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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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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1962

"…something might perhaps be made out on this question…"

"WHEN on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with
certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South
America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past
inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the
latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin
of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of
our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in
1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by
patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could
possibly have any bearing on it."–from the introduction to On the Origin of Species…, fourth edition, 1866

Maupertuis detail
These eyes belong to Pierre-Louis Moreau Maupertuis (1698-1759), a French mathematician/ philosophe who worked himself wide and deep across many fields, from mud to blood (geology, physics, math, bio).

But what he saw particularly in regards to Darwin was the matter of relationship in bi-parental inheritance, that there was genetic basis for the inheritance of physical traits. Now he didn't use these terms of course , but he made this sexual generation argument in his Dissertation Physique a l'Occassion du Negre Blanc written in 1744 (and published in Leiden). There is an expanded version of this thought in his Venus physique (printed in 1745, and which is translated as The Earthly Venus), which was a direct confrontation with the belief and theories of the preformationists, who claimed that a being was preformed in either the spermatozoa or the egg. Maupertuis argued that the only way for the characteristics of both parents to be inherent in offspring was for the material to be a combination of the mother and father, and that the preformed theory did not allow for the equal distribution of hereditary characteristics1. Maupertuis is now generally seen as having anticipated the theory of nutation (according to the standard history of medicine bibliography by Garrison and Morton2, appearing in that work as number 215.1).

Darwin published the Origin of Species in a hurry in 1859–after having the idea in his head for 20 years, he was suddenly in the need to quick-publish given the fact that the very young Alfred Russell Wallace was about to scoop his great idea. Part of that quickness evidently resulted in Darwin leaving out his debt to history, not addressing the precursors to his idea, leaving out the bibliographic part. He heard about that very quickly upon the very successful publication of the Origin, which was sold out almost immediately upon publication. Over the next few months he heard from a number of quarters about those who came before whose ideas may well have presaged his own–which of course was the case, and Darwin made basically no mention of work that had come before his own, even though it seems as though he had made am effort to do so at least in notes more than a decade before the publication of the great book. This is a much longer story than I want to deal with right here, but Darwin set to work on addressing this issue and published an "Historical Sketch" which appeared in the authorized first American edition and the first German edition of the Origin in 1860. As Rebeccca Stott points out in the first chapter of her surprisingly good popular history of evolution, Darwin's Ghosts (2012), Darwin included 18 names in his intellectual legacy. Six years later in the fourth edition of the Origin of 1866, the list had expanded to 37 names. The vast majority of those included in the survey were modern to Darwin; generally all of the ancients were left out with but a scant nod to Aristotle, and there were two mentions of works before the 19th century, (which includes Geoffroy Saint Hilaire (1744-1829), who dips just slightly into the 18th century and Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, with his great two-volume work of semi-revolutionary poetry medico-philosophico-botanico
Zoonomia; or the Laws of Organic Life, which was published in 1794 though formulated decades before).

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1954
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  • QUESTON: If great but not-popularly-known scientists could be represented as a chess piece, and that chess piece was on a game board opposite Popularly-Known-Celebrities-Not-Known-to-Scientists (and etc.), what piece would the great and dusty Robert Hooke be? And conversely, (on that opposite side), what piece would someone like, say Paris Hilton be?

See also earlier posts: The History of Dots Part 9: the Cell and Robert Hooke and Horse Poop and the Stars: Robert Hooke, 1673 (No, it Wasn't Pegasus) and When a Compliment is Not: Newton and Hooke and the "Shoulders of Giants"

I wonder about poor old Robert Hooke. He was such a tremendous thinker, a terrific rush of ideas, with revolutionary insights in many fields; he was a leading architect, a physicist, a microscopist, a chrononaut, a mathematician, an everything. He carried the Royal Society for years, carried on hundreds if not thousands of experiments, and of course was famously on the other side of a bad series of arguments with Isaac Newton. At the end of his long life, Hooke was afraid of not being remembered, of not having enough money to see
himself through hi sold age, afraid of others taking credit for his
work. He just seemed not to matter, anymore, in the last decade of his
life (and a period in which he was still doing significant work), and I
just wonder why he managed to become so semi-invisible.


He was so dedicated. I have an image of him scurrying with a friend, removing the estimable library of a patron and donor to the Society, trundling the books in wheelbarrows across a mile and then-some of bumpy London streets finding a home for these great treasures. He was an older man at this point, marching these books across parts of the city that he helped to restore after the fire, passed buildings that he helped to build and design, bumping his way through London, a great and famous scientist, saving books by the handful. [An idealized portrait of Hooke, at right.]

He was a tireless,
relentless observer and experimenter, who lost little effort in a stranded idea
and pursued interesting and problematic questions relentlessly. More than others too he chased his won glory—minor
but long and insistent—the years of which wore thin on many people in the
scientific community. But there were
many characteristics of the man that made him not quite so lovable and
endearing—not that Newton was any of those things, as he was not, but if you
are going to be a secondary luminary to a super nova you’ve got to have
something else going for you that the other man doesn’t have—sharing, helpful,
greatly generous—to get you into the long pre-dusty pages of history. Also it would’ve
helped if Hooke chose his battles with a little more aplomb and ingenuity—the
war which began in 1672 with Newton went very badly for Hooke and followed him
to the grave (and far beyond).

He just didn't "catch on", I think–at least he not for the long term. His brain teemed with ideas, but perhaps by the last decade of his long life, his tireless brain still working on innumerable bits, he just sucked the air out of a room.

He also never had his likeness recorded during his lifetime. And that is saying a lot. And I still don't know why.

Back to chess: I figure Hooke to be a Knight. I prefer Knights. He moved like a Knight. He importance was "higher" than that of a Knight, but, well, the Knight seems a good fit (and so he seems to get downgraded, in a way, even in this game). And Paris Hilton? I think she might be a queen (with a small "q")–as someone who is ultra-well-known but not for anything in particular except for the quality of being well-known.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1914

Changing the Mind's View of Simple and Complex Ideas via Different Image Perspectives

I’m always very interested in curious things, or standard, “average” things pictured in non-standard ways, as theDsc04588
change in perspective can lead to entirely new observations and discovery. Seeing this illustration in an article by J. Norman Lockyer ( Nature 1881) I was shocked by its clarity and usefulness—Lockyer was simply showing the arrangement of his apparatus for his solar spectrum experiments but the angle of observation (being at such an oblique angle as is normally found) was just, so, well, “correct”. The image I thought was perfect for the reader—not only that, it was designed artistically and with grace, and one can see exactly what Lockyer was up to. Diagrams would’ve worked almost as well, but there is just something so extraordinary here that you could just about work from the image if there was no description.


Looking at things differently is hard work—that’s why I think it is always good to refresh the neuronal sap and look at great examples of unusual , insightful imagery.

Sometimes it works to read the description of what the image is before actually viewing it to see the differences of the image that you form in your brain before seeing the thing itself. For example, when reading about the Dogon, a cliff-dwelling people of the plateau of Bandiagara, south of Tombouctou, and how they would make houses and then towns out of the rocks fallen from cliffs, you get what is probably a pretty benign image. When you see photographs of these structures it seems as though the brain just simply isn’t ready for their impossible nature, though you quickly, instantly, recover (once you convince yourself the photo is real) and—voila—your mind has been expanded. (This photo is from an expansive work by Bernard Rudofsky, Architectures without Architects, Doubleday, 1964.)

The (internally) spectacular Etienne Boullee can greet us in the same way with some of his eye-popping architecturalBoulle1
creations (unbuilt architecture by an architect, in this case, compared to the built architecture of the non-architects above). Boullee’s “Plan du Cenotaphe de Newton”, a gigantic memorial to Newton that was dancing with necessary privacy in Boullee’s brain during the French Revolution (and also during a particularly un-Newtonesque time in on-your-knees-to-Cartesian-principles France) is another superior example. Reading the description of the structure just doesn’t quite do, and it seems whatever grand comes of that is tarnished and stripped away by the obesely florid sentiment of none other than Ledoux’s poetic sentiments “…O Newton! Sublime Mind! Vast and profound genius! I conceived the idea of surrounding thee withBoulle2
thy discovery…”. Oy. Boulle adds to this inspirational atrocity by saying of the sphere: “…we must speak of a grace that owes its being to an outline that is as soft and flowing as it is possible to imagine…” And once the demand of “oh dear god just please show me the picture” is met, we are left with a turned-around brain and another heavenly exaltation, or profanity. The Cenotaph is just Grand-Canyon-Spectacular.

Complex can turn on the simple in this way, where we can have those “a-ha” moments from, say, early efforts at picturing the fourth dimension or non-Euclidean geometry to a new perspective of looking at Roman ruins. The arrival on the non-Euclidean geometries in the 19th century posed new issues, not the least of which was representing the ideas. Our saintly Hermann von Helmholtz believed –contrary to most elevated opinions—that the human mind could indeed intuit complex space and figures of these geometries. (The difficulty not only from the obvious intellectual hardships in picturing the concepts but also because the geometry of Lobachevsky was called somewhat into doubt when some of its results were cast in doubt by contemporary astronomical observations.—and this even though so far as the great Gauss was concerned there was no deviation in Euclidean values.) Helmholtz did this by employing the three-dimensional pseudosphere model of Beltrami. (Reluctance to these ideas would end soon enough, for, as Linda Dalrymple Henderson points out with such sotto voce, “the convenience of Euclidean geometry would prove inadequate once Einstein” hit in 1905.)

The work of Beltrami and H.P. Manning ( Geometry of Four Dimensions, 1914), and Jouffret ( Traite elementaire de geometrie a quarte dimensions, Paris 1903) in illustrating these complex ideas (the titles of which were in themselves daungting as with Jouffret’s “plane projections of the sixteen fundamental octahedrons of an ikosatettrhroid”) would in themselves prove to be entirely irresistible to the world of the arts. Charles Howard and Maurice Princet I think had as much to do with the creation of cubism and abstract art and the imaging of time than anyone, including the painter (I shudder to say his name) of Les Demoiselles (1907) or the lovely Georges Braque ( Houses at Estaque, 1908) or Jean Metzinger or even the sublime comedian Duchamp’s Nude DescendingDsc04584
(1914). The hypercube starts to show up a lot in some Bauhaus genres and even into the palette of Frank Lloyd (“Stinky”) Wright (with his St. Mark’s Tower plan, NYC, 1929).Dsc04589 I can only imagine the shock to the brains of these creative geniuses in seeing the display of such a novel idea. (For the ultimate treatise on this see Linda Dalrymple Henderson’s The Fourth Dimension and Non Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, Princeton 1983). And no the art didn’t come first.


But coming back to the simple, and in the same frame as the first example that we mentioned in Lockyer, we have the unlikely find of Giovanni Piranesi. In my opinion his most spectacular work is found in his frammeni (the diverse bits and pieces of architectural and sculptural bric-a-brac found objects that are collected together on one stage) and in his archaeological detail. His attention to new perspective in showing the crucial aspects of structure and building in Rome is tremendous andDsc04590
unexpected—as an example we see here the child’s-eye-height view of three steps of the reconstruction of the theatre of Pompey. I must say that I’ve seen a lot of architectural images in my time but nothing quite comes to me so surprisingly as this step-level view of the reconstruction of a Roman theatre, This happens throughout the lesser-known Piranesi, with great details of tools, and cross sections of the very deep Dsc04591
footings of bridges, and so on. It is really refreshing, lovely, unexpected work.

We’ll return to this subject from time to time as I have hundreds of interesting examples to draw from—for example, the remarkable Emily Vanderpoel’s Colour Problems (which has surfaced in this blog from time to time) which is ostensibly an undecipherable attempt to quantify color arrangement in art but through the lovely examples displaying this attempt pre-date the modern re-invention of non-representational art by at least a dozen years. Stay tuned! Dsc04592

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1887

In working on an alphabet of the occupations of children in 1910/1920 America based on the photographs of the immortal Lewis Hine (and found via looking at other materials on the excellent Retronaut website), I came across this extraordinary image:

A tenement gleaner, New York C... Digital ID: 416509. New York Public Library

The detail seems to show lip rings on what I think is a very young woman. She is very slender (you can see very thin wrists), and is wearing a number of layers of clothes, not the least of which is a long white apron on top of which sit Civil-War-like shawls, She is stepping into the street, caught mid-stride. It looks as though it is frosty, the sidewalk and steps seem to have a thin veneer of ice It is cold. And she is carrying an ungainly, heavy burden, which might weigh half of her own weight. And she is young. And she has no gloves.

Where did she go?

Hine--tenement gleaner detail

It also that Hine–in his notes onthe back of the photograph– identifies her with kindness and grace as a "tenement gleaner". (In my notes I was less kind and called her a "ragpicker" I'm a little ashamed to say. Mr. Hine taught me a lesson.) Gleaner.

Hine documented things that were part of everyday life that made cities like New York what they were, much of which went unnoticed, or scuttled by intentional indifference. People like this made the city run–then as now–and Hine was one of the early photographers in the United States who "discovered" these people and made their standing a cause of his life.

Like many other pioneers/artists/social observers, Hine (1874-1940) didn't fare so well in his later life. After four decades of huge service in photography, people became disinterested in his past/present/future work, and Hine lost his resources. And his house. And then, in a few years, his life. His personal collection of negatives and prints were given by a relative to the New York Photo League, but they were displaced when the League was dismantled in 1951. Unsettled, they were offered out to places like the Museum of Modern Art, which rejected the collection. Ultiamtely, fortunately, the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, accepted the collection and saved it from the unknown.

This image easily could have been Atlas, but Libertas seemed better.

Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection. "Photographs concerning labor, housing and social conditions in the United States. / L. W. Hine. "

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post


I've put together a quick-and-dirty list of some interpretations of what the appearance of flowers may "mean" --say in the hands of the subject of a painting, or as a gift, or a reference in a poem or piece of literature. This in some ways reminds me of an earlier post on this blog, "An Unkindness of Ravens and a Murder of Crows", here.

Here's a short list for further reading on the language of flowers:

  • Connolly, Shane. The Secret Language of Flowers, New York: Rizzoli International, 2004.
  • Edgarton, Miss S. C. The Flower Vase: Containing The Language of Flowers and Their Poetic Sentiments, Boston: Samual M. Dickinson, 1843
  • Greenaway, Kate. Language of Flowers, London: George Routledge and Sons, 1864.
  • Hale, Sarah. Flora's Interpreter, and Fortuna Flora, Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey and Company, 1850.
  • Latour, Charlotte de. Le langage des fleurs, 1830.
  • Lehner, Ernst. Folklore and symbolism of flowers, plants and trees, New York: Tudor Publishing Co. 1960.
  • Miller, Thomas. The Romance of Nature; or the Poetical Language of Flowers, New York: J.C. Riker, 1860
  • Powell, Claire. The Meaning of Flowers, Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, 1979.
  • Shoberl, Frderic. The Language of Flowers: With Illustrative Poetry; to which is Now First Added, the Calendar of Flowers 1830
  • Phillips, Henry. Floral Emblems, 1825.
  • Waterman, Catherine H. Flora's lexicon: an interpretation of the language and sentiment of flowers : with an outline of botany, and a poetical introduction. 1855
  • Wirt, E.W. Flora's Dictionary, Baltimore, 1855.

and an overall history

  • Beverly Smeaton, The Language of Flowers–a very interesting book where Smeaton compares the various meanings for flowers among the five early and integral 19th century flower-symbolism folks, beginning on pp 167. A link to a free read is here.

Some samples of the very rich descriptions of the meaning of flowers:

Almond, flowering – Concealed love.
Althea, Frutex – I am deeply in love.
Amaranth – Immortality, or piety.
Anemone – Fading hope.
Arbor-Vitae – Unchanging friendship.
Auricula, Scarlet – Pride. You are proud.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1841


Who Is that man pointing and speaking from the preacher barrel?

This quaint woodcut appeared as the cover illustration to a pamphlet entitled A Word to Fanatics, Puritanism and Sectaries1; or, New Preachers New, and it answers my question: the screamer is Mr. Praise-God-Barebone who is attended by his attender, a more-commonly named Mr. Green ("the Feltmaker"), and is shown preaching to a small crowd, many of whom are shown with long faces and in deep caricature, more so to mirror words they are hearing. Barebones is not presented in a friendly light, as the pamphlet was a warning to the general reader of the rising crowd of untrained and possibly heretical religicos who were gathering attention in and about London in the (Cromwellian fanatical) 1640's. They were seen as diffident, destructive, and definitely of the dimpled damaged variety of street entertainer. The interestingly-named pamphlet and Mr. Barebone was reported by the magazine, The Mirrour, (July 19, 1823) as "the object of the work is to ridicule such persons without education undertake to expound the Scriptures, and who, ignorant themselves, have the vanity to pretend to teach others". The powers that be were not amused.

After dispatching the screamers The Mirrour then lists a number of very compelling and some-never-heard-of-before-by-me nicknames, like Barebone's brother "Christ Came Into the World to Save" Barebone, followed by these examples: Accepted Trevor, of Norsham; Redeemed Compton, of Battle; Faint Not Hewit, of Hearthfield; Make Peace Heaton of Hare; God Reward Smart, of Firehurst; EarthAdms, of Warbleton; Called Lower of Warbleton; Kill Sin Pimple, of Witham; Return Spelman, of Watling; Fly Debate Roberts, Britling; Be Faithful Joiner, of Britling; Mare Fruit Fowler, of ast Hadley; Weep Not Billing, of Lewes; and Meek Brewer, of Okeham. The magazine claims official records as the source for these names, but, well, who knows–perhaps the editors were just attempting to put a larger exclamation point on their biting article.

These are extraordinary names in some ways similar to the passive reportage nastiness of H.L. Mencken's nickname walk-through in his The American Language, but not quite so–in that book, the old problematic sage of Baltimore staggers his way through unbridled American enthusiastic for the common person's testing and misunderstanding of English. The religious nicknames seem more like baseball nicknames from the 1920's, or earlier. But of course these names predate those efforts by nearly 300 years.

Somehow I'd like to see trading cards for these guys–although half-ancient that don't give much leeway to their modern sports varieties. Baseball has provided ceaseless though a little limited entertainment, tending sometimes toward the poetic overstatement (the Chairman of the Board, The Mighty Slider, The Great Significance) though it does get down to business in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s (the golden age of BB nicknames). Here are a few examples, minus the racist stuff: Pork Chop, Tater, Gummy, Whale, Pickles, Rawmeat, Spud, Bunny, Beast, Kitten, Possum, Slug, The Rat, Pudge, Tomato Face, Buttercup. (The most effective nicknames could've been made by combining two of the single names: "Spud Rawmeat", "Pudge Slug" or "Gummy Buttercup", for example.) There’s an awful lot of them dealing with food, and a whole heck of a lot dealing with facial features; they all seem to outweigh ball playing ability, by far. All this said, I do have a sweet pull for the religious nicknames.


1. Sectraries: members of a sect, especially those who belongs to a religious sect that is regarded as heretical or schismatic.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1790

I stumbled into an unintentionally iconic time capsule, a collapsible bit in the brevity and complexity department, that sifted out the "extraneous" artistic matter of early motion picture entertainment and got straightaway to the crux of the film-making biscuit, which was finding people to fill the roles in a film. It sounds simple enough in a simpler time, but it wasn't simple for them–and the residue of the difference between the two is interesting.

In looking through some early documents on sound-on-film motion pictures (that's simultaneous sound-on-film) I came across this nostalgic wonderful insight: The Standard for March 1923. The Standard Casting Directors Directory was a film exec's handbook, an advertising vehicle for actors and their favored parts, a picture directory of offerings of all scales of applied talent. In addition to the lovely photos are the descriptions of what their casting specifications might be–including the titles of the specialties.

For "supporting cast/specialty people" for men, the titles include (with actors' names appearing underneath): acrobats, bald headed men, bankers, bearded men (old), bellhops, bit men, boxers, butlers. character men, chauffeurs, Chinamen, Colored Members of the Profession, comedians, cowboys, dancers, detectives, divers, doctors, Englishmen, entertainments, Europeans, evening clothes men (old) , fat men, female impersonators, fencers, footmen, Frenchmen, German types, Hawaiians, Hindus, hunchback, Indians, Irishmen (old), Italians, Japanese, Jewish (old), jockies, judges, juveniles, Mexican, monks, policemen, priests, Russian types, sheriffs, slickers–cake eaters, small town men, Spanish, stunt men, swimmers, tall men (over 6 feet), twins, underworld types, waiters, and well dressed men".


I haven't looked to see if there are any cross referenced for, say, bald-headed fencing cake eater footmen.

Movie466There were 50 categories for the women (compared to 56 for the men), and included quite a lot of overlap, particularly in the stereotyping department. The more-or-less exclusive categories for women included cooks, dancers, flappers, ingenues, maids, matrons, models, mothers, nuns, nurses, old maids,
stenographers, waitresses, witch types and tall old women. I doubt that there was very much money to be made playing a tall old woman (or a fat/matronly/old maid/tall old woman) but evidently it was more than could be made by playing a woman lawyer/doctor/insert other professional position here _________ .

Movie465I realize that this was a simple and useful way of getting things done, of finding the necessary actors for movie roles, but taken slightly out-of-context this pamphlet becomes a little more than that–a small, swallowable capsule of what "normalcy" might have looked like for entertainment folks in a relatively mature medium in 1923.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1784 [An Episode in the series The History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.]

207 years ago Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort proved that he could record a seemingly unrecordable medium. He was able to write on the air, basically, affixing a permanent and economical, understandable, common denominator to something that no one could actually “see” (but could see the effects of), and that everyone could feel and measure, but not capture. He created the Beaufort wind force scale, and it has been in use as a l ingua franca (with some modifications) ever since–the wind force scale. It was a pretty important vocabulary (language, really) to establish, as there wasn’t any agreed upon terminology before his—a ‘stiff breeze” might mean one thing to a Mainer and another to someone in Santa Barbara, while a gentle breeze might mean something completely different to someone at Gibraltar than to someone else in the Kill Van Kull of Staten Island. Beaufort fixed this problem, and fixed it good.

Oddly enough, Beaufort’s system was introduced at about the same exact time as Luke Howard’s system (of 1803 versus 1805) for organizing another very fluid, gigantic, series of extraordinarily common and global occurrences that had escaped scientific classification for thousands of years—the clouds. (I wrote about this a little earlier in this blog.)
Classification systems for the wind have existed for a long time though they haven’t really been of a fundamental, descriptive value. For example, reaching back into the misty Greek mythological past we find the four winds were personified as gods, called the Anemoi, including Boreas, Notos, Euros, and Zephyros) Another area of creep and crawl for wind classifications and descriptions can be found (slightly) in the Bible–blowing from the four quarters of heaven, (Jer. 49:36; Ezek. 37:9; Dan. 8:8; Zech. 2:6); parching east wind (Ezek. 17:10; 19:12) and strong wind (Job 27:21), while the south wind was hot (Job 37:17, and so on, though they were all subject to the wants and needs of god (Ps. 18:10; 135:7), which is their greatest unifying factor (though of little use in descriptive transaction). The named components of wind (geostrophic wind, thermal wind (not actually a wind but a wind difference between two levels), gradient and ageostropic wind) are newer and valuable additions but of course cannot compare to the overall importance of the Beaufort contribution.

There are many other examples from many other cultures, the discussion of the wind and winds can take up a chunk of the anthropological/theological universe. A quicker,easier way to look at regional naming and classifying systems for the wind is to simply look at “individual” winds—winds that have certain characteristics, are particular to a location or time, and which also have a personality. There are some highly descriptive and mysterious names among them: for example, the Fremantle Doctor (afternoon sea breeze from the Indian Ocean which cools Perth, Western Australia during summer), and Squamish (strong, violent wind occurring in many of the fjords of British Columbia) Again, the overall power of applying descriptions of the Bayamo (violent wind on Cuba’s southern coast) to the Bora (northeasterly from eastern Europe to northeastern Italy) to the Cape Doctor and the Passat are not terribly useful, especially if you were trying to communicate a wind system before you.

Beaufort supplied what was in effect Dalton’s table of the chemical elements (and the creation of the atomic theory, 1802), and did so, just as in the case with Luke Howard, incredibly, at about the same time: Dalton in 1802, Howard in 1803, and Beaufort in 1805. I’m just now appreciating the extraordinary organizing party that took place here over these four years: Dalton organizing (with great prediciive powers) the unseen atomic world and the world of the elements; Howard applying scientific means to naming the greatest of the scientifically-unnamed whales of science in the clouds; and Beaufort, who performed a Luke-like task with the wind just two years later. I’m not so sure that there was a better short period than this for naming anything in the history of science. Ever.

A good modern chart of the Beaufort scale can be found here.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1762

The ouroboros–and in this particular case, the double, over-and-under ouroboros–is an interesting and ancient symbol. In my experience, the single unit is to be expected, but the double seems uncommon. The symbol ("oura" or tail and "boros", eating, in Greek, one who eats one's tail) stretches back into the dim and dusty past, at least to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and is Plato's first living thing–its is the primordial unity, the rebirth of forever, death/life/birth/rebirth, continuing into infinity, the great world soul…a kind of Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin Yang.

There's much more to be said about this symbol, especially by such people as Erich Neumann and Carl Jung, but I'll resist, mainly because it is just too complicated for me to make an intelligent statement. (I've tried to read the Great Mother as well as The Origins of the History of Consciousness by Neumann, but only made my way around the edges of the first, and picked through the interesting bits of the later. Jung is someone I've never had much luck with.)

The first symbol, and a gorgeous one it is, comes from the Theatrum chemicum (1659-1661, and published in six volumes by Lazarus Zetzner in Strasbourg), and shows the combination of what was supposed to be an alchemical highpoint: the spiritual coming together of sulfur and mercury, elements of what the practioners believed were the basic constituents of all metals and minerals. And of such stuff miracles were understood to be made, except that of course, they weren't–the fact that this stuff never worked to produce something more substantial than mercuric sulfide wasn't due to the theory or practice or thought but to the "fact" that the mercury and sulfur used in the process weren't "pure" enough. That said, the Theatrum was a very important work, the largest collection of alchemical works ever gathered and published together–it was also evidently much appreciated by Isaac Newton, who was said to consult it often and who owned the set in his library.

A more classical appearance of the ouroboros ( De Lapide PhilosophicoTriga Chemicum (Prague 1599) compiled by Nicolas Barnaud), depicting a dragon seizing the polarities of its soul, ultimately uniting them:

File:Ouroboros 1.jpg

And in the discussion of the ouroboros and philosophical aspects of infinity it should be mentioned that there is some connection between it and the mathematical symbol for infinity, which seems to arise from (the remarkable and original) John Wallis' De Sectionibus Conicibus, which was published in 1655. Wallis employed the old Roman symbol for 1,000 to use for the mathematical infinity, which of course is the ouroboros on its side. (Wallis it should be noticed was also among the earliest people to put into print the symbol for pi, as well.)