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  • feedwordpress 09:01:00 on 2018/11/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , oldest printed book, , , scrolls, , ,   

    “Printing…is the preservative of all arts”*… 

     

    dunhuang-diamond-sutra-frontispiece

    Frontispiece of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra

     

    In 366, the itinerant monk Yuezun was wandering through the arid landscape [around the Western Chinese city of Dunhuang] when a fantastical sight appeared before him: a thousand buddhas, bathed in golden light. (Whether heat, exhaustion or the strange voice of the sands worked themselves on his imagination is anyone’s guess.) Awed by his vision, Yuezun took up hammer and chisel and carved a devotional space into a nearby cliff-face. It soon became a centre for religion and art: Dunhuang was situated at the confluence of two major Silk Road routes, and both departing and returning merchants made offerings. By the time the site fell into disuse in the 14th century, almost 500 temples had been carved from the cliff.

    Among the hundreds of caves was a chamber that served as a storeroom for books. The Library Cave held more than 50,000 texts: religious tracts, business reports, calendars, dictionaries, government documents, shopping lists, and the oldest dated printed book in the world. A colophon at the end of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra scroll dates it to 868, nearly six centuries before the first Gutenberg Bible…

    Learn more at: “The Oldest Printed Book in the World.”  Then page through the British Libraries digitization of its restoration.

    * Isaiah Thomas (the 19th century publisher and author, not the basketball player)

    ###

    As we treasure tomes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that  Tim Berners-Lee published a formal proposal for aa “Hypertext project” that he called the World Wide Web (though at the time he rendered it in one word: “WorldWideWeb”)… laying the foundation for a network that has become central to the information age– a network that, with its connected technologies, is believed by many to have sparked a revolution as fundamental and impactful as the revolution ignited by Gutenberg and moveable type.

    Sir_Tim_Berners-Lee_(cropped) source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/11/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   

    “For most of human history, ‘literature’… has been narrated, not written — heard, not read”*… 

     

    Bradshaw_rock_paintings

    Bradshaw rock paintings help Aboriginal people record knowledge to memory

     

    In preliterate societies, oral stories were likewise relied upon as necessary and meaningful—and they conveyed a range of knowledge and human experiences. In some instances, particularly in harsh environments like Australia where certain information was key to survival, rigid methods of intergenerational knowledge transfer were in place. Essential knowledge, such as that for finding water and shelter, or for knowing what food was present where, was passed down along patriarchal lines but routinely cross-checked for accuracy and completeness between those lines.

    But knowledge was also exchanged from generation to generation through song, dance, and performance. Geography and history in Aboriginal Australian societies were told as people moved along songlines, which were remembered routes across the land. Their memories were prompted by particular landforms. Even ancient rock art may have been created as memory aids, prompts to help storytellers recall particular pieces of information. Today many Aboriginal groups keep alive their ancient memories of songlines.

    Such oral traditions could be viewed as “books” that were kept in the mental libraries of those who had actually heard and memorized them. Knowledge was passed on by “reading” those books out loud to young people, some of whom memorized them and would later “read” them to others. And so these ancient stories are still alive today—from memorable events like the formation of Crater Lake or the drowning of land along the Australian fringe to information about the names of places and their associations.

    Now pause to consider what this means.

    Humanity has direct memories of events that occurred 10 millennia ago…

    Evidence gathered in recent years shows that some ancient narratives contain remarkably reliable records of real events– records that have survived for thousands of years: “The Oldest True Stories in the World.”

    See also: “How oral cultures memorise so much information” (the source of the image above).

    * Angela Carter

    ###

    As we sing along, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that The Aboriginal Protection Act was enacted in Britain’s colony of Victoria– Australia, as now we know it.  At a time when democratic reforms were being introduced for most of the population, (including the extension of the franchise from the wealthy to all adult males and the provision of free public education), Aboriginal people were losing their freedom: pursuant to the Act, the government developed controls over where Aboriginal people could live and work, what they could do, and who they could meet or marry.– and most horrifyingly, it removed Aboriginal children from their families, starting the process that created the Stolen Generation.  Still, the Aboriginal oral tradition has survived.

    apa source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/11/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   

    “For most of human history, ‘literature’… has been narrated, not written — heard, not read”*… 

     

    Bradshaw_rock_paintings

    Bradshaw rock paintings help Aboriginal people record knowledge to memory

     

    In preliterate societies, oral stories were likewise relied upon as necessary and meaningful—and they conveyed a range of knowledge and human experiences. In some instances, particularly in harsh environments like Australia where certain information was key to survival, rigid methods of intergenerational knowledge transfer were in place. Essential knowledge, such as that for finding water and shelter, or for knowing what food was present where, was passed down along patriarchal lines but routinely cross-checked for accuracy and completeness between those lines.

    But knowledge was also exchanged from generation to generation through song, dance, and performance. Geography and history in Aboriginal Australian societies were told as people moved along songlines, which were remembered routes across the land. Their memories were prompted by particular landforms. Even ancient rock art may have been created as memory aids, prompts to help storytellers recall particular pieces of information. Today many Aboriginal groups keep alive their ancient memories of songlines.

    Such oral traditions could be viewed as “books” that were kept in the mental libraries of those who had actually heard and memorized them. Knowledge was passed on by “reading” those books out loud to young people, some of whom memorized them and would later “read” them to others. And so these ancient stories are still alive today—from memorable events like the formation of Crater Lake or the drowning of land along the Australian fringe to information about the names of places and their associations.

    Now pause to consider what this means.

    Humanity has direct memories of events that occurred 10 millennia ago…

    Evidence gathered in recent years shows that some ancient narratives contain remarkably reliable records of real events– records that have survived for thousands of years: “The Oldest True Stories in the World.”

    See also: “How oral cultures memorise so much information” (the source of the image above).

    * Angela Carter

    ###

    As we sing along, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that The Aboriginal Protection Act was enacted in Britain’s colony of Victoria– Australia, as now we know it.  At a time when democratic reforms were being introduced for most of the population, (including the extension of the franchise from the wealthy to all adult males and the provision of free public education), Aboriginal people were losing their freedom: pursuant to the Act, the government developed controls over where Aboriginal people could live and work, what they could do, and who they could meet or marry.– and most horrifyingly, it removed Aboriginal children from their families, starting the process that created the Stolen Generation.  Still, the Aboriginal oral tradition has survived.

    apa source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2018/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: , historical societies, , , marine Corps, , , National Museum of the Marine Corps, Tun Tavern,   

    “Museums are places of worship for those whose faith dwells in human stories”*… 

     

    museums

    This map displays almost 26,000 museums, historical societies, and historic preservation associations in the United States

     

    There are twenty-four history museums and historical societies in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Even within the confines of downtown, a visitor could peruse the stately home of a nineteenth-century shipping merchant or the much more modest home of an eighteenth-century furniture maker. There are museums dedicated to the history of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of dentistry. And in 2020, the city that once imported and sold more enslaved people than any other city in the United States will be the site of the International African American Museum.

    Across the country, museums explore the histories of all kinds of things—stateslocal communitiesreligious sectsmusicsteam enginesthe Tuskegee Airmen.

    The proliferation of museums of all sizes means that in the United States, one is never very far from history: the average distance between two history museums is only 2.6 miles. Because there tend to be more museums in cities than in rural areas, the “history museum density” of the country is one museum for every 147 square miles (an area about the size of Fayetteville, North Carolina)…

    Read more and explore the interactive map at: “Public History.

    * anonymous

    ###

    As we ruminate on roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1775 that, at the request fo the Second Continental Congress, the U. S. Marine Corps was founded, as the first two battalions of Marines were requested at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.  (Tun Tavern was quite the convening spot in that period: among other “foundings,” Benjamin Franklin raised the Pennsylvania militia there and it is regarded as the “birthplace of Masonic teachings in America.”)

    Commemorating this event, the National Museum of the Marine Corps was opened in Triangle, Virginia (near the Quantico Marine Base) on this same date in 2006.

    240px-Sketch_of_Tun_Tavern_in_the_Revolutionary_War

    Sketch of the original Tun Tavern

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:41 on 2018/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , Florence Sabin, , immunology, , , New Orleans, , , ,   

    “Francie, huddled with other children of her kind, learned more that first day than she realized. She learned of the class system of a great Democracy.”*… 

     

    yellow fever

    Engraving from a series of images titled “The Great Yellow Fever Scourge — Incidents Of Its Horrors In The Most Fatal District Of The Southern States.”

     

    Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

    Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10 percent of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname “Necropolis” — city of the dead.

    Yellow fever didn’t just kill. It created an entire social structure based on who had survived the virus, who was likely to survive it and who was not long for this world. And that structure had everything to do with immigration and slavery…

    The insidious way in which illness can shape society: “How Yellow Fever Turned New Orleans Into The ‘City Of The Dead‘.”

    * Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    ###

    As we get our flu shots, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Rena Sabin; she was born on this date in 1871.  A pioneer for women in science; she was the first woman to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the first woman to head a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  Relevantly to today’s post, at Rockefeller she founded the cellular immunology section, where she researched the body’s white blood cells reaction to tuberculosis infection.

    400px-Florence_Sabin_in_Rockefeller_lab source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 10:01:20 on 2018/11/08 Permalink
    Tags: Civil Works Administration, , , Financial crash, , , , , Works Progress Administration   

    “A turning point at which modern history failed to turn”*… 

     

    William Powhida: Griftopia, 2011; a ten-foot-wide ‘visual translation’ of the 2008 financial crisis based on Matt Taibbi’s 2010 book of the same title

    William Powhida: Griftopia, 2011; a ten-foot-wide ‘visual translation’ of the 2008 financial crisis based on Matt Taibbi’s 2010 book of the same title

     

    The historian G.M. Trevelyan said that the democratic revolutions of 1848, all of which were quickly crushed, represented “a turning point at which modern history failed to turn.” The same can be said of the financial collapse of 2008. The crash demonstrated the emptiness of the claim that markets could regulate themselves. It should have led to the disgrace of neoliberalism—the belief that unregulated markets produce and distribute goods and services more efficiently than regulated ones. Instead, the old order reasserted itself, and with calamitous consequences. Gross economic imbalances of power and wealth persisted. We are still experiencing the reverberations…

    Read Robert Kuttner‘s review of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze: “The Crash That Failed.”

    * G.M. Trevelyan

    ###

    As we struggle to avoid repeating past mistakes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the Civil Works Administration.  Intended as a short-term agency charged quickly to create jobs for millions of unemployed Americans through the hard winter of 1933–34, it was closed in March of 1934– having provided work for 4 million workers who laid 12 million feet of sewer pipe and built or improved 255,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds, and nearly 1,000 airports.

    CWA was effectively replaced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which operated on a much larger scale.  Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency.

    220px-Civil_Works_Administration_(CWA)_workmen_cleaning_and_painting_the_gold_dome_of_the_Denver_Capitol,_1934_-_NARA_-_541904

    Civil Works Administration workers cleaning and painting the gold dome of the Colorado State Capitol (1934)

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 10:01:05 on 2018/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: , ethology, , , , Konrad Lorenz, , , , ,   

    “There was no doubt about it: the City was the culmination of man’s mastery over the environment”*… 

     

    population2

     

    The good folks at The Pudding mashed together demographic and geographic data to create an interactive map of the world that allows one to explore the world’s population in 3 dimensions.  See the population in 2015 or in 1990; see them compared; and see the change.  Explore “Human Terrain.”

    And put it in a broader historical context at “Mapping the World’s Urban Population from 1500 – 2050.”

    Then think about how the pace of change might accelerate with the increase of climate-driven migration about which the World Bank is warning: “143 Million People May Soon Become Climate Migrants.”

    * Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel

    ###

    As we go to ground, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Konrad Zacharias Lorenz; he was born on this date in 1903.  A  zoologist and ornithologist, he founded the modern field of ethology.  His work– popularized in books like King Solomon’s RingOn Aggression, and Man Meets Dog– revealed how behavioral patterns may be traced to an evolutionary past, and explored the roots of aggression.  He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for developing a unified, evolutionary theory of animal and human behavior.

    220px-Konrad_Lorenz source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 10:01:22 on 2018/11/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , interstellar space, Oumuamua, , solar sail, , , Tycho Brahe, , Wolfgang Schüler   

    “I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.”*… 

     

    couldoumuamu

    Artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid/comet, “Oumuamua”

     

    Or not…

    On October 19th, 2017, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar asteroid, named 1I/2017 U1 (aka, ‘Oumuamua). In the months that followed, multiple follow-up observations were conducted that allowed astronomers to get a better idea of its size and shape, while also revealing that it had the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid.

    Interestingly enough, there has also been some speculation that based on its shape, ‘Oumuamua might actually be an interstellar spacecraft (Breakthrough Listen even monitored it for signs of radio signals!). A new study by a pair of astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has taken it a step further, suggesting that ‘Oumuamua may actually be a light sail of extra-terrestrial origin…

    As for what an extra-terrestrial light sail would be doing in our solar system, [Harvard astronomers Shmuel Bialy and Prof. Abraham Loeb] offer some possible explanations for that. First, they suggest that the probe may actually be a defunct sail floating under the influence of gravity and stellar radiation, similar to debris from ship wrecks floating in the ocean. This would help explain why Breakthrough Listen found no evidence of radio transmissions.

    Loeb further illustrated this idea in a recent article he penned for Scientific American, where he suggested that ‘Oumuamua could be the first known case of an artificial relic which floated into our solar system from . What’s more, he notes that lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by humans, including the Japanese-designed IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative with which he is involved.

    “This opportunity establishes a potential foundation for a new frontier of space archaeology, namely the study of relics from past civilizations in space,” Loeb wrote. “Finding evidence for space junk of artificial origin would provide an affirmative answer to the age-old question “Are we alone?”. This would have a dramatic impact on our culture and add a new cosmic perspective to the significance of human activity.”

    On the other hand, as Loeb told Universe Today, ‘Oumuamua could be an active piece of alien technology that came to explore our solar system, the same way we hope to explore Alpha Centauri using Starshot and similar technologies”…

    More provocative detail at “Could ‘Oumuamua be an extraterrestrial solar sail?

    * Arthur C. Clarke

    ###

    As we ask if we’re alone, we might recall that it was on this date in 1572 that Wolfgang Schüler first noted a supernova in the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia.  It was subsequently seen by other observers, including Tycho Brahe, who included an account of the sighting in his De nova stellaConsequently, the supernova– one of eight visible to the naked eye in historical records– is known as “Tycho’s Supernova.”

    Tycho_Cas_SN1572

    Star map of the constellation Cassiopeia showing the position (labelled I) of the supernova of 1572; from Tycho Brahe’s De nova stella

    source

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 10:01:14 on 2018/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: electromagnetic radiation, , , , , , , ,   

    “The information revolution came without an instruction manual”*… 

     

    Machines

    In my graduate seminar we’ve recently been thinking a bit about machines. Given that our focus has been on the 19th Century, attention has been directed toward ergodic machines (from the root ergon meaning work). Ergodic machines are machines that run on heat and energy. Such machines are essentially mechanical in nature. They deal with basic physical mechanics like levers and pulleys, and questions of mass, weight, and counter-balance. Ergodic machines adhere to the laws of motion and inertia, the conservation of energy, and the laws of thermodynamics governing heat, pressure, and energy…

    Still, ergodic machines do not account for all machines. Informatic machines, those devices dominating contemporary life, have in many ways taken over from their 19th-century counterparts. Informatic machines have physical bodies, of course, and they frequently require electricity or other forms of power to operate. However the essence of the informatic machine is not found in motion, unrest, heat, or energy. The essence of the informatic machine is found in form, not energy or presence. From the perspective of philosophy, computers are therefore quite classical, even conservative. They follow that most basic law of Western idealism, that the formal determines the physical

    The anti-computer has yet to be invented. But traces of it are found everywhere. Even Bitcoin, that most miserable invention, relies on an anti-computational infrastructure. In order to mine coins, one must expend energy. Hence these twenty-first-century machines are yoked to a nineteenth-century mandate: burn fuel to release value. Bitcoin may run on a computer but it is anti-computational at heart. Bitcoin only works because it is grounded in an anti-computer (energy). It is thus a digital machine made subsidiary to an analog foundation, a twenty-first-century future tied to a nineteenth-century past.

    The encryption algorithms at the heart of Bitcoin are anti-computational as well. Cryptography deploys form as a weapon against form. Such is the magic of encryption. Encryption is a kind of structure that makes life difficult for other competing structures. Encryption does not promote frictionlessness, on the contrary it produces full and complete friction at all levels. Not the quotidian friction of everyday life, but a radical friction frustrating all expression. What used to be a marginal activity practiced by hackers — cracking password hashes — is now the basis of an entire infrastructure. Earn a buck by cracking hashes using “brute force.” Turn your computer into an anti-computer.

    A friend of Marshall McLuhan’s, Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University, observed that “we shape our tools and then our tools shape us” (though the quote is often attributed to McLuhan, who may in fact have inspired it).   Alexander R. Galloway ponders the tools that dominate our lives these days: “Anti-Computer.”

    * “The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual”  — Pico Iyer

    ###

    As we muse on machines, we might spare a thought for James Clerk Maxwell; he died on this date in 1879.  a mathematician and and physicist, his work in uniting electricity, magnetism, and light– that’s to say, formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation— is considered the “second great unification in physics” (after the first, realized by Isaac Newton), and laid the foundation for modern physics, starting the search for radio waves and paving the way for such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics.  In the millennium poll – a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists at the turn of the 21st century – Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein.

    225px-James_Clerk_Maxwell source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:10 on 2018/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , cell, fringe science, , Micrographia, microscope, , , , 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

    ###

    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.

     

     
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