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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1975

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In preparing an alphabetic sampler atlas of imaginary places (a thing which looks much finer capitalized, so An Alphabetic Sampler Atlas of Imaginary Places), I wondered about the non-existent relationships between these nonexistent places, and thought that this too might make an interesting alphabetization project. So an Alphabetic Sampler of Non-Existent Relationships Between Non-Existent Places came to be, and since it has such an oddly appealing ring to it, with a certain amount of surrealist qualities (really more affectations) it might be appropriate to start with Alfred Jarry, and here with his wonderful creation, Laceland1. and its relationship to Edwin Abbott's Flatland2.. Their's could be a war in the relationship of their light–or more exactly, their relationship of shadows.

I can see across the vast and extremely limited sea that separates these two places a commonality in at least one dimension–and maybe only one, though being light, it is a rather large one. Light plays a big part in Flatland. The slender book 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 a lower class would be a triangle (three sides) while the highest (priestly) class would be mega-polygons, whose shape would then become a circle. On the lowest but complex strata is woman, who is represented as a line, but which is also the most contentious and unpredictable of all of the Flatland shapes. That is, until they all encounter a sphere, and the introduction of the third dimension, where Abbott’s magistry comes in explaining to the three-dimensional reader what it was like to be in a two-dimensional world.

Jarry's Laceland–along with Amorphous Island, Fragrant Island, Bran Isle and what is almost the pluralization of my surname, Ptyx–was an island kingdom that was surrounded by shadow and semi dark, but upon approaching it there would appear absolutely brilliant and blinding light the power outmatching that of the sun, glorious and fantastic, the light greater than that of the light of creation. The light is beautifully described by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi in their excellent The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1980):

"The King of Lace spins this bright light, weaving pictures of madonnas, jewels, peacocks and human figures which intertwine like the dances of the Rhine-maidens. Clear patterns apper against the pitch-black darkness of the surrounding air, like shapes painted on windows by the first, and then disappear again into the shadows" (Page 204)

Now in Flatland, light is a different sort of thing, coming as it does in only two dimensions, which means that two-dimensional light in a two dimensional world makes for a different sort of shadow, one that is rather flat and uninspired, especially compared to those of Laceland, which must be magnificent. Perhaps the shadow relationship between Laceland and Flatland is one of opposites. Polar opposites. Impossibles.

This all seems to come together a little when considering that the Dr. Faustroll of the Laceland adventures, is the inventor of "pataphysics", which is "the science of imaginary solutions".


1. Alfred Jarry. Ptyx, Laceland, Amorphous Island, Fragrant Island and Bran Isle, Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, pataphysician, 1911 .

2, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884).

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1968 Follow Me on Pinterest

I was reading the ending of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and found it a highly unusual occurrence that the novel ended on its single-word title. It doesn't seem to happen very often at all (though it also occurs in Toni Morrison's Beloved). And so I set to check out the last words of some significant works of fiction that are on the shelves here at home and see what these books ended on, and to give this project an hour of search. Nothing comes very close to Nabokov, though Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun ends with "gun", and Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night ends with the entire title, along with the author's name: "Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.” (Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49" ends with the title of the book, as well). But on my hour's journey into ending, that was about it. It all seems a little useless, except that there were a few nice bits that broke away from this time-hole.

First, when you read the words and their books, they sorta/maybe suggest the essence of what came before–I think if you squint your eyes a little and connect the last word to the title, the word occasionally feels like a micro-summation. Second, I found that when taken together and in order, the last word of each of the short stories in the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones (edited by Kerrigan for Grove Press in 1962 with a number of different translators) presents themselves as not-bad found poetry/musical word arrangement. Third, it might be a fun idea to set up a chess set of pieces composed on the one side by Last Words in Great Fiction and on the other the Last Words in Famous Scientific Papers.

Another interesting bit is a challenge to write a paragraph using the following last word from the accompanying list of novels (you can have your choice of punctuation and prepositions and whatever else is necessary). Dr. Seuss managed to create a great classic with a 236-word allowance from his publisher and somehow managed to write The Cat in the Hat, so there is a precedence for such things. Taken as a random group, the words aren't necessarily a collection of momento mori, but could make a nice beginning for something.

Found Poetry in the Last Word of the Short Stories in Borges' Ficciones:

Burial memempschosis

counsel him,

chance ruins, hope, heart

congestion me foreseen,

fired morning evil,




–I added punctuation and the spacing.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1964

This is a short and developing list of 36 principal works in the history of science, a list of integral and indispensable thinking. Its just the beginning of the list, really, and for the most part I've selected only one or two examples for each letter–the process has been pretty quick and without too much need for deliberation, what with selecting the obvious and all. Nearly all are selected from the collection of the University of Adelaide, which has more full text works across the fields of intellectual history.

Edwin A.
Abbott, 1838–1926


(384–322 BC)

Physics (or Physica); On the
Heavens (or De Caelo)
; On Generation and Corruption (or De
Generatione et Corruptione)
; Meteorology (or Meteorologica);
On the Soul (or De Anima); Parva Naturalia (or Little
Physical Treatises):
; On sense and the sensible (or De Sensu
et Sensibilibus)
; On memory and reminiscence (or De Memoria
et Reminiscentia)
; On sleep and sleeplessness (or De Somno
et Vigilia)
; etc.

ca.287–212 BCE

On the Sphere and Cylinder;
Measurement of a Circle; On Conoids and Spheroids;
On Spirals; On the Equilibrium of Planes; The
; The Quadrature of the Parabola; On
Floating Bodies
; Book of Lemmas; The Method
Treating of Mechanical

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1956
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[All images via the lovely and easy to maneuver Google Patents here]

Fortune telling and divination is mostly the subject of the pretty patents (below), a quick penny-ante for the fulfillment of the instant treatment of possibility. reckoning via mechanical means,easing folks out of the necessity to think about What May Come, and also, possibly, relieving some of them of the possibilities of worry should the fortunes agree with their hopes. And desires. Opposite, for the opposite.

This thinking goes back a long way into dark and dusty time, though it becomes interesting (to me, anyway) when it gets wrapped up in Renaissance magic and science.

I'm not sure what it reveals except for what people might have wanted to believe in during different periods of time.

Anyway, the patent drawings are pretty.

The ways of telling fortunes are broad and numerous and may have been dictated by the stuff that was readily available at hand; a veritable alphabet can be quickly summoned to deal with the most common of the sort:

Alectromancy (telling the future by relatively brainless modern dinosaur roosters pecking at the ground for stuff);

(thinking that the motions of stars that are light years away from the
observer in a vast sea of space and their annotation on an
infinitesimally small speck of universe dust called "Earth" can somehow
interact with living organisms that are 1030000 the amount of space that can be affected by the light from the stars that are 1/1,000,000,000 of the age of those stars);

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1953

"It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words … what justification is
there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A
word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you
have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”?
“Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite,
which the other is not.’"–George Orwell, 1984

"Orwell and Nabokov wrote nothing like one another and did that to perfection."–Not H.L. Mencken

Hilladamson2[David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), St. Andrews [East Gable End of the Cathedral with Tower of St. Regulus], [1843-1847]. Calotype. Source: Princeton University Library.]

There is nothing that limits action than the control of the stuff that describes it: words. Any dictatorship or totalitarian regime can appreciate this thought–many would try to eliminate even the thinking of this thought, let alone limiting the spoken parameters of discussing it. Removing the capacity to respond to what is happening in the world with other human beings by rephrasing the experience through the introduction of new words and the elimination of old ones is an excruciating form of absolute power that can be blatant as well as subtle, though I suspect that accomplishing this word control sotto voce would be the most effective/insidious method.

Orwell 1984 ms[A page of Orwell's corrected Manuscript of 1984; source: here]

George Orwell describes a terrifying society of just this sort in his book 1984 (with the complete text available here), which was an adventure into a Mystopia of the near-future (of about the year 2050). He writes about a society, Oceania, that attempts to makes it members into one conforming biological unit for the sake of control it. One of the methods used to accomplish this is the destruction of words and the creation of other state-controlled words to replace them, a sort of single-channel television for the mind, a device using its own vocabulary which audially impregnates the listener with versions of correct thinking, redefining reality by controlling the ways of interpreting it.

This is a list of some of the words that Orwell's society creates–some of course do not stand well on there own, their deviousness appreciated in the context of the story, like the first example, "artsem", which through constancy has come to numbingly replace the idea of what the word represents. Others, like 'good", are old words with a new meaning, making them new words with a bad (or not-good) meaning. Or "free" of the old (or Oldspeak") meaning, where even the word "free" is used only to describe an absence, as in "this sentence describing the use of the word "free" is "free from the old meaning of free", like you'd want a baby to be free from germs.

See here for an autobiographical note on Orwell; "A Short History of My Life", by Orwell in 1945, here.

Airstrip One: the new word for "England", which has been reduced to nothing but a terminal for the society of 1984, Oceania, is composed of the Americas, part of southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Artsem: Artificial
insemination, which is the enforced and nearly the only method of reproduction allowed in the society, another brick in a structure that controls the expression of intimacy between people. Big Brother needs new people for the society to continue, but he doesn't want there to be any emotional connection between them outside of the prescribed feelings that people are supposed to emulate. Artsem further indoctrinates a no-contact policy between people. There was the possibility of sexual intercourse but only for the production of children when artsem was not applicable–this was called "goodsex", which was the opposite of "badsex", which was sexual relations for the joy of it. The orgasm was a hunted thing, to be tracked down and eradicated.

BB: Big
The major domo of Oceania, a hitler/g-d, an extreme presence of control.
"The story really began in the middle sixties, the period of the
great purges in which the original leaders of the Revolution were wiped
out once and for all. By 1970 none of them was left, except Big Brother
himself. All the rest had by that time been exposed as traitors and
counter- revolutionaries."

Bellyfeel: an unfeeling and enthusiastic acceptance of an idea, following without knowing or knowledge.

Blackwhite: "… this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an
opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white,
in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it
means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party
discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white,
and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a
continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of
thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in
Newspeak as doublethink."

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1928

An Alphabet of the Artificial as Seen in Patent Drawings

I…can wet my Cheekes with artificial Teares."–3 Henry VI, iii, ii, 184.

Using "artificial" as the word preceding a concept makes for some pretty interesting thought, especially if you remove it a bit from what the expected outcome is supposed to be. So: creation. Intelligence. Harmomics. Society. Language. Consciousness. Person. With the word "artificial" in front of these, they become captivating ideas both inside and outside of the realms of possibility. ("Artificial creation" can have a definite hard sci-fi edge to it beyond genetic algorithms and trying to cook primordial chemical elements into the stuff of life in controlled environments; the "artificial person" more than just the person ficta of the law, although "artificial personality" wrapped around that gets to be very interesting as well. The "Artificial society"has some Superman aspects to it from my 25-cent comics day, though the von Neumann/Ulam/Conway simplified paper grid cell creations are fr more interesting; artificial consciousness has a nice film-feel to it beyond machine/synthesis and cognitive robotics, where consciousness has somehow been identified and was controllable to a walking-around state. And so on.)

What I've pulled together below is a small sampling of patented items using the word "artificial" in its title, and presented them in a (near-complete) alphabet of artificial creations.

There is no patent on "artificial ideas" itself, though the idea of taking real issues like "artificial harmonics" and turning into something wholly unrelated to its intended use might be considered so. In any event, it would be an interesting thing to try to patent.


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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1916

Johnson, SamuelSamuel Johnson and Ambrose Bierce compiled dictionaries–two different types, two different efforts, 150 years apart. Some think of Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) as being the first of the English language, but it is hardly so, being a sort-of late-comer, 150 years after the first English dictionary appeared. Of course Johnson's was the first bona fide "professional;" dictionary, against which all others are to be measured. 2000+ pages long, Johnson's effort is also a type of historico-novel-dictionary (Histovelary?)–he inserted histories of words, applications, and a tremendous amount of his own bias. (For example, his famous definition of "lexicographer: : a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in
tracing the original and detailing the signification of words".) The book sometimes reads like a novel–or at least, I think that a person could force a novel out of it, and not simply because the book has all of the parts of a novel scattered about. It is an odd book, maybe the only of its kind, a disciplined and airy encyclopedic romp through the history of words and ideas, all presented by a compiler who was also its author–and accomplished pretty much on his won.

Bierce, AmbroseWhere Johnson wrote with some fair immoderation of bias, Ambrose Bierce wrote with nothing but bias. His work, The Devil's Dictionary (1911), is a work of deep observation and scathing wit. It stands as a dictionary of a personal philosophy more than anything else, written by an acerbic iconoclast of cunning and skepticism. Comparing definitions of the two side-by-side is an interesting exercise, if for no other reason than it is good and unexpected reading. Bitter Bierce was a wonderful writer with a sharp and jaundicy eye that saw the third side of a two-sided thing, and applied that sight to his unexpected masterwork.

So over the next bit we'll alphabetically grze through selections of the two works, comparing interesting words.

A: Artist/art


ARTISAN s. an artist, an inferiour. Manufacturer, low tradesman.

ARTIST, s. a professor of an art, a skilful man.

ARTLESS a. unskilful, without art or fraud.

ARTLESSLY, ad. without art, naturally.


ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.

One day a wag — what would the wretch be at? –
Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT,
And said it was a god's name! Straight arose
Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows,
And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns,
And disputations dire that lamed their limbs)
To serve his temple and maintain the fires,
Expound the law, manipulate the wires.
Amazed, the populace that rites attend,
Believe whate'er they cannot comprehend,
And, inly edified to learn that two
Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do)
Have sweeter values and a grace more fit
Than Nature's hairs that never have been split,
Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts,
And sell their garments to support the priests.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Having a quick look at the jobs of Americans in 1880 (according to the Compendium of the U.S. Census, 1884) reveals a number of interesting things, not the least of which are the jobs lost to dust, replaced jobs of no-longer-applicable mass labor. Some of the jobs have obviously
moved into niche/specialist markets (like the 45,000 harness and saddle makers kept busy in 1880 now moved into the luxury field), some changed their names (like carriage makers to automobile assembly) while the others have just moved
on, entirely (like bleachers and bone workers). It would take decades for many of these occupations to finally succumb to change–slower in many ways than some jobs have disappeared from today's employment market.

The number/signifier following each position states the number of
thousands of people employed in 1880

See also earlier posts here An Alphabet of Occupations, 1850 and An Alphabet of Occupations 2, 1844]

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1882

[ Joom] Sound of a pebble being thrown in a pond

[ Seet] Sound of someone eating something very spicy

I'm not sure that the idea of phonoaesthetics comes into play with the concept of onomotopeia–perhaps they're mutually exclusive. Or inclusive? Does cacophony fight euphony in lists of words that are composed to sound like the thing they represent? Or perhaps it is a given quality of this state that some of these words must sound cacophonus–"zok", "thak", or even "ptak" (which I saw in an issue of Sgt. Rock in the mid '60's as the sound bullets make when they strike a wooden dock)–simply because of what they represent, and must be so.

Then of course there's the issue of onomatopoeia that look like or presented like the sound they are describing. For example, the word "Whaam" that appeared in comic book and which was famously derived as art by Roy Lichtenstein. File:Roy Lichtenstein Whamm Original and Lichtenstein Derivative.gif

When researching this I came upon cross-cultural examples of onomatopoeia–big an diwde and beautiufl and very far-ranging. It is a rich literature, and the examples are varied and deep. TO display an example I chose a list of of Thai onomatopoeia, all of which have been collected by the author of Weird Vibrations, who collected these many fine examples one-by-one and for whose work in this and other areas I deeply enjoy and appreciate. I include them below in an odd alphabet of oddness–all that I've done here is separate them into a handy assembly, but let's make sure that all of the credit of collection and transliteration belongs entirely to Weird Vibrations.

For example: "[ Seet] Sound of someone eating something very spicy" is a curious word, mainly because I'm not sure what this might like unless "seet" is a quick ontake of breath. "Joom" is a lovely word, and it really does sound like a pebble striking a pond surface. Here are the others:

Thai Onomatopoeia (alphabetized to the English-language action rather than the Thai transliteration). Try sounding them out–many sound like their sounds, which might give a little credence to Mr. John Locke's theory of knowledge (or not).


[ Gra It Gra Eeuan] To delay action through words


[Guy] Sound of someone bragging

[ Krok Kraak] Sound of fluid bubbling in the stomach


[ Gra Jaawng Angaae] Sound of children crying annoyingly

[ Khaak] Sound of coughing something up

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1850

"It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind."–T.S. Eliot
"We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men".– George Orwell
"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."–Arthur Conan Doyle
The obvious thing about the full sense of obviousness is that it isn't obvious. Sure, there are plenty of aspects and bits of obviousness that are obvious, but like reverse plasma flashes of lightning, and the great bulk of icebergs, and the tops of clouds and the interiors of mountains, there is much more to the state of Being Obvious than necessarily meets the eye, even when the clues are all visual.

Dutch soldier next to a sea mine
What is it that makes something "obvious"? There must be hundreds of reasons to label something so, yet the cause of the labeling is much fuller than the label it wears. There can be a rich and varied life in the obvious and its different stages, as rich and varied as snow and fog and clouds, though those examples seem to have more qualifiers and descriptors than the obvious does. "Painfully"and "woefully" obvious are certainly two qualifiers for different states of obviousness, though at this level of inspection the different levels of obviousness seem to be a little oblivious. And yet there seems to be great depth in so many different aspects of The Obvious.
It would be nice to be able to construct a Geometry of the Obvious–of course this is entirely plausible so long as it doesn't actually have to mean anything or be rigorous in any way. A fantasy geometry would then be pretty easy to construct (which also is being used for the letter "G" in our alphabet):
G Geometrically Obvious:

Mar 23 center of levity cvr det 2

It would be easy to assume that the visual assumption for the Aspect of Obvious would be the center of the image, though it is not necessarily so, even in this imaginary compilation of defining the obvious aspect of the photo. The stuff that makes something obvious can be anywhere.

And so to lay the groundwork for an Alphabet of The Obvious I've made a few selections, below–suggestions really for what the categories and assignments to letters might be.

For example,this would be a fine example of:

A The Absurd & Doubly Out of Place Obviousness–the horse seems to be the one with a sense of irony for the surroundings its quiet semi-absurdiy:

Arthur Tress
B Better-Him-Than-Me Obviousness:
Absurd aug 3greggsegal7

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