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Sunday 26 January 2014

Thought-forms and Wormholes, 17th century style

I recently came across a couple of interesting old book illustrations. The first (above) appears to show four men mentally projecting the image of a dragon, a bit like a Tibetan tulpa or thought-form. Or maybe it’s a real dragon, and they’re fighting it off with Cyclops-like eye-beams.

Actually the picture comes from an optics textbook by Johann Zahn called Telescopium, which was published in 1685. The dragon appears in Figure XXIII near the end of the book. The text is in Latin, but as far as I can make out it’s an illustration of the light rays running from an extended object AB to observers C, D, E and F. Why object AB happens to be a flying dragon, I’ve no idea.

The second picture (below) appears to show some kind of huge vortex or wormhole opening up in the sky. That’s the kind of thing I always wish would happen, but it never does (except in movies). Actually the picture is an illustration from a book called Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, by Bernard de Fontenelle. It was first published in French in 1686, the year after Zahn’s book, although this picture may be from a later edition (the clothes look 18th century to me).

The picture is meant to be a symbolic depiction of a man telling a woman all about the structure of the Solar System. If you look carefully, you can see that the circles depict the six planets that were known at that time, as well as the Earth’s moon and some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. According to the Wikipedia article on Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, it was one of the first ever popular science books (i.e. not written in Latin). It explains the heliocentric theory of the Solar System, which was still quite a novelty at the time, and “muses on the possibility of extraterrestrial life”.

A few months ago I started a Tumblr picture blog called Amazing Visions, which I post to when I think about it (mostly reblogs of other people’s posts, to be honest). When I’ve published this post I’m going to post the two pictures to Tumblr as well. I haven’t got many followers, so do check it out if you’re into Tumblr.


Peni R. Griffin said...

Well, why not a dragon? It's big enough to illustrate the point, and can be handily placed in the sky. And it got your attention, didn't it?

Off to follow your tumbler. Don't feel obliged to follow back; in the absence of any digital imaging device other than my game camera, mine is mostly a simblr with occasional literary hiccups.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Peni. Actually I already follow your Tumblr account - you've mentioned it on your blog a few times and I managed to find it via Google. All that Sims stuff is over my head, but it looks interesting!

Peni R. Griffin said...

Well, it's all story to me. (Most things are.) But since I'm posting pictures of gameplay and rotating between and through neighborhoods in my play, it must be difficult for a non-player to make sense of. (Players are used to it.) It's a great game for someone like me, though, comparable to tabletop RPGs, LARPs, and dollhouses in that it's as much a creative medium as a game.

I thought the name and logo of your tumbler looked familiar. You must not have had much up when I checked the link when you first followed me. I don't want to follow tumblers willy-nilly and generally don't follow back unless I see a critical mass of The Sort of Thing I Like to See on My Dash at the time I check it out. (Because, Stalker; and a certain number of follows are inevitably from spambots that reblog randomly.) But it looks nice now.