circle within a circle, an atom of Hell, with Hell itself surrounded by Chaos, or the Abyss, and above this, there was Heaven, or the Empyrean; and in this case, an angel is reaching through the black surrounding region of Chaos and into Hell, where we see an example of the suffering of the mega-damned.
I know this isn't quite a vision of an atomic model, but I associated it with our friends from 1932. And yes there are other examples suggesting this structure springing from Dante and even Milton, but, really, it is just this one image that first comes to mind.
1. As it turns out in my experience John Cockcroft is a very rare photographic figure among physics Nobelists in that he is very frequently smiling in official photos.