Archive for August, 2012

August 22, 2012

« With figures and pictographs chipped into stone, the Dighton Writing Rock sits near the Taunton River in southeastern Massachusetts. From 1680 onwards, observers sketched the inscriptions, with divergent results. Same rock, different views […] Some of these uncertain drawings, when sent off to European scholars, were then converted into far-reaching historical discoveries of startling visits to the New World. One researcher “triumphantly established” the marks as Scythian; a distinguished Orientalist detected the word melek (king) on the rock; others thought they saw Phoenician or Runic script. A Scandinavian antiquary translated the drawings into an account of a pre-Columbian sojourn to America by a party of Thorfinn the Hopeful. Since the writing resembles that on the Indian God Rock hundreds of miles southwest, such logic places the Vikings far inland, deep into what is now West Virginia and Ohio. All this scholarship of wishful thinking denies priority to the original Native-American residents; local experts conclude that the marks are Algonquin. »
~ “Envisioning information”, Tufte.

August 22, 2012

One of Galileo’s opponents, « who admitted the surface of the moon looked rugged, maintained that it was actually quite smooth and spherical as Aristotle had said, reconciling the two ideas by saying that the moon was covered with a smooth transparent material through which mountains and craters inside it could be discerned. Galileo, sarcastically applauding the ingenuity of this contribution, offered to accept it gladly — provided that his opponent would do him the equal courtesy of allowing him then to assert that the moon was even more rugged than he had thought before, its surface being covered with mountains and craters of this invisible substance ten times as high as any he had seen. »
~ “Discoveries and opinions of Galileo”, Stillman Drake.

August 17, 2012

« As long as a branch of science offers an abundance of problems, so long is it alive; a lack of problems foreshadows extinction or the cessation of independent development. […] It is by the solution of problems that the investigator tests the temper of his steel; he finds new methods and new outlooks, and gains a wider and freer horizon. »
~ Hilbert, 1900.