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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hooke

“Science is a process”*…

 

klee

Paul Klee, “The Bounds of the Intellect,” 1927 (detail)

 

When my grandfather died last fall, it fell to my sisters and me to sort through the books and papers in his home in East Tennessee. My grandfather was a nuclear physicist, my grandmother a mathematician, and among their novels and magazines were reams of scientific publications. In the wood-paneled study, we passed around great sheaves of papers for sorting, filling the air with dust.

My youngest sister put a pile of yellowing papers in front of me, and I started to leaf through the typewritten letters and scholarly articles. Then my eyes fell on the words fundamental breakthroughspectacular, and revolutionary. Letters from some of the biggest names in physics fell out of the folders, in correspondence going back to 1979.

In this stack, I found, was evidence of a mystery. My grandfather had a theory, one that he believed to be among the most important work of his career. And it had never been published…

The remarkable– and illuminating– story of Veronique (Nikki) Greenwood’s quest to determine whether her grandfather was “a genius or a crackpot”: “My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery.”

* T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution

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As we note that the history of science is, effectively, the history of the instruments developed to help us “see” things smaller, larger, smaller, farther, or outside our human sensory range, we might recall that it was on this date in 1664 that natural philosopher, architect and pioneer of the Scientific Revolution Robert Hooke showed an advance copy of his book Micrographia— a chronicle of Hooke’s observations through various lens– to members of the Royal Society.  The volume (which coined the word “cell” in a biological context) went on to become the first scientific best-seller, and inspired broad interest in the new science of microscopy.

source: Cal Tech

Note that the image above is of an edition of Micrographia dated 1665.  Indeed, while (per the above) the text was previewed to the Royal Society in 1664 (to wit the letter, verso), the book wasn’t published until September, 1665.  Note too that Micrographia is in English (while most scientific books of that time were still in Latin)– a fact that no doubt contributed to its best-seller status.

 

Written by LW

November 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

Leading horses to water…

… and making them drink:

from Spiked Math.

On a more serious note… many are skeptical of “the Singularity”– the hypothetical point at which technological progress will have accelerated so much that the future becomes fundamentally unpredictable and qualitatively different from what’s gone before (click here for a transcript of the talk by Vernor Vinge that launched the concept, and here for a peek at what’s become of Vernor’s initial thinking).  But even those with doubts (among whom your correspondent numbers) acknowledge that technology is re-weaving the very fabric of life.  Readers interested in a better understanding of what’s afoot and where it might lead will appreciate Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants (and the continuing discussion on Kevin’s site).

As we re-set our multiplication tables, we might recall that it was on this date in 1664 that natural philosopher, architect and pioneer of the Scientific Revolution Robert Hooke showed an advance copy of his book Micrographia— a chronicle of Hooke’s observations through various lens– to members of the Royal Society.  The volume (which coined the word “cell” in a biological context) went on to become the first scientific best-seller, and inspired broad interest in the new science of microscopy.

source: Cal Tech

UPDATE: Reader JR notes that the image above is of an edition of Micrographia dated 1665.  Indeed, while (per the almanac entry above) the text was previewed to the Royal Society in 1664 (to wit the letter, verso), the book wasn’t published until September, 1665.  JR remarks as well that Micrographia is in English (while most scientific books of that time were still in Latin)– a fact that no doubt contributed to its best-seller status.

The March of Science…

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

– Isaac Newton, in a letter to Robert Hooke, February, 1676

Check out the shoulders of some of those giants on whose shoulders Newton stood, and of those who have since climbed onto Newton’s, with the Royal Society’s time line: Trailblazing- Three and a Half Centuries of Royal Society Publishing.

As we marvel at Method, we might turn to a different kind of “Royal Society” to note that it was on this date in 1936 that the late Duke of Windsor, nee King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne of England to be with Wallis Simpson.

The Duke and Duchess on their wedding day

Ground Control to Major John…

source

Centuries before Neil Armstrong and crew made it– and indeed several years before a falling apple set Isaac Newton to the description of gravity– John Wilkins, a founder of The Royal Society (and a brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell) drafted plans for an expedition to the moon.

Wilkins believed that we are held on Earth by a form of magnetism. His observations of clouds suggested to him that if man could reach an altitude of just 20 miles, he could be free of this force and be able to fly through space.  So he drafted plans for a real “spaceship,” a flying machine designed like a ship but with a powerful spring, clockwork gears, and a set of wings (covered with feathers from high-flying birds such as swans or geese). He planned to use gunpowder as a primitive form of internal combustion engine.

His plan was materially less costly than NASA’s.  He reckoned that ten or 20 men could club together, spending 20 guineas each, to employ a good blacksmith to assemble such a flying machine from his plans.  Another area of economy was food:  Wilkins was convinced by suggestions that people could go long periods without eating, and imagined that in space, free of Earth’s “magnetism”, there would be no pull on travellers’ digestive organs to make them hungry.

Similarly, breathing presented no problem. It was known that mountaineers suffered breathlessness at high altitude. Wilkins said this was because their lungs were not used to breathing the pure air breathed by angels. In time his astronauts would get used to it and so be able to breathe on their voyage to the Moon.

Records show that Wilkins did in fact experiment in building flying machines with another leading scientist of the age, Robert Hooke, in the gardens of Wadham College, Oxford, around 1654. But by the 1660s, he began to realize that space travel was not as straightforward as he had imagined.

Readers can find the whole story at SkyMania.com

As we raise our sights, we might we might smile to recall that this is the birthday (1844) of another notable Oxonian, William Archibald Spooner, an Anglican clergyman who became Warden of New College, Oxford…  Spooner, the personification of the addled, absent-minded professor, gave us the concept of “Spoonerisms”– the reversal of the opening sounds of words on a phrase– as he  (allegedly) uttered such immortals as:

(In a sermon)  “The Lord is a shoving leopard”

(To a callow student) “You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain”

(At a high table dinner) “Let us raise our glasses to the queer old Dean”

(On preparations for a patriotic occasion) “We’ll have the hags flung out”

Spooner (again, supposedly) once invited a faculty member to tea “to welcome our new archaeology Fellow.”  “But, sir,” the man replied, “I am our new archaeology Fellow.”  “Never mind,” Spooner said, “Come all the same.”

Spooner (by Leslie Hart, for Spy); source: Art.com

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