Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

20 NOVEMBER, 2012

Geometrical Psychology: Benjamin Betts’s 19th-Century Mathematical Illustrations of Consciousness

By:

“Imagination receives the stream of Consciousness, and holds apart and compares the different experiences.”

“What makes a mathematician is not technical skill or encyclopedic knowledge,” Paul Lockhard recently wrote, “but insatiable curiosity and a desire for simple beauty.” But what if this mathematical curiosity and desire for beauty were applied to questions that have perplexed scientists and philosophers for millennia — questions about consciousness, what it is, how it works, and how it shapes our lives? That’s precisely what New Zealander Benjamin Betts set out to do in the 19th century with his unusual diagrams of consciousness, collected in the 1887 tome Geometrical Psychology, or, The Science of Representation (public domain), a predecessor to Julian Hibbard’s geometric diagrams of love.

Editor Louisa S. Cook, who assembled Betts’s diagrams, writes in the introduction:

Mr. Betts has spent more than twenty years in studying the evolution of Man. He contemplates Man, not from the physical, but from the metaphysical point of view ; thus the evolution of Man is for him the evolution of human consciousness. He attempts to represent the successive stages of this evolution by means of symbolical mathematical forms. These forms represent the course of development of human consciousness from the animal basis, the pure sense-consciousness, to the spiritual or divine consciousness; both which extremes are not man — the one underlying, the other transcending the limits of human evolution.

Mr. Betts felt that consciousness is the only fact that we can study directly, since all other objects of knowledge must be perceived through consciousness.

Mathematical form, he considers, is the first reflection and most pure image of our subjective activity. Then follows number, having a close relation to linear conception. Hence mathematical form with number supplies the fittest symbols for what Mr. Betts calls “The Science of Representation,” the orderly representation by a system of symbolisation of the spiritual evolution of life, plane after place. “Number,” Philo said, “is the mediator between the corporeal and the incorporeal.”

Cook notes the form of Betts’s forms:

The symbolic forms which Mr. Betts has evolved through his system of Representation resemble, when developed in two dimensions, conventionalised but very scientifically and beautifully conventionalised leaf-outlines. When in more than two dimensions they approximate to the forms of flowers and crystals.

These mathematical curves might serve as a truer and more scientific basis of classification for Botany than de Candolle’s system or any other yet employed, many so-called amorphous developments of the Flora being readily reducible to law according to this method. For instance, the simple corollas, the horn-shaped corollas, and the bi-axial corollas would supply three main classes of flower forms, each of which might be divided into various distinct sub-classes.

The fact that he has accidentally portrayed plant-forms when he was studying human evolution is an assurance to Mr. Betts of the fitness of the symbols he has developed, as it affords presumptive evidence that the laws he is studying intuitively admit of universal application.

On Betts’s model of the imagination:

After the repeated recurrence of any sensation, though slightly varying in form, the individual develops the consciousness of its identity, and he begins to form an image or idea, both of the subjective sensation and of the accompanying objective perception, which he can retain in his mind though the sense affection of which it is the counterpart is transitory. Mr. Betts calls this power of ideation Imagination, using it in the literal sense of the word. As a prism receives a beam of light and deflects the rays, holding them apart so that the colours of the spectrum are separated and distinguished, so Imagination receives the stream of Consciousness, and
holds apart and compares the different experiences.

Comparison is represented in the diagrams by the angle-; Consciousness from one-dimensional becomes two-dimensional, the line is expanded to a surface.

[…]

And since every idea is dual — e.g., the positive idea of light brings with it the negative complementary idea of darkness — of a colour, its complementary colour — therefore the positive representative line on the right hand of the diagram is duplicated by a counterpart line on the left. The sensation of the present moment is not yet reflected as an idea, nor distinguished by comparison. In the diagram it is the apex of the form. When more than two senses occupy Consciousness the lines representing them are arranged radially round the centre. Although the distinction must then be represented by a smaller angle, it does not follow that it is less in amount, as the form itself of Consciousness has become enlarged. At the same time it is quite possible that when the number of modes of manifestation is very limited the sensations are more vivid, and consequently the distinctions more marked, than when more modes of consciousness are differentiated.

Whether abstracting something as complex as consciousness in such concrete physical forms is a reasonable proposition remains a question for the metaphysicians — but the forms themselves are, unequivocally, pure visual mesmerism.

Betts’s diagrams are now in the public domain and the book is available for free in multiple digital formats from Open Library.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

14 NOVEMBER, 2012

John Keats’s Porridge: The Favorite Recipes of Beloved Poets

By:

What simple dishes reveal about the complexities of poetry as a creative act of constant transformation.

The relationship between food and literature seems to be an enduring one, from literary parodies of recipes to meals from famous fiction. In late April of 1973, poet and self-taught chef Victoria McCabe decided to formalize the relationship and mailed form letter requests to 250 of the era’s leading poets, asking them to share their favorite recipes. Some 150 replied, 117 of whom made it into John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets (public library) — a tiny yet enormously delightful little cookbook spanning everything from Edward Abbey’s Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge to Claire McAllister’s Baked Stuffed Sweet Oranges. Only about half a dozen of the recipes were written in verse, at least half “were chosen for their ability to keep a poor poet full for a long time without putting too large a dent in the pocketbook,” and all were tested by McCabe, her husband, and their friends.

Allen Ginsberg offers his uncompromising borsch recipe:

Boil 2 big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, an one cup of sugar as for lemonade. When cooked, add enough lemon to balance the sugar, as for lemonade (4 or 5 lemons or more).

Icy chill; serve with hot boiled potatoes on side and a dollop of sour cream in the middle of red cold beet soup. On side also: spring salad (tomatoes, onions, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers).

Joyce Carol Oates cooks up some disciplined Easter Anise Bread:

1 dozen eggs
1 tablespoon sugar for every egg (¾ cup)
2 cakes yeast
½ cup oil
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 pinch salt
9 cups flour
Warm milk, enough to dissolve yeast

Beat eggs; add juices, yeast, and milk an beat slightly. Mix flour, sugar, salt, and anise. Now add to liquid mixture and mix until well blended. Let rise in bowl until nearly double in size. Punch down. Let rise again. Shape into four loaves. Place in greased pans. Let rise and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Muriel Rukeyser makes an irreverent Omelette Philleo:

On the side of variousness in life, this is my omelette. It is made with all the combining of egg yolks and milk (or, for weight watchers, water) beaten, and egg whites and salt, beaten; the folding, slashing, and then the variation: fill with slices of cranberry sauce for a tart and various omelette. It is named for Philleo Nash, friend, former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Cranberry Prince.

I do not mention my pickled watermelon rind with scotch. Nor others.

Ultimately, what John Keats’s Porridge offers, besides the promise of some filling dishes, is an apt metaphor for poetry itself — even creativity at large — as an endless cycle of borrowing, remix, and transformation. As William Cole eloquently puts it in the introduction,

It’s interesting to note that nearly ninety per cent of all the recipes submitted are either the poet’s original recipe or his variation on a standard recipe. Few poets, it would seem, are willing to claim as favorite any old run of the mill standard recipe. This is not surprising when we consider the nature of the Beast: the poet as creator, inventor, who makes out of a few necessary ingredients a magic potion.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

14 NOVEMBER, 2012

An Illustrated Vintage Bicycle Safety Manual circa 1969

By:

Keep your head up, your speed down, and your hands on those handlebars — or else!

On the heels of yesterday’s vintage infographics comes this charmingly old-timey bicycle safety manual circa 1969, which admonishes cyclists against common perils, street hazards, and show-off behaviors. Though significantly more evolved — not to mention better-illustrated — than that Victorian list of don’ts for women on bicycles, this guide still bespeaks the era’s tacit gender biases and cultural norms.

Got it? Now, put your bicycle safety acumen to the hypothetical test:

Then, dive deeper into the cultural history of the humble bicycle with Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way).

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.