What with budget-cutting, FBI snoops, and book-stealing, libraries need all the help they can get. In the US, the patron saint of libraries is St. Jerome, translator of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; in Europe St. Lawrence (probably the first of that name) watches over them.
The patron saint of that branch of the Library of Babel known as the Internet is Saint Isidore (,,), best known for his Etymologiæ, an encyclopedia of ancient learning that became the most-used textbook of the early Middle Ages. The Hindu protector of libraries (and of learning generally) is the elephant-god Ganesh.
One thing libraries do well (when they’re not burned down, censored, or pillaged) is to preserve old books and manuscripts, and to make them available to the public. The Codex Sinaiticus, which is thought to be from the mid-4th century, is the oldest surviving complete copy of the New Testament in Greek. It also contains some apocryphal texts and a version of the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament;
the first part of this, from Genesis to I Chronicles, is missing. Only one other manuscript, the Codex Vaticanus, is as old; manuscripts older than these two contain only fragments of the New Testament. Four institutions now own parts of the Codex Sinaiticus:
- The British Library, UK
- Leipzig University Library, Germany
- St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai
- The National Library of Russia, St Petersburg
These four are cooperating to conserve the text and to digitize it for online distribution. Eight books so far have been processed, including Jeremiah, Psalms, and Mark.
Other early codices now online include the Codex Boreelianus at Utrecht (11th century) and the Codex Boernerianus at Dresden (9th century).
- “Qui sont les Saints-patrons des bibliothécaires?”, Bibliobsession 25 July 2008.
- “Who’s watching over our libraries”, Warrior Librarian Weekly s.d., citing unpublished work by Robert Lee Hadden.
- “Patron Saint of Internet Shines in New Data Center at Boston College”, Chronicle of higher education 2 Dec 2006.
- Chris Reidy, “Internet saint overlooks BC data center”, Boston.com 1 Dec 2006.
- Nate Anderson, “Patron saint of the Internet smiles on Boston College data center”, Ars technica 3 Dec 2006 .
- Stefanie, “So Many Books”, Just a Few Things 23 July 2008.
- Mark Thwaite, “Codex sinaiticus”, The Book Depository 24 July 2008.
- Dave Graham, “Oldest New Testament Bible heads into cyberspace”, Reuters 21 Jul 2008.
X-Rays for everybody
A hundred years ago, X-rays were supposed to be good for all sorts of things. Now we know better. In The X-ray Century, Perry Sprawls and Jack E. Petersen reproduce a series of reports on the discoveries of Roentgen and others in 1896 (start with the last page and work backwards). They include a summary of Edward Trevert’s Something about X-rays for Everybody, published in 1896.
Trevert’s full name was Edward Trevert Bubier. He wrote popular books on electricity and radio, including the Electro-therapeutic handbook, with full directions for home treatment of nearly all diseases that can be cured or relieved by the application of electricity (New York: Manhattan Electrical Supply Co., 1900) and The ABC of wireless telegraphy, a plain treatise on Hertzian wave signalling (Lynn, Mass.: Bubier Publishing, 1906).
Trevert’s work was reprinted by Medical Physics Publishing in 1988. The reprint is no longer available but second-hand copies can be found at Amazon and ABE.
The joy of indexing
In the TLS recently, there was a review of a book on reading habits in early modern England. The author, Heidi Brayman Hackel, examined the marginalia of 151 copies of Sir Philip Sydney’s Arcadia. The reviewer, Maureen Bell, observes that although it’s not surprising that the work was frequently annotated,
… the elaborate and various nature of the annotations, indexes and other personal apparatus supplied by male and female readers is impressive evidence of a wide variety of ways of reading and using the text.
Among other things, that “wide variety” suggests that the heavy breathing heard in some quarters about the brave new world of tagging, social bookmarking, &c. may be unwarranted. Reading has always been interactive and social. I use deli.cio.us, wists, and Library Thing; I think of them as making easier things I could do in other ways. Perhaps there is something new in the automation of word-of-mouth or in “tagsonomies”. But in my view the great idea here, already discovered by Amazon, is that you don’t need AI to classify things in ways that people will find useful—you let people do it themselves; string manipulation takes care of the rest.
There is, in any case, a quiet pleasure to be had in indexing. If it’s your own work there’s the pleasure of revisiting your thoughts (indexing comes at the end of the publication process, months after the manuscript is turned in), of finding threads, sometimes unexpected, whose fibres are words or names, of noticing connections that as you were writing you hadn’t thought of.
I’ve added an index to Philosophical Fortnights, following the example of Balles de match and Poezibao. At the moment it covers only entries before 1 Jan of this year. The link is in the left column.
Maureen Bell, “Her book not his”, TLS (18 Nov 2005) 32 (review of Heidi Brayman Hackel, Reading material in early modern England).
Lash the Librarian
I’m trying to avoid “looky dat!” entries. But The Image of Librarians in Pornography is irresistible. Forty-nine titles, from Bang the L. Hard to What a L.!, compiled by Dan Lester. And to think I worked all those years in the stacks and never did more than read about it. (Via Language Log.)
Mathematics: items of interest
A few items on mathematics.
- Mathematical structures
Peter Jipsen. A wiki-ish list of mathematical structures, mostly algebraic. Quite a menagerie. People who know about structures and have competence in LaTeX can contribute. Instances include tense algebras (pdf) (there don’t seem to be any relaxed algebras), modal algebras (pdf), and logic algebras (pdf). More algebraic structures are listed here than at Mathworld, but at the moment some entries are just stubs.
- Mathematics in Isabelle
Jeremy Avigad. “The project goal [is] to formalize, and develop tools to assist in the formalization of, portions of mathematics in Isabelle’s higher-order logic”. Last year a proof of the Prime Number theorem (a theorem on the number of primes less than a given natural number n) was formalized;Research on the Prime Number Theorem has yielded one of the largest numbers with a proper name: Skewes’ number: 10^(10^(10^34))). For some time mathematicians believed that π(n), the number of primes less than n, was strictly less than Li(n), a function devised by Gauss as an approximation of π(n). J. E. Littlewood proved in 1914 that Li(n) > π(n) for infinitely many sufficiently large n. S. Skewes showed that the first n for which Li(n) > π(n) is less than the number later named after him. This bound has since been reduced to 1.39822 · 10^316 by Bays and Hudson (Mathematical computing 69(2000):1285–1296). In 1955 Skewes showed that if the Riemann Hypothesis is false, then Li(n) ≥ π(n) for at least one n less than 10^(10^(10^(10^3))), which is much larger than Skewes’ number; this is called the second Skewes number. An even larger number is Graham’s number. I wonder what Kant would have thought of them (see the Critique of judgment §26, Ak. 254).Avigad has written an informative note on the proof, with some brief remarks on its philosophical significance. Other projects with similar aims include the Logosphere Project, Mathscheme (“an integrated framework for computer algebra and computer theorem proving”), and Mathweb, which includes a database of definitions and theorems, along with various projects for coding and storing mathematical information. Of these projects, the Logosphere project and Avigad’s seem to be the most active.
- Lewis Carroll puzzles and games
Cathy Dean. Carroll/Dodgson was both a logician and an entertainer of children. The result of putting the two together was puzzles of permanent interest. Only Richard Smullyan comes to mind as a rival in that department. Has any philosopher tried to explain how logic can be funny? Jokes involving the use of logic—e.g., the syllogism—seem to depend on incongruity between subject matter and method, or between method and results. But you won’t find me offering Yet Another Failed Theory of Humor. Not here.
Natural history at Kyoto
A series of exhibitions at the library of Kyoto University, among them The Age of Natural History, which includes digitized versions, in color, of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, Tournefort’s Élémens de botanique, and Linnæus’s Systema naturæ, as well as works in Japanese. The site is in Japanese and English.
L’Agora et son encyclopédie
The Encylopédie de l’Agora is the website for the journal L’Agora (Quebec). Of most interest philosophically is the section “Grandes Questions”, on religion and philosophy. Sample contents:
- Michel Despland. “Légitimation et délégitimation de la loi”.
Réflexions à partir de Platon, Calvin et Hegel.
- Daniel Cérézuelle. “La technique et la chair”.
« La raison technique, comme la raison économique et l’institution rationnelle ne peut se déployer qu’en ignorant l’unité charnelle de la vie et l’importance du symbolique. »
- Erasmus, “Cicéron ou la sainteté d’un savant homme”
A translation of Erasmus’s introduction to the Tusculan Disputations.
Other documents include articles from Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, and dossiers on individual philosophers, including Leibniz and Descartes.
Subscriptions to the electronic version of Agora are Can$20 for one year, which is about US$16.
In Le Monde, an article announces that the University of Utrecht has lifted a ban on the teaching of Descartes, 363 years after it was instituted. The rehabilitation occurred as part of a conference
in March on Descartes and the Academy of Utrecht.
Nicolas Weill, “Le philosophe René Descartes vient d’être «réhabilité» aux Pays-Bas”, Le Monde 25 Mar 2005; see also, in German, Christoph Lüthy, “Bis in alle Ewigkeit”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23 Mar 2005). For those who read Dutch, there is more in Erik Hardeman, “Descartes was snel op zijn teentjes getrapt en kon met name Voetius niet luchten of zien”, Ublad Online (Utrecht) 24 Mar 2005. For the conference, see Descartes en de Utrechtse Academie 1636-2005), whose proceedings have been published in Née Cartésienne / Cartesiaansch Gebooren, ed. W. Koops, L. Dorsman, T. Verbeek (Van Gorcum, 2005 · 9023241347).
This happy ending gives me the occasion to mention again Theo Verbeek’s project on the correspondence of Descartes. For generations, Descartes scholars have depended on the Adam-Tannery edition, which was last updated in volumes published from 1987 to 1991. Glad though we are to have such an edition (which is lacking, or has been until recently, for other major figures like Spinoza and Leibniz), it has numerous shortcomings, both in the text and in the apparatus. Verbeek and his group have done excellent work not only in editing the letters themselves, but in supplying the apparatus needed to understand them. A sample volume has been published for the year 1643, the year of Descartes’ Epistola ad Dinetum, the Admiranda methodus, a violent attack on Descartes and his philosophy by Martin Schoock,
Theo Verbeek, Erik-Jan Bos, Jeroen van de Ven, eds., The correspondence of René Descartes: 1643 (Utrecht: Zeno Institute, 2003; Quæstiones Infinitæ 45).and Descartes’ response, the Epistola ad Voetium. The volume includes an eighty-page “Biographical Lexicon” which is itself an important contribution.
Another fruit of the project is the publication of a new edition of the correspondence between Descartes and Regius (Erik-Jan Bos, The Correspondence between Descartes and Henricus Regius, available in its entirety as a pdf). In an appendix are the disputations published by Regius under the title Physiologia, sive cognitio sanitatis (Physiology, or the knowledge of health) in 1641.
See Theo Verbeek, La querelle d’Utrecht (Les Impressions Nouvelles, Paris, 1988); Dennis Des Chene, “Cartesiomania”, Perspectives on science 3 (1995), 534-581.Those disputations, with which Descartes was publicly associated, were one of the factors leading to the “quarrel of Utrecht” between Descartes and Regius, representing the new philosophy, and Voetius and Schoock, defending the old (and true religion). The recently lifted ban on the teaching of Descartes was one upshot of that quarrel. (In fact the Cartesian philosophy has been taught at Utrecht since 1650.)
Note. A new letter of Descartes was discovered by Erik-Jan Bos at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek in 2003, the first in 25 years. See “Nieuwe brief Descartes ontdekt”, Ublad Online 6.35 (10 Feb 2003). In the letter, addressed to Joachim de Wicqefort ‘op de Cinghel’ in Amsterdam and dated 2 Oct 1640, Descartes, then in Leiden, inquires about a manuscript that was in fact received by him three days later. The discovery was celebrated with champagne in Utrecht: “Je hoopt er wel op, maar als het dan echt gebeurt, is het toch iets bijzonders. We hebben hier toen wel even de champagne opengemaakt”. The article notes that in 2001 a Descartes letter sold in Germany for DM180,000 and that another was being offered in Basel for €130,000.
(This is an addendum to “A response on Descartes”.) New documents on the censure of Descartes’ works by the Catholic Church were published by Jean-Robert Armogathe and Vincent Carraud in Bulletin Cartésien 30 (2002, reviewing publications of 1999). The same issue of the Bulletin includes a report by Verbeek, Bos, and Matthijs van Otegem on the correspondance of Descartes; in it is the (Latin) text of the 1643 statutes which forbade the teaching, public or private of any philosophy departing from Aristotle’s.
Site Académique de Philosophie de Toulouse
Much more than you would guess from the name: this site includes regularly updated listings of events (conferences, seminars, …), publications (online & print), and texts (new or newly available online). Very good coverage—Francocentric, naturally, but including some events outside France. You can subscribe to a mailing list for automatic notification of updates.