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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I wanted to take a moment and post something from the bookselling section of this blog, something that's pretty interesting and scarce in its own right. It is a work produced at the Harvard University Department of Psychology by Henry A. Murray (1893-1988), the Worksheets on Morale. Seminar in Psychological Problems of Morale which was published in 1942 and contains a section which turns out to be the first psychological profile of Adolf Hitler–this copy was formerly in the library of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor and incubator of the CIA.



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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1349

Following an earlier post that I made here on the History of Bad Chairs (including a contrivance made by Declaration-signer Dr. Benjamin Rush that immobilized the body, dulled the senses and kept the feet of its mental-patient-occupant in cold water for "treatment") I'd like to start a short series on bad beds. This part was excited by another historic psychological/shrinkological tool from the arsenal of doctors who treated the insane: an instrument of torturous treatment called the "Utica crib".

It was a device used, obviously, to constrain the person placed in it–so that they could be controlled during the day if drugged and still not controllable, and to be used at night if the patient wouldn't stay under their covers. It looks pretty terrible, a squashed baby bed with a prison door for a top. It comes as one in a long line of bad beds, including psychiatric hospital"tumbling beds". centrifugal beds, and of course spiked beds of the inquisition, stretching beds form the same, Aushwitz "beds", and on and on, devices of torture made from places of rest.

Insane supervision453 The Utica Bed of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica–if not actually constructed in Utica it was popularized there–was put into use at about the same time that the facility was opened in 1843. According to the numerous reports of New York State asylums directors in Supervision of our Asylums for the Insane1, it was about time (in 1880) that folks in control of the state institutions start to deal with their charges in a medical, treatable, fashion; to try and remedy the effects of mental illness rather than just use the asylums to warehouse societal outcasts. And it was in this paper that the Utica Crib (and other retraining devices) came under very severe criticism. (The original pamphlet is available at our blog bookstore.)

Edward C. Spitzka makes the point that the institutional that use devices like the Utica Crib–which was supposed to prevent patients from injuring themselves–actually had far more incidences of patient injurious than those institutions which–with a similar clientelle–didn't use them at all. Spitzka made a very compelling case the the Utica Crib and other devices were archaic remnants of an earlier and darker time in the treatment of cases outside mental health, and they they were far more injurious to patients than not having them at all. They also, he said, demoralized the staff of the hospital and depressed the medical supervision, making a mockery of treatment. All in all, Spitzka's insights were accurate and prescient.


1. Report of the Proceedings for Establishing a Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for the State of New York, published by Sherwood & Co., NYC, in 1880. 55pp.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1348

Two short tales of attending the needs of the mentally ill in the 19th century: asylum journals and treatment of mania via music.

In the world of the treatment of the mentally ill, or of the possibly "deranged", or the poor confused, or the old and demented, or the depressed of all ages, there have been some uncommon instances of creativity and rehabilitation in the constrained early days of warehousing patients, or inmates. One example of this was the newspaper/journal called The Opal, which was published–extraordinarily–for ten years (1851-1860, in ten volumes and 3,000 pages) by the inhabitants of the State Lunatic Asylum of the State of New York at Utica. This illustration–which is so far as I is (unfortunately!) the only image in the journal and is repeated month-to-month–depicts, I guess, the editor of the journal, in a cell, and with a terrified or manic or at least sharp-eyed thousand-yard gaze. It is an unusual statement by the artist, perhaps, that the stone wall behind the editor's bars look somewhat like the books bound with raised bands that are on the inside of his cell. I'm uncertain as to whether this was a message, or whether this picture is just a picture. But it is certainly odd to draw such a portrait of the editor of The Opal–greasy hair, sunken eyes, mouth ajar, crazy-gaze, and hardly very sympathetic.

And the title page of the journal:

Given the time, it is remarkable that such an enterprise occurred and lasted as long as it did. It must have been an extraordinary aid to the people in Utica, allowed an avenue to express themselves, allow for creativity, allow for some independence of expressive thought It was put loud and clear in the volume for 1854, on page one, in a bit called "A Message to Our Patrons": "Forty-eight months [ that's four years since the beginning of the journal] have vibrated their moments on the engagements and extensions of the Opalians. The divine art of printing has conveyed through numerous and constant agencies the heraldry of Asylumian intellect, and in the varied developments of society, our paper hath been insinuated by the gentleness of humanity, and reciprocated in a fourfold state the harbingers of progression in kindness by exchanges, whose opening leaves hath borne refreshment from the wines on the lees of humanity, well refined by the studied graces of purity, sense, discretion and knowledge, to the great comfort of this retirement, hallowed by the superintendence of wisdom and virtue1."

The italicized " our paper" appears int he original.

And this example of trying to step somewhat beyond the modicum of dispensing agents for settling a "maniac"–a person it seems suffering from a manic stage. Doctors and attendants tried to treat the patient with an assortment of narcotics, but they didn't work; very liberal applications of btrandy occurred, which caused some sleepiness, but after two days the man woul dbe getting sleepy, anyway. And then came the desperate measure (so to speak): music. It was certainly nothing new, really, the calming effets o fmusic having been know deep into antiquity. Why it was not mor eliberally applied in mental institutions, I don't know. The case and description are found in the American Journal of Insanity (later the American Journal of Psychiatry) for 185 8:

"The symptoms indicated, as it seemed, the prompt use of narcotics. Morphine was therefore given in doses gradually increased, till at the end of 48 hours, 3 gr. at a time, with strong laudanum injections, had been administered. This treatment seeming to have little or no effect, was abandoned and other means, such as baths, counter irritants, stimulants, djc &lc, resorted to, with but slight amelioration of the alarming symptoms. The patient had now continued in this state three days and nights, without sleep, and with little or no food. Pulse much of the time 120. Countenance anxious and sunken, presenting every appearance in fact, of approaching final prostration. Of the means above mentioned, the administration of brandy, in often repeated and large doses, seemed to act most favorably and effectually. Under its use the pulse came down to about 100. The patient also became more quiet* and manifested a slight disposition to sleep.

"At this time, it was suggested by the father, that his son had always manifested a remarkable fondness for music, and that when a child, sleep had often been produced by it. A violin player was accordingly sent for, and the effect of his art tested upon the patient, with the most remarkable and immediate favorable effects. The nervous excitement began to abate at the sound of the fiddle, and in a very short time, the patient was in a sound sleep, from which he awoke in an hour or two much refreshed and nearly rational. By continuing the brandy, and when nervous excitement began to manifest itself, an occasional quietus from the fiddle, this singular state of mental excitement was, in a few days, entirely and permanently subdued."

In general, the 1850s were not a good time to be in a mental institution in the United States–or anywhere else for that matter. There were 3700 people or so institutionalized in America at the time of the two stories (above). It was really just about at this time that a national effort began to be organized to treat the institutionalized people more as patients than as inmates.



1. "In the diffusion of thought by the arts, its curiosity and character are enhanced by the manner in which it is communicated; and the respectful interchange of sympathy, and of emotions incident to nature that assimilate and affiliate the multiform interests and conditions of the human kind are so promoted by interchanges as to excite a brotherly regard for the correspondences, and a desire to advance their intelligences anew, when apprehended as the instrumentality of reasonable reliances."

Also this:

Asylum Life; Or, The Advantages Of A Disadvantage, from The Opal

Page 1:


I have no care for copper or coin,
I have no fear of any one’s frown;
I’m fed by the hand that feedeth the best,
And seldom molested is my sweet rest.


I have walks to take, and news to read,
With chit-chat and work the hours to speed;
Good company, age, as good as the great
Who have the charge of the “Empire State.”


When ill, we have nurses; kind they be,
And doctors too, without extra fee;
When well, we can leave for homes far and near,
While the Word of Life may be conned with care.


Though sad, we may wait till brighter we grow,
And health and good humor our faces make glow;
When merry music may lend us her thrall,
And consoling each other be less sad withall.


And Love may abide, defended by prayer,
And our hearts and our hopes be brightened elsewhere;
We may write to our homes, and see our dear friends,
And contented and blessed our destiny ends

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1277

Dick Words without Books–Kindle et al as a Dim Shadow in the History of Reading to Children The Kindle and its relatives may be a poor choice for reading to children–it’s a book and not a book, a collection of words without a wrapping, a constant reminder for what it isn’t, a cold remedy for warm memories.

There have been a number of books “written” now that have no words. Elbert Hubbard charmingly put one together in 1898 (called Essay on Silence). More recently, there was The Nothing Book (1970), which was precisely that, and which found its way into the NYTimes book review section (“we have nothing to add”). Elsewhere in the arts John Cage produced a four and a half minute piece on nothing, while Samuel Beckett takes far less time to produce his ode to nothing in his play Breathing–all fine examples of nothing.

There are more-lesser examples of nothing in literature, with books produced using nothing but the letter “I”, or commas, or periods/dots, or plus/minus signs. They soberly add a little something to nothing and somehow come up with less than “something” and more than “nothing”, floating in a briney failed no-man’s-land of not-nothingness. Others have taken a different route around nothingness by simply dropping the use of a single letter in the formation of their novel–the lipogram isn’t even a stutter to nothingness, just a hollow something.

And that’s where the Kindle comes in, in the hollow somethingness.

Dick and Jane are something. Or at least the physicality of reading them to children is something. The stories aren’t important, really–the handling of the book, the feel of the pages, the jumbling of position, the steadying of the text, the turning of the pages, trying to navigate the swirl of motions, the feel of the whole thing as a voice deciphers the tracks along the pages.

It’s the act of reading that might be the most mportant thing in getting children to appreciate the whole idea of reading.

Reading from a Kindle just won’t do, it can’t accommodate the range of differences, the cascade of varying stimuli, that comes from holding a book. Books are always the same size inside a Kindle–I know t hat my own children love some books because of their shape, or they just like feeling something different in their own hands as they skip from title to title.

You also can’t give your kids the book that you had when you were little, seeing the way your name changes in your books as you grew older. You won’t have a Kindle with your kid-scrawl on the flyleaf identifying the child-you in 1962. The kindle has no personality of its own–which may be fine for people already reading, but not so for people just starting out.

You also can’t press a much-loved, hard-read copy of a favorite Kindle into your kid’s hands and expect some sort of response to it. There’s just too much missing from the reading experience with a not-a-book–you just don’t want to institute a sameness when what is needed is difference

JF Ptak Scence Books Post 1255

"The Harlem riot of 1935, now the subject of a comprehensive report, demonstrated that 'the Negro is not merely the man who shouldn't be forgotten; he is the man who cannot safely be ignored'." Alain Locke, Survey Graphic, 1936.*

Race riot010 This is a report to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (mayor of NYC from 1934-1945, a liberal Republican who was exactly what was needed in the city at exactly the right time) on what has come to be recognized as America’s first race riot.1 The damage was widespread, with hundreds of people injured, three killed, and $2 million 1935 dollars lost in during the Harlem event. The action started at the S.H. Kress dime store on 256 W. 125th St. (just across from the Apollo Theater) in Harlem, where a 16-year-old boy named Lino (described int his report as a “young Negro” though he was Puerto Rican) was detained by authorities in the store for shoplifting. He was taken to the store’s basement and released to the backstreet unharmed, but a rumor spread violently and quickly that a young child had been taken to the basement of the store and beaten (or killed) for stealing a piece of candy. Complications arose when the police arrived and when civic leaders’ questions went unanswered. An odd and unfortunate twist of faith placed a hearse in front of the store during this build-up (from the business across the street from the store), inspiring outrage and “proof:” that the boy had been killed.2

In addition to the missing boy, the hearse, the police, and bad communications, were handbills distributed in the neighborhood printed by the Young Communist League and the black semi-militant Young Liberators, all helping to fan the flames of the crowds by the Kress store, which had swelled to several thousand people after just two hours–the riot came soon thereafter.

The Report of Subcommittee Which Investigated the Disturbances of March 19th3 (and issued before August 15, 1935), was chaired by Arthur Garfield Hayes,analyzed the event in a surprisingly sympathetic way, recognizing that there was no organized response to the event, and finding that the response was understood to be a reaction to the long history of abuse of African Americans and poor governmental/police relations–and this all in eight quick pages. LaGuardia said "We cannot be expected to correct in a day the mistakes and omissions of the past fifty years. But we are going places and carrying out a definite program. While the critics have been throwing stones, I have been laying bricks." It was surprising top me that the report was bi-racial, and that there was some real attempt to understand the problem and "do" something about it, rather than just chalk the whole thing up as something that could be simply solved with pure force. [The original report is available for purchase from our blog bookstore.]

As Locke wrote (below) the Riot of 1935 was the end of the Harlem Renaissance, and that a new era had begun. For his part, LaGuardia at least opened a way to communicate about how to address the causes of such vast and repellent circumstances that eventually turned into the riot.


* Locke continues: "Eleven brief years ago Harlem was full of the thrill and ferment of sudden progress and prosperity; and Survey Graphic sounded the tocsin of the emergence of a "new Negro" and the onset of a "Negro renaissance." Today, with that same Harlem prostrate in the grip of the depression and throes of social unrest, we confront the sobering facts of a serious relapse and premature setback; indeed, find it hard to believe that the rosy enthusiasms and hopes of 1925 were more than bright illusions or a cruelly deceptive mirage. Yet after all there was a renaissance, with its poetic spurt of cultural and spiritual advance, vital with significant but uneven accomplishments; what we face in Harlem today is the first scene of the next act—the prosy ordeal of the reformation with its stubborn tasks of economic reconstruction and social and civic reform…"

1. Sociologist Allen D. Grimshaw called the Harlem Riot of 1935 "the first manifestation of a 'modern' form of racial rioting," citing three criteria: "violence directed almost entirely against property"; "the absence of clashes between racial groups", and "struggles between the lower-class Negro population and the police forces". "Harlem Renaissance". Online Newshour Forum. PBS. February 20, 1998.

Another commission set to investigate the riot was headed by E. Franklin Frazier which produced a report, "The Negro in Harlem: A Report on Social and Economic Conditions Responsible for the Outbreak of March 19, 1935," which found that the riot was not a controlled event and had happened spontaneously as a result of prolonged "injustices of discrimination in employment, the aggressions of the police, and the racial segregation".

2. Locke continues his observation on the Riot: "Curtain-raiser to the reformation was the Harlem riot of March 19 and 20, 1935; variously diagnosed as a depression spasm, a Ghetto mutiny, a radical plot and dress rehearsal of proletarian revolution. Whichever it was, like a revealing flash of lightning it etched on the public mind another Harlem than the bright surface Harlem of the night clubs, cabaret tours and arty magazines, a Harlem that the social worker knew all along but had not been able to dramatize—a Harlem, too, that the radical press and street-corner orator had been pointing out but in all too incredible exaggerations and none too convincing shouts."

3. The commission was headed by Arthur Garfield Hayes and Charles H. Roberts, and was a bi-racial affair. "IMMEDIATELY after the March riot, Mayor La Guardia appointed a representative bi-racial Commission of Investigation, headed by an esteemed Negro citizen, Dr. Charles H. Roberts. After 21 public and 4 closed hearings conducted with strategic liberality by Arthur Garfield Hays…"

4. Recommendations from the report:

Increased hospital and health clinic facilities to combat disproportionate disease in the densely populated Negro areas.

Recommended reorganization of Harlem hospitals and wider admission of Negro physicians to staff appointments, internee' posts and educational facilities at all other municipal hospitals.

New health center for Central Harlem District similar to East Harlem Center and a Negro supervisory health officer [the latter already agreed to by Commissioner Rice].

Additional school buildings and extra educational facilities for vocational guidance, visiting teachers, and playgrounds. [The comparative absence of racial discrimination in the school system is one of the bright features of the report.]

Housing legislation and additional low cost housing projects in line with recommendations of the report. Additional PWA and federal grants must be sought for such projects.

Relaxing of the present tension in public opinion about the policy and attitude of the police in Harlem. The report recommends a Citizens' Public Safety Committee not only to cooperate with the Police Commissioner as an advisory body but as a board of complaint in cases of suspected police brutality or reputed violations of citizens' rights.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1251

The Dreamworks of Human Beings over the last 10,000 years have generally not directly survived, unless they were painted on a cave wall, or saved in the spoken tradition, or recorded in a painting, or written down as literature or poetry or religious tracts (as "visions", say). The work of human brains while asleep is almost entirely lost, especially so before the year 1900, when disposable writing instruments and more easily found paper supply came into being, making it possible to record personal ephemera like dreams and wishes and posie notions. A vast amount of subconscious thinking and overall brain activity is just simply disappeared.

An off-the-cuff guessitmate is that humans have had the capacity to have dreamt 10×10^25 dreams over the last 10,000 years, and before the year 1900 I'd say that .00000000000000001% of them have ever been recorded, have ever found a stable platform to be carried into the future. (It would be easier to pass a monumental camel through the eye of a nanoneedle than it would be to try and reconstruct these dreams, paraphrasing Luke 10:25 as long as we'ev got 1^25 in our sights.) Even though the human brain spent probably 20% of its time over human history dreaming, there is almost nothing to show for it.

Here's a surviving dream, a manuscript–or rather a copy of a manuscript–called "A Remarkable Dream–Dreamed by B.C. in England 10 Month 30 1762". It is four pages of pretty densely packed recollection of a long dream, 4,000 words strong, recalling fire and brimstone visions of the Bad Land, some sights of Heaven, remarkable animals, strange happenings, and general Ecclesiastical undertones. One unusual thing–there is mention of color, which seems not to be common in dreams in general.

Dream--remarkable 1945

I've found several examples of this dream/story, copied by different hands over the decades–it seems to have been a somewhat popular account, transcribed by (young?) folks as a part of a lesson, perhaps with a Quaker-related bearing (?).

This manuscript copy (available for purchase from our blog bookstore) was made in the very early 19th century, 1800-1820 or thereabouts, and my guess is that it is American.

I've scanned all four pages for the eager reader. It is a little bit of a tough go, but your eyes get used to the writing style after a while.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1243

MachbookI cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own–literal, interior,physical–view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what Ernst Mach is doing right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, the fourth German edition ("The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical") (Jena, 1903)

There is nothing in this world for Mach that is not admissible to the human brain that is not empirically verifiable–that is, the world is nothing but awash in sensation and that sensation itself forms part of the experience of, well, experience. I've actually never been interested in the philosophy of science, and this is one of the reasons why. Nevertheless I boldly break through my own prejudices to enjoy this phenomenally original image, drawn from the inside of Mach's working mind, looking out through his eye socket, over his mustache, under his eyebrow, around his nose, out across his body and then leaping into the rest of the world. I think he does make his point about the essentialSteinberg_352 nature of the observer. And much like the classic Steinberg New Yorker cartoon of the world view of the New Yorker (of course this includes only Manhattan), I know some number of people who have transposed their bodies much like Herr Mach into the Steinberg map–except that their worldview ends basically at the Hudson River (Mach's feet) with the rest of the world being the sliver out there beyond the river (Mach's window) until you go 359 degrees around the world to get back to the East River (and back inside Mach's noggin). It is an unusual world view to have, but someone has to have it so that we can at least identify it so.

I just like the picture.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1200


A part of the payload dropped on German and Japanese forces were not metal and explosive, but paper. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper with real and imagined information, tickets to surrender, reminders of the coming of the end of the war, passages to a prisoner of war camp somewhere that would ensure the soldier's survival of the Blogpropogwhere_are099rest of the war. Convincing someone to surrender, or making it easier for them to not fight too hard and to surrender, is sometimes easier than to confront and kill them.

For the most part these were distributed in a combination effort between the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF), while the other major segment was done by the Supreme Headquarters of the Army Expedition Force (SHAEF) and the 8th U.S. Army. There pieces of directed information were very persuasive, but of course they were hardly new—not even the delivery system (via aircraft) was an innovation.

These leaflets were more or less an “information” service relating factual events and presented in such a way to persuade and convince whomever picked them up that their cause was at this point futile. In just about every case in the 150 items in my small collection as far as I could determine all of the statements made were indeed correct and accurate. Leaflets were dropped by the ton during the war that were pure fabrication, intended to confuse the scare the recipient into surrender, deceiving them; but not these. (For example, a famous use of deception in major confrontations was Operation Quicksilver and the creation of the First United States Army Group (FUSAG), a non-existent fighting enemy that was supposed to distract the Germans while real preparations were underway elsewhere for the invasion of Europe (D Day).
There was a distinct threat of terror in many of these leaflets, though the terror would never come from the Americans or Brits—the Russians, however, were another story. (Remember that the U.S. gets into the war at the end of 1941; the British had been fighting since 1939; and the Russians, well, they had been fighting too since 1939 [starting out without chivalry and with cold malice against the Finns], but they did fight against the Nazis once they had been completely deceived by them, losing 20 million people in the process. The Germans had much more to fear from them than anything on earth. And rightly so.) The use of terror in propaganda is probably as old as warfare itself—for example the Mongol leader Tamerlane built a pyramid of 90,000 human heads in front of the walls of Delhi to persuade the inhabitants to just forget about fighting, and leave. The British employed a terror tactic in the use of the Gurkas and their curved and menacing Kukri to great advantage; the Americans had the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (for the assassination of leading Viet Cong and their supporters), and so on, into the sunset.
I do not intend to try and write a thousand-word history of wartime psychological operations here—I just wanted to share some of the extreme emotions and humanity that surfaces in some of these leaflets. The first (above), for example, translated, asks “Where are your loved ones?” (Sprint, 1945), and hammers away at the soldiers memories of home and family, and about what might be happening to that family now that the war is just about won by the Allied forces, and that the Russians were on their way to Berlin. These family-driven, hollowing, haunting, nervous questions went, I suspect, to the very heart of anyone who picked it up.

The second, “Auf fremder Erde (etc.)” (Spring 1945), roughly translated, called the attention of the German soldier again to the Russians, “On German soil the Russian Deluge is Raging across the Oder toward the Heart of Germany!” And “On foreign soil you are perishing relentlessly, without value, without influence, on this war which has long been decided!”

The third leaflet, “Deutschland R-Industrie…” (3 April 1945) informs the German soldier that the hear of the German industrial region has been punctured and given up, and that supplies to soldiers in the field would no longer occur—that the fighting man was basically adrift, lost, forgotten, unreachable by everyone except the enemy.
The next example is a 10×8 inch surrender pass that was dropped on Japanese soldiers in the early spring of 1945, and tartly signed “C-in-C [Commander in Chief] Allied Forces”. There is a very full explanation in Japanese on the back of the ticket, which has not been translated. It seems rather remarkable to me that this was so well designed, and so attractive, and so large, and that it was dropped from a plane on thousands of Japanese troops. As were they all, really—just about every one of the leaflets in y house are extremely well written and designed—epistles from a plane to induce surrender to a defeated, tired, dying set of armies.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1156
0--blog-dec 9 vichy cvr220This appeal to practicing French metallurgists by the Nazi occupying force ( Metallurgistes misere? Non 1943 .) promised good wages, a clean place to sleep, and a livable future. This included a life for professional metallurgists with a family, as well. The Nazis were (blood) thirsty for practically-trained "help", desperate for people with an expertise in occupied France to help contribute to their war effort, and this pamphlet was one means of trying to persuade (via propaganda) or purchase the tacit approval of these professionals. The Nazis were promising a place to all of those who followed the call, a place in the resurrection of Europe, in the rebuilding of the European community under German/Nazi rule.

There was one very odd problem in this pamphlet. The map shows the creation of this very large allegorical structure, which naturally centers on Germany;

0--blog-dec 9 vichy cvr219

but strangely enough, none of the structure seems to touch French
soil–so much for the "New Europe". As a matter of fact it looks as though there is a table with
three men standing around it at just about the exact place that Paris
would be. I'm not convinced that this was intentionally represented
this way, showing the French reader that France was not going to be
part of the rebirth–not having France as a part of this new empire
would seem to be unthinkable–perhaps. Maybe the issue was to show the inductees that should they decide to stay at home they and their family and the rest of the country will be part of a destitute agrarian Medieval future, that France would not be part of the New Europe, rather than someone screwing up in the Nazi propaganda offices. The screwup is possible though–they were, after all, only Nazis.

Photos of the promised facilities:

0--blog-dec 9 vichy clock222

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JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 692 Blog Bookstore

Thinking big thoughts in dreams is generally not a common thing, as anyone who has read their own semi-conscious half-awake memory notes of a dream-based inspiration could attest. But it does happen:
==Blog July 21=math dream
Paul McCartney1 dreamed the song Yesterday, Gandhi dreamed the source of non-violent resistance, Elias Howe
dreamed of the construction of the first sewing machine, and Mary Shelley the creation of her novel Frankenstein… For good or for ill, William Blake was evidently deeply influenced by his own dreams; on the other hand, Rene Magritte was deeply influenced by dreams but didn’t use any of his own for his paintings. Otto Loewi turned an old problem into not one in a dream, finding a solution to the prickish problem of whether nerve impulses were chemical or electrical (and resulting in the Nobel for medicine in 1935); the fabulous discovery of the benzene ring came to August Kekule in a dream as well. Artists have been representing people in dreams and dreamscapes for many centuries: Durer depicted a dream in a 1525 watercolor, for example, and thousands of artists have depicted famous biblical dreams (Joseph of Pharo) for long expanses of time.

What struck me, though, in this illustration found on the other side of the page of the Illustrirte Zeitung2 (for August 1932) that I used for yesterday’s post about damming Gibraltar and Shakespeare’s memories, was the depiction of someone dreaming mathematical thoughts…or at the very least, dreaming numbers. People have undoubtedly dreamed much in mathematics, but I can not recall seeing illustrations of these dreams.

I'm differentiating here from something like a Poincarean inspiration, or vision, or thunderstrike–I'm talking about drop-dead asleep sleep, dreaming sleep, REM and all that. Also I'm differentiating this from imaging mathematical thought, as in the work of Francis Galton in 1880 in which the subject of mentally seeing the process of mathematics is perhaps first addressed. I wrote a short piece on that here, way back in Post 9. )

The numerical sequence in this dream doesn’t look like anything to me: the backwards radicand doesn’t strike anything common in my head. The geometrical drawing under the portrait in the dreamer’s room though is the impossibly iconic Pythagorean theorem, and there is a nice picture of a conic section in the foreground; but the artist, who improbably signed the work “A. Christ”, doesn’t offer much of math in the dreamscape. Still, it is a rare depiction of someone dreaming about math.

1. "I woke up with a lovely tune in my head. I thought, 'That's great, I wonder what that is?' There was an upright piano next to me, to the right of the bed by the window. I got out of bed, sat at the piano, found G, found F sharp minor 7th — and that leads you through then to B to E minor, and finally back to E. It all leads forward logically. I liked the melody a lot, but because I'd dreamed it, I couldn't believe I'd written it. I thought, 'No, I've never written anything like this before.' But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing!" from Barry Miles (1997), Paul McCartney.
2. this is really a great sheet of paper, coming from issue 4492, pp 518-519. Two pictures of dreams on one side, with three visionary images on the other (the Gibraltar dam, a sub-polar submarine, and a futuristic Indian railway/bridge.