Occult Chemistry

In 6th century BCE the concept that matter is composed of discrete and not infinitely reducible units developed in India. Around 460 B.C. the Greek Democritus named these fundamental and irreducible bits of matter átomos, meaning “uncuttable.” Notions of this kind were at this point in history, more than anything, matters of pure Philosophy. As such, when the big daddy Aristotle weighed in and rejected the idea as worthless, “the atom” was pretty much stopped in its tracks. It would be a couple thousand years before Science picked up where Philosophy had left off. But before Science made its first excited indirect observations of electrons and protons and managed to put forward a widely acceptable model for the structure of the atom, another group stepped forward to ply their trade in the service of atomic knowledge. They were theosophists, known collectively as the Occult Chemists, and their goal was nothing less than “direct observation of atoms through clairvoyance.”

08.04. filed under: books. history. people. science. theory. wtf. 4

The Spectre of Brocken

Soiling Lederhosen Since There Were Lederhosen To Soil

Quote: “On stepping out to the terrace, I was very agreeably surprised to see my shadow some 200 feet high, s thrown on the mist by a strong lamp, rise up to the zenith! It was a very curious spectacle indeed. every movement of the hand or head was faithfully reproduced by the phantasm. But only the head and shoulders of the figure were neatly delineated. The remainder of the body was exceedingly indistinct. Giant rays of colour radiated from the head in all directions.” –E.M. Antoniadai, 1896.

What was for the astronomer Antoniadai “very agreeable” was for generation upon generation before him, understandably, a shock, an anxious source of folkloric speculation, and a bit of a horror.

07.19. filed under: belief. history. science. 3

Romancing the Lachryphage

One of the supreme pleasures of that giddy delirium called human consciousness is an unsuppressable proclivity for filtering each extant instant and event, all objects, and every possible thing through the highly sensitive prism of emotion. The result is, put simply, poetry. We look at things around us, purposeful things, functional things, simple, straight forward things, and create out of them, through pattern recognition, anthropomorphism, and analogy a baroque emotional landscape positively rife with the touching, the gut-wrenching, and the glorious. Though the universe does not know it or care, we look around and we shudder at the significance of it all.

What am I rambling on about? Well, how about, for example, lachryphagy?

07.07. filed under: humanity. observations. science. 8

Objectified Circuitry

There is something terrifically satisfying about seeing, with your own eyes, the humble genesis of world-changing creations. The image above is a case in point. What we see pictured here, as I’m sure many of you already know, is the world’s first integrated circuit, created by Jack S. Kilby in the summer of 1958. That this creation, with its bubbled wax and carefully twined wire, is the work of human hands is unmistakable. The seemingly messy, cobbled-together, simplicity of it is heartening somehow when one compares it to the microchips of present day, which a human hand is not meant to touch and could only hope to damage with its meaty, imprecise groping. This is a technology which though reality-shaping has, in large part, been complexified right out of direct human contact.

06.07. filed under: bits&bytes. design. history. science. 4

Long Duration Love Affair

That cylindrical object you see pictured above is a roughly school-bus sized structure which was deployed into space in 1984. It orbited the Earth for five and a half years with nothing expected of it other than to float there, getting battered about by whatever the great black yonder saw fit to throw at it. You see, every inch of its outside surface was covered with Science. 57 separate experiments, mounted in 86 trays, involving the participation of “more than 200 principal investigators from 33 private companies, 21 universities, seven NASA centers, nine Department of Defense laboratories and eight foreign countries.” Its purpose was to study the effects of space on a multitude of materials. Its name is the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) and I am deeply in love with it.

01.20. filed under: design. science. space. 13


Or: praise of futures past

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the bargain bin at Strand titled Mechanismo. When the guy ringing me up at the checkout counter came upon it in my stack, he stopped, flipped through it quickly and somewhat sheepishly, and alerted a buddy standing a few registers down. They admired it together. I remember thinking, “Well, guess that one is Nonist worthy.” The book, published in 1978, is essentially a collection of essays by the venerable Harry Harrison on all things science-fictional. What makes the book standout, however, is the bounty of 70’s era sci-fi illustrations contained within, and it’s some of these that I’d like to share with you.

01.12. filed under: art. books. science. space. 13

The Repugnant Mugs of Ugly Bugs

Bugs- weird, off-putting, unknowable, swarming and creeping and crawling masters of the Earth. Even when seen from across a poorly lit room, at only a few millimeters long, scurrying for cover, we, the thumb-flexing warhead-builders, fear and revile them. Their “otherness” disturbs us I’ll venture to guess, because in nearly every encounter we reflexively let the boot-heels fall. So how, as a species, do we usually come to terms with things which we do not understand? Why, by looking at them more closely of course! Were we to make the effort and take the time to look at our insect neighbors more closely, face to face as it were, we’d see something in them that would bridge that gap of “otherness” and quell that deep-seated horror; we’d approach some new enlightened understanding which would, over time, in perhaps as few as two generations, effectively curb our instinct for instant murder, replacing it instead with feelings of fellowship for they who are, after all, not so very different from ourselves… right? Uh… think again.

Ten years worth of entries for the Oklahoma Microscopy Society’s Ugly Bug Contest, which are essentially micrograph mug-shots, ought to dispel any of those human/insect utopian notions. Check it out: 07, 06, 05, 04, 03, 02, 01, 00, 99, 98, 97. Yeesh. Where did I put my hobnailed boots ?

01.03. filed under: play. science. 5

Quote: “The Chinese philosopher Zhang Hêng invented the earliest known seismoscope in 132 A.D. The instrument was said to resemble a wine jar of diameter six feet. On the outside of the vessel there were eight dragon-heads, facing the eight principal directions of the compass. Below each of the dragon-heads was a toad, with its mouth opened toward the dragon. The mouth of each dragon held a ball. At the occurrence of an earthquake, one of the eight dragon-mouths would release a ball into the open mouth of the toad situated below. The direction of the shaking determined which of the dragons released its ball. The instrument is reported to have detected a four-hundred-mile distant earthquake which was not felt at the location of the seismoscope.” Neat.

11.30. filed under: history. people. science.

The humble Crotoniidae mite, cousin of the spider, opened its own private little Pandora’s box. Quote: “In a first in the annals of animal evolution, these mites have rediscovered the joy of sex, regaining the ability to mate after descending from ancestors that had lost the capacity for it.” Ah yes. And along with the joys of sex (of which there are unarguably many) the Crotoniidae mite can now also rediscover a world of hurt– feelings of inadequacy and regret, dysfunction, confusion, guilt, self-loathing, unquenched desire, disgust, and all manner of deep dark shadow-casting neurosis! Whoopee! In 20 years their progeny will be cursing that first horny mite couple who slapped the gift horse of evolution in the mouth and cast their whole family, yet again, out of the garden of serene Eden. If you’ve got some cash to burn in the stock market now would be the time to invest it in mite-sized sports cars.

11.26. filed under: science. 2

Some researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, have unveiled their findings as to a 46-centimetre eurypterid claw which was found near Prüm in Germany. After some fevered calculations and ratio checking the fossil is now believed to have belonged to the largest sea scorpion ever discovered. As Nature reports, “At 2.5 meters, this monster was bigger than a man.” Eeek.

To give you a real sense of scale I’ve included the image above, in which we see a eurypterid beside both Jean Paul Sartre’s grave, which he shares with Simone de Beauvoir, and a certain Duane Schneider from the hit 1970’s television show One Day at a Time. Hopefully that gives you some perspective.

(Story brought to my attention by the excellent Heraclitean Fire.)

11.22. filed under: science. wtf. 9

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