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“I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay it.”*…

A map to the promised land…

In his fifth-century commentary on Ezekiel’s vision of New Jerusalem, Jerome quotes the Aeneid, likening the path of salvation to a minotaur’s maze: “‘As once in lofty Crete the labyrinth is said to have had a route woven of blind walls’ . . . . So I, ente[r] the ocean of those scriptures and, so to speak, the labyrinth of God’s mysteries, of whom it is said ‘He made darkness his covert’ and ‘there are clouds in his circuit’.”

This 1705 maze (Dool-hoff), signed by the Dutch Catholic printer Claes Braau, also comes with clouded pathways, but here the way to New Jerusalem is cobbled by didactic verse. The broadsheet’s four dead-ends are burnished with spiritual gravity by its epigraphs: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14.12) and “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesian 5:15). Each pathway is paved with texts that narrate vocational and moral choices at various lengths. The road dedicated to economic wealth is full of twists and turns, but ultimately leads to the same fate as the short meander through a trench describing vanity: your journey’s abrupt termination. Choosing the “wrong path” forces the puzzler to backtrack, should they want to meet the Lamb of God at the maze’s center. Luckily, there are many ways to reach salvation, such as by studying the seven liberal arts.

The Dool-hoff was published in Haarlem during a period when neighboring Amsterdam was awash with secular mazes. “Doolhof inns,” a type of surreal public house, became increasingly popular in the seventeenth-century, treating tipsy patrons to mechanical statues, uncanny waxworks, and disorienting hedge mazes. Claes Braau’s Dool-hoff strayed from the path of these “astonishing and unprecedented novelties”, in Angela Vanhaelen’s words, and their “Bacchic conviviality.” Instead, it drew upon an older Christian tradition, represented by cathedral labyrinths like the one at Chartres, which W. H. Matthews hypothesized might reference “the various degrees of beatitude by which the soul approaches heaven, as figured by Dante.” That is, a byzantine journey through the labyrinth of the world toward a paradise of the heart. In its marriage of text and spatial warren, the Dool-hoff formally recalls the script labyrinth of Johann Neudörffer (1539), the Geistlich Labyrinth of Eberhard Kieser (1611), and several other precursors

The remarkable story of a remarkable document: “Dool-Hoff: A Dutch Maze with New Jerusalem at its Centre” (where you’ll find a larger version of the picture above), from @PublicDomainRev.

The translation of the text in the paths is here. You can also view the maze in the Rijksmuseum Collection on the Internet Archive.

* James Baldwin


As we find our ways, we might recall that it was on this date in 398 that the man we now know as St. John Chrysostom became the Bishop of Alexandria. An ascetic who railed against abuses of authority, he was a wisely-admired preacher, whose oratorial gifts earned him the name Chrysostom (“golden-mouth”). He was exiled in 403 for his outspoken criticism of his congregation, including Empress Eudoxia. After the church recalled him, he again offended Eudoxia, who exiled him again. He died three years later, in 407.

John is honored as a saint in the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, among others.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 26, 2023 at 1:00 am

“You say you’re a pessimist, but I happen to know that you’re in the habit of practicing your flute for two hours every evening”*…

The Harrowing of Hell, Hieronymus Bosch

A couple of weeks ago, (R)D featured a piece by Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” in which Haidt critiqued, among others, Robert Wright and his influential book, Non-Zero. In the spirit of George Bernard Shaw (who observed: “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.“) Wright responds…

… There are three main culprits in Haidt’s story, three things that have torn our world asunder: the like button, the share button (or, on Twitter, the retweet button), and the algorithms that feed on those buttons. “Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people.”

I would seem uniquely positioned to cheer us up by taking issue with Haidt’s depressing diagnosis. Near the beginning of his piece, he depicts my turn-of-the-millennium book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny as in some ways the antithesis of his thesis—as sketching a future in which information technology unites rather than divides…

Well, two things I’m always happy to do are (1) cheer people up; and (2) defend a book I’ve written. I’d like to thank Haidt (who is actually a friend—but whom I’ll keep calling “Haidt” to lend gravitas to this essay) for providing me the opportunity to do both at once.

But don’t let your expectations get too high about the cheering people up part—because, for starters, the book I’m defending wasn’t that optimistic. I wrote in Nonzero, “While I’m basically optimistic, an extremely bleak outcome is obviously possible.” And even if we avoid a truly apocalyptic fate, I added, “several moderately bleak outcomes are possible.”

Still, looking around today, I don’t see quite as much bleakness as Haidt seems to see. And one reason, I think, is that I don’t see the causes of our current troubles as being quite as novel as he does. We’ve been here before, and humankind survived…

Read on for a brief history of humankind’s wrestling with new information technologies (e.g., writing and the printing press). Wright concludes…

In underscoring the importance of working to erode the psychology of tribalism (a challenge approachable from various angles, including one I wrote a book about), I don’t mean to detract from the value of piecemeal reforms. Haidt offers worthwhile ideas about how to make social media less virulent and how to reduce the paralyzing influence of information technology on democracy. (He spends a lot of time on the info tech and democracy issue—and, once again, I’d say he’s identified a big problem but also a longstanding problem; I wrote about it in 1995, in a Time magazine piece whose archival version is mis-dated as 2001.) The challenge we face is too big to let any good ideas go to waste, and Haidt’s piece includes some good ones.

Still, I do think that stepping back and looking at the trajectory of history lets us assess the current turmoil with less of a sense of disorientation than Haidt seems to feel. At least, that’s one takeaway from my argument in Nonzero, which chronicled how the evolution of technology, especially information technology, had propelled human social organization from the hunter-gatherer village to the brink of global community—a threshold that, I argued, we will fail to cross at our peril.

This isn’t the place to try to recapitulate that argument in compelling form. (There’s a reason I devoted a whole book to it.) So there’s no reason the argument should make sense to you right now. All I can say is that if you do ever have occasion to assess the argument, and it does make sense to you, the turbulence we’re going through will also make more sense to you.

Is Everything Falling Apart?@JonHaidt thinks so; @robertwrighter is not so sure.

Apposite: “An optimist’s guide to the future: the economist who believes that human ingenuity will save the world,” and “The Future Will Be Shaped by Optimists,” from @kevin2kelly at @TedConferences.

* Friedrich Nietzsche (criticizing Schopenhauer)


As we look on the bright side of life, we might send darkly-tinted birthday greetings to Oswald Spengler; he was born on this date in 1880. Best known for his two-volume work, The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), published in 1918 and 1922, he was a historian and philosopher of history who developed an “organic theory” of history that suggested that human cultures and civilizations are akin to biological entities, each with a limited, predictable, and deterministic lifespan– and that around the year 2000, Western civilization would enter the period of pre‑death emergency whose countering would lead to 200 years of Caesarism (extra-constitutional omnipotence of the executive branch of government) before Western civilization’s final collapse. He was a major influence on many historians (including Arnold Toynbee and Samuel “Clash of Civilizations” Huntington).


“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see”*…

Detail from Richard Waller’s “Tabula colorum physiologica …” [Table of physiological colours], from Philosophical Transactions, 1686 — Source.

One of the most demanding challenges for early modern scientists was devising how best to visually portray their discoveries to the public. In the absence of any sort of technology for automatic visualisation, like cameras or scanners, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural philosopher had to rely on drawings and subsequently woodcuts, etchings, or engravings to turn an experimental finding into a reproducible and publicly accessible demonstration. This was a laborious, expensive, time-consuming, and often problematic operation. Negotiated between several parties involved in the world of image-making, such as draughtsmen, engravers, and printers, the results were inevitably compromises between the intentions of the researcher and the possibilities of the printing press. For example, what a drawing could express with shading, washing, and chromatic nuances, printed illustrations could only approximate through a binary system of black and white, resulting from the pressure of an inked copper plate against a page.

The problem of efficient imaging was particularly felt during the early years of the Royal Society, a scientific institution founded in London in the early 1660s and today still regarded as one of the most prestigious institutions of scientific research in the world. In its early decades of activity, the Royal Society established itself as one of the central forces of the Scientific Revolution, with renowned members such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Members of the Society used to meet on a weekly basis to discuss ongoing research on a variety of subjects, such as physics, mathematics, biology, astronomy, mechanics, geography, and antiquarianism.

Soon after its foundation, the Royal Society sought new ways to increase visibility and maximise its public reach. From this emerged the Philosophical Transactions, a monthly peer-reviewed journal, the first of its kind, featuring extracts from the Royal Society’s weekly research meetings. Founded in 1665 by the Society’s Secretary Henry Oldenburg and still published to this day, the Transactions are regarded as the first and longest-running scientific journal in history, as contributions were the result of original explorative studies into natural and mechanical matters informed by the Society’s culture of experiment — part of what today we generally call science.

The Transactions were printed in small quarto format (about 17x22cm) with up to about a dozen articles per issue and could be purchased for the price of one shilling, about £5 today. The journal was a pioneering learned publication, with exceptional frequency and aimed at a diverse public of curious researchers. As such, especially in the early years, its contributors were often preoccupied with how best to communicate their ideas and discoveries through the immediacy of mass-producible visual media. A closer look into a selection of these articles demonstrates the extent to which natural philosophers were prepared to re-invent the production and consumption of images with new and often odd strategies for representing the world. This was a process of endless hands-on experimentation, often pushing beyond the traditional confines of the printing house…

From infographics to digital renders, today’s scientists have ready access to a wide array of techniques to help visually communicate their research. It wasn’t always so: “‘More Lively Counterfaits’– Experimental Imaging at the Birth of Modern Science.”

* John Tukey


As we “show don’t tell,” we might spare a thought for Earle Dickson; he died on this date in 1961.  Dickson, concerned that his wife, Josephine Knight, often cut herself while doing housework and cooking, devised a way that she could easily apply her own dressings.  He prepared ready-made bandages by placing squares of cotton gauze at intervals along an adhesive strip and covering them with crinoline.  In the event, all his wife had to do was cut off a length of the strip and wrap it over her cut.  Dickson, who worked as a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, took his idea to his employer… and the Band-Aid was born.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Design is the intermediary between information and understanding”*…

graphic design manuscripts

Pages depicting flasks of urine for diagnosing disease, from The Twenty Jordans (MS. Ashmole, 1413). The pictures run across facing pages, so that you can compare samples easily (courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries examines the how the creation of early English books, from their hand-written language to the bindings themselves, can be viewed as pioneering graphic design. Whether a hunting manual with ages of deers described through illustrations of antler growth, or an elegant 15th-century copy of The Canterbury Tales where borders and titles guide the reader through the text, these manuscripts grappled with engaging their readers through their visual design.

“We’ve deliberately used the term ‘design’ which wasn’t used in our sense during the Middle Ages,” Dan Wakelin, professor of medieval English paleography and curator of Designing English, told Hyperallergic. “First, the term ‘design’ helps us appreciate the creativity of the past. Medieval craftspeople left us few records of their own thought processes, so we often need to use our own terms when we try to reconstruct them. The term ‘design’ brings to light aspects of the thoughtfulness and ingenuity behind medieval manuscripts and artifacts which we might otherwise miss.”…

How early English authors and scribes worked to communicate: “How Medieval Manuscript Makers Experimented with Graphic Design.”

* Hans Hofmann


As we lay it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1878 that the first telephone directory was issued. Consisting of a single piece of cardboard, it listed 50 individuals, businesses, and other offices in New Haven, Connecticut that had telephones.  There were, as readers will note on the photo below, no numbers, as callers had to be connected by an operator.

oldphone source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

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