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Posts Tagged ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley

“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place”*…

 

UniverseShape_LedeFullWidth

 

When you gaze out at the night sky, space seems to extend forever in all directions. That’s our mental model for the universe, but it’s not necessarily correct. There was a time, after all, when everyone thought the Earth was flat, because our planet’s curvature was too subtle to detect and a spherical Earth was unfathomable.

Today, we know the Earth is shaped like a sphere. But most of us give little thought to the shape of the universe. Just as the sphere offered an alternative to a flat Earth, other three-dimensional shapes offer alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space.

We can ask two separate but interrelated questions about the shape of the universe. One is about its geometry: the fine-grained local measurements of things like angles and areas. The other is about its topology: how these local pieces are stitched together into an overarching shape.

Cosmological evidence suggests that the part of the universe we can see is smooth and homogeneous, at least approximately. The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Only three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical and hyperbolic…

Alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space: “What Is the Geometry of the Universe?

* Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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As we tinker with topology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1811 that Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.  Shelley, of course, went on to become a celebrated lyric poet and one of the leaders of the English Romantic movement… one who had a confident (if not to say exalted) sense of his role in society:

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

220px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint source

 

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on”*…

 

While public debate about the license reading technology has centered on how police should use it, business has eagerly adopted the $10,000 to $17,000 scanners with remarkably few limits…  But the most significant impact is far bigger than locating cars whose owners have defaulted on loans: It is the growing database of snapshots showing where Americans were at specific times, information that everyone from private detectives to ­insurers are willing to pay for…  Unlike law enforcement agencies, which often have policies to purge their computers of license records after a certain period of time, the data brokers are under no such obligation, meaning their databases grow and gain value over time as a way to track individuals’ movements and whereabouts…

Read more about this nebulous network and how it’s being used at “A Vast Hidden Surveillance Network Runs Across America, Powered By The Repo Industry.”

[TotH to Dave Pell]

* “Miller” (Tracey Walter) in Alex Cox’s wonderful Repo Man

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As we reconsider public transit, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published.  Shelley had begun writing the story two years earlier, when she was 18 and on vacation near Geneva with her husband (the poet Percy) and their friend Lord Byron.  The house party set itself the task of each writing a gothic story; only Mary finished hers.  The first edition was published anonymously; Shelley was first publicly identified as the author on the title page of the 1823 second edition.

The work has, as Brian Aldiss argues, a strong claim to being the first true science fiction novel.  As the sub-title– “The Modern Prometheus”– suggests (and like all great sci fi), it treats the philosophical, cultural, and psychological ramifications of scientific and technological progress.

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Coming (Not) Soon (Enough)…

As we negotiate for the Bronte bout, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped with then-17-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin… despite the fact that Shelley was already married.

Shelley, the heir to his wealthy grandfather’s estate, had been expelled from Oxford for refusing to acknowledge authorship of a controversial essay. He eloped with his first wife, Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern owner, in 1811. But three years later, Shelley fell in love with the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of a prominent reformer and early feminist writer. Shelley and Godwin fled to Europe, marrying after Shelley’s wife committed suicide in 1816.

Shelley’s inheritance did not pay all the bills, and the couple spent much of their married life abroad, fleeing Shelley’s creditors. While living in Geneva, the Shelleys and their dear friend Lord Byron challenged each other to write a compelling ghost story. Only Mary Shelley finished hers– which she later published as Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley

Imperial dreams…

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

– “Ozymandias”  Percy Bysshe Shelly (1818)

The Roman Empire encircled the Mediterranean:

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The Mongol Empire once stretched from the Pacific to the Danube:

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More recently, the Ottoman Empire was almost as large:

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While the British Empire was the most widely dispersed:

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As we remark with Shelley that empires come and empires go, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781 that the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were finally ratified, and the Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation of the United States of America.

The Articles of Confederation

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