Instruments and the Imagination

Instruments and the Imagination

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 352
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    Instruments and the Imagination
    Book Description:

    Thomas Hankins and Robert Silverman investigate an array of instruments from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century that seem at first to be marginal to science--magnetic clocks that were said to operate by the movements of sunflower seeds, magic lanterns, ocular harpsichords (machines that played different colored lights in harmonious mixtures), Aeolian harps (a form of wind chime), and other instruments of "natural magic" designed to produce wondrous effects. By looking at these and the first recording instruments, the stereoscope, and speaking machines, the authors show that "scientific instruments" first made their appearance as devices used to evoke wonder in the beholder, as in works of magic and the theater.

    The authors also demonstrate that these instruments, even though they were often "tricks," were seen by their inventors as more than trickery. In the view of Athanasius Kircher, for instance, the sunflower clock was not merely a hoax, but an effort to demonstrate, however fraudulently, his truly held belief that the ability of a flower to follow the sun was due to the same cosmic magnetic influence as that which moved the planets and caused the rotation of the earth. The marvels revealed in this work raise and answer questions about the connections between natural science and natural magic, the meaning of demonstration, the role of language and the senses in science, and the connections among art, music, literature, and natural science.

    Originally published in 1999.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6411-9
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Instruments and Images: Subjects for the Historiography of Science
    (pp. 3-13)

    In the second aphorism of theNovum OrganumFrancis Bacon argued that “neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much. It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for the understanding as for the hand. And as the instruments of the hand either give motion or guide it, so the instruments of the mind supply either suggestions for the understanding or cautions”¹ In this aphorism Bacon identified two wants of natural philosophy—a new method for investigating nature, and new instruments for carrying out that investigation. He...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Athanasius Kircher’s Sunflower Clock
    (pp. 14-36)

    When Athanasius Kircher arrived in Avignon in 1632 he at last found some relief from the turmoils of the Thirty Years War that had propelled him across Europe. From Paderborn, where in 1618 he had been admitted as a novice to the Jesuit order, he had been driven by the Protestant forces to Köln, Koblenz, Heiligenstadt, Mainz, Würzburg, and finally Avignon. His peregrinations had not, however, prevented him from pursuing his studies, and by the time he arrived at Avignon he was already known for his profound erudition. Claude Fabri de Peiresc and his friend Pierre Gassendi were pleased to...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Magic Lantern and the Art of Demonstration
    (pp. 37-71)

    Physics departments possess two kinds of instruments—demonstration instruments that are normally kept in a storage area next to the major physics lecture hall, and research instruments that are used in the department’s research laboratories.¹ There are two major differences between experiments using “demonstration” instruments and those using “research” instruments. First, a “demonstration” experiment “shows” or “exhibits” the phenomena so that students may better understand what is being presented in words. The “demonstration” always presents the phenomena directly to the senses. The data from a “research” experiment, on the other hand, are presented in a written, graphical, or digitized form,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Ocular Harpsichord of Louis–Bertrand Castel; or, The Instrument That Wasn’t
    (pp. 72-85)

    In his account of the Great Cat Massacre Robert Darnton brings to history a lesson learned from anthropology, that one can enter an unfamiliar culture most easily by studying those aspects that are most incomprehensible. From a bizarre massacre of cats by printer’s apprentices in Paris during the 1730s Darnton explains the apprentices’ life, their ceremonies, their behavior, their hatred for their master, and the peculiar significance of cats in their rituals. The apprentices found the torture of cats hilariously funny, while we, reading about it in the twentieth century, “don’t get the joke.” Precisely the fact that we don’t...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Aeolian Harp and the Romantic Quest of Nature
    (pp. 86-112)

    In hisEdge of ObjectivityCharles Gillispie ends his discussion of romanticism with the statement that although “deep interests have been bound up with the romantic view of nature, deep interests and deep feelings … it is the wrong view for science.”¹ Any categorical statement like this one is bound to raise our historiographical hackles. We immediately want to know for whose “science” the romantic view is the wrong one, and why it is not permissible to approach nature from any methodological direction. We quickly point out the importance of theNaturphilosophen—Julius Robert von Mayer, Hans Christian Oersted, Lorenz...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Science since Babel: Graphs, Automatic Recording Devices, and the Universal Language of Instruments
    (pp. 113-147)

    Instruments have a rhetorical purpose. They teach, explain, persuade, and even command. Instruments have authority, they speak for nature, buthowthey speak and in what language is far from obvious.

    Instruments are like languages because they mediate between the observer and what is being observed—between the subjective mind and the objective natural world. Both languages and instruments give us signs for things. In the case of language the signs are words; in the case of instruments the signs are images, sounds, numbers, graphical traces, or other representations.

    In the seventeenth century the same debate arose concerning instruments that...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Giant Eyes of Science: The Stereoscope and Photographic Depiction in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 148-177)

    In 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone published his “Contributions to the Physiology of Vision.”¹ This paper announced his explanation of the significance of the interocular discrepancy for binocular space perception. Prior to Wheatstone’s researches, a number of individuals had observed an essential component of Wheatstone’s innovation: in binocular vision, the two eyes receive slightly different images.² Kepler and Descartes had surmised that the muscular sensations arising from the convergence of the eyes in binocular vision might play a role in measuring the distances of objects.³ But Wheatstone was the first to propose that the sensorium fathoms visual space by combining the...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Vox Mechanica: The History of Speaking Machines
    (pp. 178-220)

    The desire to imitate the human voice is as ancient as history and as pervasive as human culture. Because the goal has appeared in a variety of investigative contexts, we do not expect to find a single line of development stretching from the speaking heads of antiquity to modern computer synthesizers. Instead we find different groups concerned with different aspects of the problem: natural magicians using speaking tubes or ventriloquism to produce theappearanceof artificial speech; students of physiology trying to understand themechanismof speech; acousticians trying toanalyze and reproducevowel sounds; inventors creating apparatus torecord...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 221-232)

    In the previous chapters we have explored instruments on the margins of science. We have seen how they move easily from the realm of science to the realms of literature, philosophy, the fine arts, and entertainment. We find no simple transition from natural magic to natural philosophy, no easy division between science and technology, no single method that can be called “scientific demonstration” except insofar as we choose to define it as such. What we do find are changes in the ways that instruments are regarded, but even here the old ways persist through the changes. The search for “wonder”...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 233-286)
    (pp. 287-324)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 325-337)