JF Ptak Science Books Post 2792

There's a big difference being "inventing" and "invented". You virtually never hear or read of someone declaring "I am inventing thus-and-so" imply that they're working on something; "I invented the letter number seven" implies that you've completed the act of invention and the number seven exists.

In cataloging a book for my bookstore I came upon this difference in reference to Charles Babbage and his early calculating machine, and proceeded to make a mountain of a molehill, and then the reverse.

The "incident" was sparked by a volume of the *Journal of the Franklin Institute*^{1} with the appearance of a very early mention of Babbage having built his Difference Engine (No. 1) found in a one-paragraph mention in the article “The Results of Machinery”:

[Image at left of Babbage's machine in 1832, from the Science Museum http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co62243/difference-engine-no-1-difference-engine-portion-only]

“Mr. Babbage...has **invented** a calculating machine...” referring to the newly (1832) “completed” 1/7^{th } of the machine. (The Difference Engine No. 0 announcement came June 14, 1822; the Difference Engine No. 1 appeared in this year, 1832, though work was suspended on it in 1833 (with government funding removed);'work soon to begin on Difference Engine No.2 (1846-9), (and with A. Lovelace's famous “Notes” appearing on the Analytical Engine in 1843.)

The article is a review/abstract of the book by Charles Knight, *The results of machinery : namely, cheap production and increased employment exhibited : being an address to the working-men of the United Kingdom*, which appeared in a second edition in London in 1831 (and a fifth in 1832) with a first American appearing in 1831. The Babbage calculating machine bit from the *JFI *is taken very nearly verbatim from these editions, where in the original the mention of the machine is referred to as “almost perfected”--here in the *JFI* it shows up as "invented", which as they say is something quite different, the world of "almost-perfecteds" being much wider broader deeper than that of "the perfecteds".

Leaving out the fact that the machine was yet really built is of course a minor thing compared to the overall message of the paper and the book in general, but I just got my scarf wrapped around the axle on it.

The full note on Babbage reads:

“The inventions for saving mental labour, in calculations of arithmetic, have been carried so far, that Mr. Babbage, a gentleman whose name we have twice before mentioned, has invented a calculating machine, which not only does its work of calculation without the possibility of error, but absolutely arranges printing types of figures, in a frame, so that no error can be produced in copying the calculations, before they are printed. We mention this curious machine, to show how far science may go in diminishing mental labour, and ensuring accuracy.”

This was part and parcel the principle thrust of this article: investigating the application of machinery in a positive way to production and labor and showing its “...effects of saving unprofitable labor”.

The few paragraphs of background leading to the Babbage reads as follows:

“The foot-rule of the carpenter not only gives him the standard of a foot measure, which he could not exactly ascertain by any experience or any mental process; but it is also a scale of the proportions of an inch or several inches, to a foot, and of the parts of an inch to an inch. What a quantity of calculations, and of dividing by compasses does this little instrument save the carpenter, besides ensuring a much greater degree of accuracy in all his operations! The common rules of arithmetic, which almost every boy in England now learns, are parts of a great invention for saving mental labour. The higher branches of mathematics, of which science arithmetic is a portion, are also inventions for saving labour, and for doing what could never be done without these inventions.

There are instruments, and very curious ones, for lessening the labour of all arithmetical calculations; and tables—that is, the results of certain calculations, which are of practical use, are constructed for the same purpose. When you buy a joint of meat, you often see the butcher turn to a little book, before he tells you how much a certain number of pounds and ounces amounts to, at a certain price per pound. This book is his “Ready Reckoner,” and a very useful book it is to him; for it enables him to despatch his customers in half the time that it would otherwise require, and thus to save himself a great deal of labour, and a great deal of inaccuracy.

The inventions for saving mental labour, in calculations of arithmetic, have been carried so far, that Mr. Babbage, a gentleman whose name we have twice before mentioned, has invented a calculating machine, which not only does its work of calculation without the possibility of error, but absolutely arranges printing types of figures, in a frame, so that no error can be produced in copying the calculations, before they are printed. We mention this curious machine, to show how far science may go in diminishing mental labour, and ensuring accuracy.”

So in this message of insight and hope I got stuck on one word, which ultimately really doesn't mean anything. The message was significant and an interesting and insightful way of phrasing the possibilities for the application of more advanced machines in the future, and was much bigger whatever the state of completion of the Babbage machine was.