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JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd

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This Daily Dose from Dr. Odd combines two interesting categories today, "Looking Straight Down" and "Display of Information", and they involve food. Rather, its the placement of food, and maps of dinner tables, seen from above–directly above–and looking straight down.

The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfier ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. It is an unusual and scarce perspective.

Maps--Imaginary--Map of a Wedding Table


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These images, cyanotypes, come from the manuscript notebooks of Paul Bartsch, made while he was 23/24 years-of-age. At this point of his life Bartsch had just started his studies in zoology at the Univresity of Iowa–nine years later he would leave with a Ph.D. and start a 50+ year career with the Smithsonian Institution. The manuscript is 400 pages long, and illustrated with 77 of these small photographs. These are some examples of the work. (The manuscript is available for sale at our blog bookstore).

Bartsch two073

Bartsch five076

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This ad appeared only 59 years ago–that's four generations in dog years, two human generations (or one for the more later-in-life crew, which is appealing as I knew a man whose grandfather was born in the 18th century), and 15 generations in managing data and communications. Perhaps more. It is difficult to imagine the intense surprise that attended this ad showing a practical and popular adaptation of a communications breakthrough.

Telephone future064

The electromagnetic telegraph, which is arguably the first electrically-powered iteration of the internet, was in the works from the 1820's until it was nailed by Samuel Morse in 1837. It was 40 years to the development of the Bell telephone (another dramatic example of an invention/technological idea/breakthrough that was "in the wind", a popular undiagnosed monumental meme, some decades in the making in the hands of Bell anbd Reiss and Meucci and Gray and even Edison). Two more decades (just past the turn of the century) until more-widespread wireless telegraphy, another two decades after that (1920's) for poular radio, and another two decades after that (post WWII/1950's) for popular television broadcating. 120 years between the patented invention of the Morse telegraph to 50 million Americans with televisions in 1955.

The "telephone" of 2013 is as removed as the telephone of 1955 as the telephone of 1955 was removed from the electromagnetic telegraph–we're not meeting half-way in the meeting of improbable impossible worlds, of worlds of the future unimagined in the past. That is what comes to mind when I see this add for the speaking telephone in 1954–the astounding, astonishing, speaking telephone, the phone that allowed you to not have the receiver to the ear, tht allowed you to do free-hand work and communicate at the same time. It was an ambitious improvement, and as soon as the phone appeared, it became a standard of necessity if that necessity was within budget.

It is the weight of surprise that is so abundant looking at pictures like this, giving us the opportunity to imagine the surprise elements of another time. It may well be that the new 1954 user of the speakerphone would have looked at the first telephone systems of 1894 as we look on that 1954 telephone today. Probably not so, though, probably it was much more imaginable to have forseen the 1954 possibilities in 1894 than for 1954 to have seen in the same amount of time to 2013: the technological pieces necessary for part of that imagination had not yet been invented, the science ahead of the scifi.

The other part of this surprise element is that 1954 is well within living memory, and that this combinaiton of technology and physics and mathematics has grown so incredibly from the speakerphone to the massive changes in 2013–it is as surprising to imagine this as to imagine the same scenario for what ahppened a year before in biology: it is difficult to grasp the sweeping changes in that field from the identification of DNA in 1953 and how far those fields have come since.

I think that if one could quantify this sort of "surprise" that the greatest amount of "Surprise Integers" (or whatever) ever recorded would have taken place within these past 50 or 60 years. Which makes me wonder–will people 59 years hence see the pictures of our fabulous accomplishments in 2013 as quaint reminders of how much things changed between 2013 and 2072? Will those "Surprise Integers" be as great for that period of time as the ("our") preceding period with concomitant revolutions in thought? My guess is "yes"–its just hard to imagine.

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People have been thinking along the lines of "electrons" for a long time, though the word is of relatively recent origin (1874), coined by the wonderfully-named Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911) after deducing that ther must be some type of electrical bit that vibrates within the atom that would generate light. J.J. Thomson (1856-1940) stated later in 1897 in his paper "Cathode Rays" that evidence points to the fact that there must exist particles that are less massive than the hydrogen atom–he called these objects "corpuscles" but he was referring to what we now know as "electrons". The gorgeous "oil drop" experiment of 1910 by R.A.Millikan (1868-1953) determined the charge of the electron, and in the next year–1911–Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937, and one of the 20th century's greatest Kiwis) proposed the structure of the nuclear atom. Then the major development of Louis de Broglie's (1892-1960) particle/wave duality, and so on into our near-present. But in between the beautiful work of Millikan and Rutherford came this little beast, a very unsatisfyingly-assumed image of an atom and its swirling electrons. The image appeared in the December 1920 issue of Illustrated World and just seems so unfair to the cause of beauty that I thought to share it.

Electron059

JF
Ptak Science Books Post 1971

Cemetery four[Plan of a portion of the principal storey in the Poggio Gajella]

The plans of underground cities, of catacombs and cemeteries, share a certain biological appeal in their design with the plans of Medieval cities, or at least they seem so to me. Removed from their context and placed in an undifferentiated environment, the plans look very much like biological structures, and art. As maps of cities of the dead it is somewhat ironic that their geological chrysalis seem to indicate a biological structure.

And sometimes the images aren't so reminiscent of micro-structures as they are macro-structures, as in the case above. If you squint just a little and look at the Poggio Gajella you can visualize a cross section of the upper torso of a body, including an open mouth, with nasal cavity, throat, digestive system, and even intestines and egress routes–a picture of a person in the city of the dead.

The images below illustrating this ragged point are by Seroux d'Agincourt, (1730-1814), and appear in his Histoire de l'art par les monuments, depuis sa décadence au IVme siècle jusqu' à son renouvellement au XVIme (Paris, 1825). The images illustrate the article "catacombs" from the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the great/standard 11th edition, from Project Gutenberg:

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This lovely if not very convincing argument was produced and directed by "a German engineer, Herr" (Enrst) Horgiger, of Munich. He attempted to wed belief and mythology and astronomy, providing a worlds-in-collision explanation for the Flood. From the caption to the drawing I do not know if it is The Flood of Noah, as it occurs in the book of Genesis in the Bible, or the flood of Apollodorus, or Hygenius, or of the Eridu Genesis (some 2000 years or so before Genesis) or the flood of Atrachasis (of about 1650 bce) or the flood of Gilgamesh (of about 1100 bce), or if it is the flood of Emhil, or Zeus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or the other 150+ great floods of mythology categorized by James Frazer in his astounding but unreadable books. But it is a flood, and his reason is that a wandering body in space came into temporary orbit around the Earth with a resulting gravitational soup that caused the waters to rise up after which the flood occurred and the orbiting sphere to break apart.

The flood 1925057
As I said, it is a pretty picture, with a nice deep blue background that my scanner won't capture.

Source: The Illustrated London News, 21 January 1925, "A New Theory of the Flood: How it Might Repeat Itself".

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1969




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"Tears are the trails of plenty and of want, both of which are sometimes the same."–Not from Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary.

"Let one rejoice in smiles, the other in tears;
Let the same labour or pain be the office of both…."-Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

The image above is a detail from one of the sixteen engraved images found in Ame Bourdon's fabulous anatomy, Nouvelles tables anatomiques (printed in Cambray and also in Pair by Laurens d'Houry in 1678). (A good description is found for this work, as well as the rest of the illustrations in their entirety, from the National Library of Medicine, the source for this diversion).

I'm not sure why the subject here is crying; and I'm also feeling that I've never seen an example of a crying figure in any antiquarian anatomy book before this one. I remember from another;project that eyelids and tears were of some considerable interest later on, finding no less than 25 books dedicated to the subject printed in the period 1825-1895 or thereabouts. (That bit of research was undertaken doing some background on a 19th c aboriginal torture of staking a victim to the high desert ground and cutting their eyelids off so that the sun would cause blindness from constant exposure). And I don't know when the eyelid is given its first anatomical drawing/consideration, displayed on its own and flattened out for inspection. And it would be interesting to know when the first extended modern scientific appraisal of tears was made. On the offhand I thought that Burton in his absolutely magnificent and very difficult book, The Anatomy of Melancholy, might have something to say about it, but it doesn't–as a matter of point, it seems that the word 'tear/s" appears less than ten times through the whole work, which I find a little surprising.

No matter. I just wanted this to be a quick diversion to consider if Bourdon really did intend to include tears for his model, or if the engraver took a little liberty and added some emotional elements to the image. It is certainly plausible, as human anatomical specimens had been presented in any number of different poses and posed with different items and in tremendously wide spectrum of emotion expression that crying would be but a small step to take for exhibition. There also seems to be perhaps no connection to any sort of physiology of crying–the subject just looks like someone with tears on their face, unassociated with any sort of muscle movement around the eyes, or glands or ducts or whatever. (Charles Darwin described a usual contraction of the muscles around the eyes when the subject cried, as he published in his Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)). The tears may just be Baroque ornamentation.

On the other hand, there may be a tenuous connection in the engraving to the tears and the sectioned brain. It wasn't too much earlier in the history of crying that it was thought that tears were a cathartic-purgative product of the brain, which is an idea that goes back to Hippocrates and his heirs and which held sway for more than a thousand years.

As Tom Lutz writes in his wonder Crying, the Natural & Cultural History of Tears (W.W. Norton, 1999) the English physician Timothy Bright poetically described tears in 1586 as "the excrementious humiditie of the brayne" (page 73), which were the "brai's thinnest and most liquide exrement". The idea of catharsis began to wane by the 17th century, and the four humours were identified more as a belief system than a medical reality, but the idea of the cathartic brain and its release of tears may have hung on to be included in Bordon.

But it does seem rare, crying does, in the annals of the history of anatomy–much less so in the history of art books that explore emotions and facial expression (like Chalres Le Brun (1616-1690) in his Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions (1698)). At the end of the day, these tears may well just have been a sly way of the engraver to exercise a little creativity.

Bourdon-t08t08a full copy woman

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1968



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There is a murder of crows, a congress of owls, a charm of finches, a convocation of eagles, a labor of moles, a murmuration of starlings, and so on, but there is nothing for a group ("knot"?) of lawyers, or a collection (a "slick"?) of politicians…or for that matter a grouping of skeletons. Perhaps when you have a grouping of ten or more skeletons (standing and non-interred) they could be called a "Mall". They should be called something, I guess. But of course one wouldn't have many opportunities to describe a mall of skeletons, though one opportunity presents itself right now: in my experience of looking at antique scientific and medical images it is not very often that I have seen such an assembly as in the following image.

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas detail

The skeletons are mostly in poses of some sort of relaxation, appearing in candid stances, far away from that of being in the anxious state of being a skeleton. Most of the skeletons have some degree of skin-in-outline, and a few entertain themselves with a casual object, like an apple or a plumb bob. (The two figures in the rear seem to be having an "I told you so" sort of conversation, with the sitting person making the point and the standing refusing it:)

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas detail_edited-1
The engraving (which is the top half of the full plate engraving seen below) is from Crisostomo Martinez (1638-1694), an Enlightenment figure from Valencia who produced a lovely anatomical atlas that really wasn't terribly "Enlightenment-y", what with a deluge of unnecessary characterizations and Baroque decoration serving as miniature cartoons from one anatomical image to the next. That said, the images are quite beautiful, and creative, and imaginative, and clear, and concise…but perhaps not as detailed as they could be from the anatomical side.

Anatomy Crisostomo_martinez-atlas
The assembly of loose bones on the bottom half of the engraving is interesting but not as useful as it could be–close-ups would be nice for the details in the nicely-sectioned bones. But the purpose in these illustrations wasn't necessarily just the presentation of anatomical information, otherwise we would have had less nothing and more something. Making visions of thinly-skin-clad skeletons certainly had its use and a good purpose, but a lot of the utility of these investigations is lost in the artful and beautiful presentation.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

These are two good examples of reasonable thought,. easily presented, and conveyed on a single piece of paper. A good job, well done.

(I've written a number of times on gas attack in warfare on this blog, all searchable in the Google-box. But the two that come quickest to mind are the post on the one-page summary of America's position on gas warfare, written in 1917, here, and the other on a "filmstrip'' I put together from an Italian pamphlet on protecting civilian populations from bomb and ga attack, 1943, here.)

Gas Attack037

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