Hankins, Thomas L. & Silverman, Robert J. - Instruments and the Imagination

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 17 Jan 2007

General Thoughts

"Instruments and the Imagination" traces scientific instrumentation and its origins in natural magic (Kircher et al) and its transition into experimental philosophy.

This text makes a good case how technologies/instruments have a "life of their own": devices that were once used in natural magic transitioned into experimental philosophy. This has relevance to the topic of technological determinism, I think.


[xiii] {research, library, funding} [Good notes in acknowledgements about potential funding sources and research libraries and institutions.]

[3-4] {philosophy, philosophical instruments, instrument, device, telescope, microscope, 17th century, 1600s, magic, natural magic, black magic, wonder, effect, effect effect, the effect effect} Such devices ad the telescope and the microscope had existed before the seventeenth century, but not as philosophical instruments. They were instead part of what was called "natural magic." The purpose of the instruments of natural magic was to produce wonderous effects. Natural magic differed from black magic in that the effects were natural rather than supernatural even though they may have appeared to be miraculous.

[4] {philosphy, philosophical instruments, natural magic, instruments, scientific revolution, technological determinism} Most of the "philosophical" instruments, which were the foundation of the experimental philosophy as it developed during the Scientific Revolution, had existed in an earlier verion in natural magic.

[5] {natural magic, experimental philosophy, wonder, fact, scientific revolution, experimental method, continuity, break} If we approach the Scientific Revolution through a study of experimental method, we recognize an important divergence between the aims of natural magic and those of experimental philosophy -- the goal of natural magic was to emulate the wonders of nature and glorify their "wondrousness"; the boal of the experimental philosophy was to establish "matters of fact." If, on the other hand, we study instruments, we see a continuity.

[5] {instruments, technological determinism, technology, apparatus, live media, life, experimental philosophy, natural magic, tradition, scientific instrument, instrument, natural science, science} Instruments have a life of their own. They do not merely follow theory; often they determine theory, because instruments determine what is possible, and what is possible determines to a large extent what can be thought.[8] In this book we consider a number of instruments that came from the natural magic tradition but also became subjects of debate by experimental philosophers. Because they are part of both traditions, they raise questions about what counts as a scientific instrument, what is the proper method for studying nature, and ultimately, what is natural science. [IMPORTANT QUOTE in regards to technology and instruments having the power to operate somewhat independently of social contexts.]

[5] {instruments, technological determinism, technology, apparatus, live media, life, experimental philosophy, natural magic, tradition, scientific instrument, instrument, natural science, science, popular culture, art} Rather than trace out a sharp boundary between natural science and other human activity, we show how these instruments moved easily from natural philosophy to art and to popular culture...

[8] {synesthesia, synesthaesia, metadata, acoustic, graphic, science} Likewise the substitution of one sense for another, or synesthesia, was an important issue raised by the instruments that we discuss. In some cases, such as graphical recording in acoustics, the only way to analyze sound "scientifically" rather than musically was to represent it visually by an instrument that made a graphic trace (chatper 6). [Add synesthesia/synethaesia to metadata.]

[8] {natural magic, words, word, things, thing, allegory, analogy, emblem} In natural magic, words and things were gound closely together.

[9] {phonautograph, graph, experimental graphs, 1700s, 1750-1800, 1820, martinville, language, sound, audio, graphic, recording, acoustics, marey} Early graphs were often called languages. Édouard-Léon Scott de Matinville designed his phonautograph to assist sound to "write itself in the air."

[10] {instruments, machinery, secret, nature, wonder, technological determinism} What do instruments tell us? Do their inscriptions, like magician's words, reveal nature's secrets, or do they, like Locke's words, merely state conventions that we have designed into the machinery (chapter 6)?

[10] {objects, artifacts, history, historiography, history of science, science, mathematics, instrument, instruments, library, words, language, tyranny of words, bacon, scott, marey} Historians of science, who have for the most part been trained either iwth a strong mathematical orientation, or, like the majority of historians, with a decided literary bent, do their research in libraries filled with words rather than in laboratories filled with instruments. Thus they have not, until recently, really confronted Bacon's problem of the confusion between words and things.[19] Scott and Marey wanted to create instruments that would reduce phenomena to language automatically. To some extent they achieved their goal, but the problem of language still haunts us and we historians continue to live with the tyranny of words that Bacon warned against.

[11] {kircher, schott, speaking head, ear trumpet, magic mirror, magic lantern}

[11] {media, mediator, measurement, image production, model, phenomena, alter, nature} In the history of science, instruments have played manifold mediatory roles. In addition to improving the existing senses, instruments have been called upon to measure things, produce images, model phenomena, and alter the state of nature. [Some of these concepts could be used for metadata, perhaps.]

[11-12] {media, demo, demonstration, demonstrator, object, observer, display, 17th century, the effect effect, effect, newton, prism, phenomena, natural magic, experimental philosophy} As mediators between objects and observers, instruments often performed the function of display. They "showed" something, or "demonstrated" something to the observer or observers. This "showing" could be on several different levels. On the first level, the instrument itself could be an object of display... The instruments themselves were objects that conferred status and acknowledged rank. On a second level instruments displayed phenomena. They created effects that did not occur naturally. This was the major purpose of the instruments of natural magic. The instruments "showed" phenomena the causes of which were hidden. In the experimental philosophy instruments established "matters of fact." These were events or deeds performed by or with instruments and testified to by men. As in natural magic, instruments in experimental philosophy displayed unusual events the truths of which were validated by witnesses. On a third leve, instruments confirmed or "demonstrated" theory. In this case the "showing" was neither of the instrument itself nor of the phenomenon that it produced, but of the cause or explanation behind the phenomenon. Thus Newton's prisms "demonstrated" his theory of colors.

[12] {shift, paradigm, 1750, 1800, 1750-1800, demonstration, display, theory, change} [There was a shift between 1750 to 1800 from demonstration-as-display to demonstration-as-confirmation-of-theory.]

[12] {margin, margins, tangent, history, historiography, natural magic, object, thing} These devices have been relegated to the cellars and attics of historiography. Yet the study of these apparently tangential objects can disclose connections that would otherwise be invisible -- such as the links between the development of modern science and the enduring tradition of natural magic, or between the comparative roles of instruments and language. [Compare to Foucauldian archaeology, genealogy.]

[13] {margin, margins, marginality, historiography, history, object, thing, boundary, science} However, "marginality" per se should not be grounds for dismissing an item from teh field of historical inquiry. Margins, of course, indicate the penumbrae of boundaries -- in this case the boundaries of scientific legitimacy. But margins are also surfaces of contact and connection between and among different themes and entities. [NOTE: This is a nicely worded quote concerning marginal physical objects within the context of historiography.]

[17] {fish clock, linus, francis linus, photophobia, 1634, biohybrid, animal, technology, biology} [Fish clock description with illustration. It is hard not to compare this to the general functioning of the Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot.]

[19] {heliotrope, descartes, tricks, jesuit, jesuits}

[21] {magnetic table, magnetic, magnet, della porta, war, battle, combat, model, furniture} One of Della Porta's favorite magnetic tricks had been to move lodestones beneath a table that had been covered with fragments of another crushed lodestone. The fragments would stand up and march around with no visible cause. Della Porta used his magnetic table to imitate armies maneuvering on the field and locked in combat.[23]

[22] {heliotropism, magnetism}

[37] {demonstration, proof, showing, phenomena, change, transition} How "demonstration" moved from rigorous proof to a "showing" of the phenomena is a problem of considerable importance...

[43] {magic lantern, lecture, science, 1659, magic, slide projector, overhead projector, movie projector, projection} The magic lantern was an inventum that, in the eighteenth century, became a staple in popular scientific lectures. Its role has changed from its first appearance around 1659 as an instrument of magic to its present manifestation as the slide projector, the overhead projector, and (with a significant amount of added technology) the movie projector and the cathode-ray tube or television screen. [Seems odd to jump to non-projective TV here. Marvin would argue that TV's forefather was light bulb, I think.]

[44] {magic lantern, laterna magica, invent, origin, huygens, kircher, 1659, 1671} [Kircher most likely didn't invent the magic lantern: it was likely Christiaan Huygens.]

[47] {drebbel, 1608, magic lantern, projection, apparatus}

[54-55] {Musschenbroek, magic lantern, moving slides, mechanical slides, projection, animation}

[54] {entertainment, science}

[54] {solar microscope, 1739, Lieberkuhn, Nathaniel Lieberkuhn, Berlin, Germany}

[57] {solar microscope, microscope, John Cuff, Cuff} [Diagram of solar microscope with mirror, john cuff microscope]

[63] {Robertson, 1792, solar microscope, megascope, magic lantern, mirror of archimedes, giant mirror, phantascope, phantasmagoria, glass harmonica, Franklin} [With illustration of Robertson's phantasmagoria.]

[64] {megascope, Charles, Jaques-Alexandre-Cesar Charles, Robertson, animation, projection} Robertson also employed Charles's megascope to project enlarged images of animated figures. His Apotheosis of Heloïse was almost certainly the projected image of a living person. [Jaques-Alexandre-César Charles]

[66] {limelight, magic lantern, lecture, lectures, large}

[66] {sciopticon}

[66] {hyalotypes, Langenheim, Philadelphia, USA, 1849, London, England, 1851} The first public show using photographic slides was staged by the Langenheim brothers in Philadelphia in 1849. Called "Hyalotypes," these slides quickly became known in Europe after they were shown at the Great Exhibtion in London in 1851.

[66] {superimpose, layer, dissolve, magic lantern, special effect}

[66] {pulse mirror, Marey, Marey's pulse mirror, magic lantern, demonstration, lecture, 19th century}

[66] {kymograph, Ludwig, Ludwig's kymograph, magic lantern, demonstration, lecture, 19th century}

[66] {phoneidoscope, Taylor, Taylor's phoneidoscope, magic lantern, demonstration, lecture, 19th century}

[69] {magic lantern, phenomenon, physical, small, demonstration, lecture, 19th century, John Tyndall} These lanterns projected not just pictures on glass slides, but actual physical phenomena, especially phenomena involving very small forces.

[69] {sciopticon, magic lantern, Marcy, 1872}

[69] {magic lantern, cinema, stage, stage magic, magic, motion, art} The magic of the lantern never disappeared, however. When it successfully incorporated motion and became the cinema, its first achievement was not to produce art, but to put stage magic out of business.

[70] {technological determinism, scientific revolution, instruments} New instruments and new methods were an essential part of the Scientific Revolution, but they did not always go hand in hand. Instruments could remain the same while methods changed and vice versa. Natural magic, experimental philosophy, and mathematics overlapped and were woven together in a complex, constantly changing structure.

[72] {technological determinism, instruments, philosophical instruments, philosophy, experimental philosophy, 17th century, natural magic} "Philosophical" instruments like the telescope, microscope, and air pump were new in the seventeenth century and still carried the flavor of natural magic. As a result they were suspect and their value had to be demonstrated. The process of determining what was acceptable practice in natural philosophy also required a decision about what were acceptable instruments. And since the new instruments were radically different from the old ones and so important for the new experimental philosophy, the choice of instruments helped to define the philosophy.

[72-73] {margin, margins, historiography, history, win, lose, winners, losers, dead media, instrument, instruments} The telescope, microscope, and barometer were big winners. The speaking tubes, magic glasses, and hydraulic fountains were losers. Of most interest to us as historians are those instruments that were, so to speak, "on the margin" -- those instruments that caused confusion as to whether they were truly philosophical.

[73] {cat piano, kircher, musurgia universalis, 1650, Italy, cat, animal, music, instrument, audio, sound, biohybrid} [With illustration of the cat piano.]

[74] {synethaesia, color, sound, colors, sounds}

[77] {thought experiment, imaginary media, Castel, harpsicord, ocular harpsicord}

[85] {color organ, Alexander Wallace Rimington, Rimington, 1895, June 6, London, England, performance, symphony, 1911} On June 6, 1895, Alexander Wallace Rimington performed on his great color organ for the first time at St. James Hall in London, and Alexander Scriabin's symphony Prometheus (1911), which has a part written especially for a color organ, continues to be performed.

[85] {clavilux, ocular harpsicord, harpsicord, USA, Europe, 1920s, Thomas Wilfred, Wilfred} Thomas Wilfred toured the United States and Europe in the 1920s with his clavilux, a modern ocular harpsicord.

[85] {ocular harpsicord, Castel, imaginary media, harpsicord, science, cat piano, 18th century} The ocular harpsicord was oen of those marginal instruments that served science for a while and then disappeared, only to pop up again occasionally in subsequent history. One cannot really say that the analogy upon which it was based was proven false, just that it did not lead anywhere in the form that Castel proposed, nor did it point in the direction that natural science subsequently took. From the way that Castel looked at the world, it made perfect sense. From the way that we look at the world, it belongs in the same category as the cat piano. In the eighteenth century it was not obvious where it belonged.

[109] {telegraphic harp, Thoreau, telegraph, harp}

[112] {aeolian harp, harp, nature, science} The Aeolian harp was made by human hands, but played by nature's fingers. It was emblematic of that unity of man in nature which the romantics so earnestly sought. Because it expressed the sublimity of nature directly, it was the romantics' scientific instrument.

[136] {phonautograph, Scott, Schneebeli} [Two phonautograph illustrations, a device for graphing waveforms.]

[138] {sphygmograph, Marey} [Illustration of Marey's sphygmograph, a wrist-worn device for graphing/recording a person's pulse.]

[140-144] {graph, semiotics, graphs and semiotics, Marey, Peirce}

[146] {aesthetics, graph, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Adorno, 1934, The Form of the Phonograph Record, phonograph, Chladni, Ritter}

[148] {Wheatstone, stereograph, Wheatstone stereoscope, binocular, vision, 3D, 2D, stereo, stereoscope, 1838} ...Wheatstone's innovation: in binocular vision, the two eyes receive slightly different images. [Wheatstone's original paper on the stereoscope was "Contributions to the Physiology of Vision", published in 1838.]

[148] {Wheatstone, stereoscope, Wheatstone stereoscope, philosophical toys, philosophy, toy, toys, Victorian, kaleidoscope, zoetrope, entertainment, science} Yet, despite its crucial role in the laboratory, the stereoscope is perhaps more immediately recognized as the consummate Victorian amusement. The stereoscope belonged to the class of "philosophical toys" such as the kaleidoscope and zoetrope that provided entertainment but also illustrated scientific principles.

[149] {Wheatstone, stereoscope, Wheatstone stereoscope, diagram, reflecting stereoscope} [Diagram of Wheatstone's reflecting stereoscope, front and top views.]

[149] {stereoscope, popular, popularity, mass, home, domestic} "A stereoscope in every home".

[151] {natural theology, theology, 1802, William Paley, Paley, religion, organs, body, eye, God} In the nineteenth century, the tenets of "natural theology" defined the terms for arguments concerning the machinery of vision, photography, and stereophotography. This conception exalted the perfect design of the human sense organs as the basis for a truthful representation of nature. The best-known work in this tradition is William Paley's Natural Theology (first edition 1802), which regarded the eye as the ideal optical instrument, as well as the supreme piece of evidence that the universe and its inhabiants were deliberately designed by God.

[153] {stereograph, photography, stereoscope} The advent of stereoscopic double photographs, called "stereographs," dramatically extended the range of stereoscopic subjects.

[153] {Daguerre, camera, photography, 1839, Wheatstone, 1838, Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844, 1846} Daguerre's camera successfully froze reality on its chemically sensitized plates in 1839 -- the year after Wheatstone introduced the stereoscope. Another photographic pioneer, William Henry Fox Talbot, invented the calotype technique in 1840 and demonstrated the process in his book The Pencil of Nature (1844-1846).

[153] {Brewster, lenticular stereoscope, stereoscope, 1849, 1850, 1851, Queen Victoria} But in 1849, the Scottish natural philosopher and steadfast opponent of the wave theory of light Sir David Brewster came up with a convenient and inexpensive lenticular stereoscope (see fig. 7.3)... Brewster's lenticular stereoscope created a sensation at that celebration of Victorian progress, London's Great Exhibition of 1851. Queen Victoria herself praised Brewster's work, and the craze ensued.

[154] {Brewster, lenticular stereoscope, stereoscope, diagram} [Diagram of Brewster's lenticular stereoscope.]

[154] {new media, shock, new, stereoscope} The first glimpse through the stereoscope lenses startled many viewers.

[155] {Holmes, handheld stereoscope, stereoscope, American stereoscope, diagram, 1869} [Diagram of Holmes' handheld stereoscope, also known as the "American Stereoscope".]

[155] {Holmes, handheld stereoscope, stereoscope, American stereoscope, USA, England} The "Holmes Stereoscope" became the overwhelmingly predominant type used in America -- indeed, in England it was known as the "American Stereoscope".

[157] {Brewster, binocular camera, diagram}

[162] {Huhtamo, Elephans Photographicus, biohybrid, biomorph, biotech, cyborg, diagram} [Huhtamo used this "Elephans Photographicus" image in his lecture at UCI in 2006 in reference to "hybrid" topoi.]

[170] {Hemholtz's telestereoscope, Hemholtz, telestereoscope, vision, stereo, diagram} Hemholtz's "telestereoscope" employed a system of mirrors to present images to the eyes from two widely separated points. [Includes diagram. NOTE: This device would be relatively straightforward to build.]

[170] {stereograph, stereoscope, moon, sun, space, astronomy, science, 1858, De la Rue, Warren De la Rue, natural, unnatural, vision, human, Herschel, giant, giant eyes of science, proper, improper} Stereographs of the moon, and of the sun as well, allowed astronomers to discern previously unrecognized details of these bodies' surfaces. The first successul stereograph of the moon was taken in 1858 by Warren De la Rue, at the Cranford Observatory. De la Rue anticipated that some would disapprove of his "unnatural" productions, because they transcended the capabilities of human vision. Defending his work, however, De la Rue insisted that, "to use Sir John Herschel's words, the view is such as would be seen by a giant with eyes thousands of miles apart: after all, the stereoscope affords such a view as we should get if we possessed a perfect model of the moon and placed it at a suitable distance from the eyes, and we may be well satisfied to possess such a means of extending our knowledge respecting the moon, by thus availing ourselves of the giant eyes of science." [Includes diagram of lunar stereograph.]

[172] {panorama, diorama, 1850, before 1850, spectacle, public} Publicly staged spectacles, such as the immense panorama and the diorama, were tremendously popular before 1850.

[172] {kaleidoscope, Brewster, 1817, zoetrope, thaumatrope, philosophical toys, motion} Brewster had invented the kaleidoscope, named for its capacity to exhibit beautiful forms, which registered sales in the millions after its introduction in 1817. Other "philosophical toys" of this era created illusions with motion, like the zoetrope or thaumatrope.

[172-173] {Claude Lorraine mirror, Claude Glass, Miroir de Claude, Black Mirror, 1856} The "Claude Lorraine Mirror" was another contemporary contrivance that supposedly enhanced the visible world.[105] ...Benjamin Pike Jr.'s Illustrated Catalogue of Scientific and Medical Instruments (1856) described its Claude Lorraine mirror: "...Its construction is the same with the ordinary looking-glass, except that jet is used in place of quicksilver, and it is intended to reflect only the inanimate world. The Claude Lorraine mirror derives its value from the principle that all objects are beautiful in miniature, which renders their defects less apparent; for the unsightly strikes the eye with immediate pain, which that which is perfect grows with us more gradually. With this mirror, you frame for yourself, as it were, little landscapes at every turn, in which the sky is softer, the grass richer, and the foliage more graceful, than anything you can see without it."[106]

[173] {Claude Lorraine Stereoscope, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Holmes, stereoscope, Claude Lorraine mirror, Claude Glass} Oliver Wendell Holmes invented what he called a "Claude Lorraine Stereoscope," This style featured a "gilded, slanting diaphragm with two oval openings, so that the effect was that of seeing the stereograph through a round window with a golden light on it reflected from the the slanting surface of the diaphragm."[107]

[173] {Brewster, spirit photography, photograh, double exposure}

[173] {pseudoscope, Wheatstone, stereo, inverted, the effect effect} A contrivance that created extreme alterations of the visible world was Wheatstone's "pseudoscope," which inverted binocular relief by means of a pair of prisms.

[177] {instrument, technological determinism, nature, social, aesthetic, science, scientific, knowledge} Techniques for the representation and study of nature are always embedded in a social, aesthetic, and scientific matrix. Such tools never provide a neutral mediation between observers and the world. Rather, an instrument embodies an approach to nature, as well as a means for constructing knowledge.

[177] {stereoscope, human, distortion, nature, perception, instrument} It [the stereoscope] delineated both the human standard of accurate representation and the potential of instruments to improve or distort the perception of nature.

[178-220] {speaking machines, voice, vox mechanica, sound, audio, automata, automaton, human, Kircher, von Kemplen, Kemplen, Vaucanson}

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