Posts tagged with history

graphs from Capital in the 21st Century

(Source: youtube.com)

If the astronomical observations and other quantities on which the computation of orbits were absolutely correct, the elements also, whether deduced from three or four observations, would be strictly accurate (so far indeed as the motion is supposed to take place exactly according to the laws of Kepler), and, therefore, if other observations were used, they might be confirmed but not corrected.

But since all our measurements and observations are nothing more than approximations to the truth, the same must be true of all calculations resting upon them, and the highest aim of all computations made concerning concrete phenomena must be to approximate, as nearly as practicable, to the truth. But this can be accomplished in no other way than by a suitable combination of more observations than the number absolutely requisite for the determination of the unknown quantities. This problem can only be properly understood when an approximate knowledge of the orbit has been already attained, which is afterwards to be corrected so as to satisfy all the observations in the most accurate manner possible.

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauß, Theoria Motus Corporum Cœlestium in Sectionibus Conicis solem Ambientium, 1809

(translation by C.H. Davis 1963)

(Source: cs.unc.edu)

[Scientific theories can be accurate and even make novel predictions, whilst being ultimately wrong. Scientific theories can also be inaccurate, whilst being ultimately right.]

Consider specifically the state of ætherial theories in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The electrical fluid, a substance which was generally assumed to accumulate on the surface rather than permeate the interstices of bodies, had been utilized to explain inter alia the attraction of oppositely charged bodies, the behavior of the Leyden jar, the similarities between atmospheric and static electricity and many phenomena of current electricity.

Within chemistry and heat theory, the caloric æther … explain[ed] everything from the role of heat in chemical reactions to the conduction & radiation of heat and … standard problems of thermometry.

Within the theory of light, the optical æther functioned centrally in explanations of reflection, refraction, interference, double refraction, diffraction and polarization. (Of more than passing interest, optical æther theories had … made … startling[, true] predictions, e.g., Fresnel’s prediction of a bright spot at the center of the shadow of a circular disc: a surprising prediction which, when tested, proved correct. If that does not count as empirical success, nothing does!)

There were also gravitational (e.g., LeSage’s) and physiological (e.g., Hartley’s) æthers which enjoyed some measure of empirical success. It would be difficult to find a family of theories in this period which were as successful as æther theories. Compared to them, 19th century atomism … a genuinely referring theory … was a dismal failure. Indeed, on any account of empirical success which I can conceive of, non-referring 19th-century æther theories were more successful than contemporary, referring atomic theories.

[According to] J.C. Maxwell…the æther was better confirmed than any other theoretical entity in natural philosophy!

Larry Laudan’s A Confutation of Convergent Realism, Philosophy of Science, 48(1), 19-49

via David Corfield

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn by Ai Weiwei, 1995


Research focuses on real wages—wages that are adjusted for inflation. Getting data on wages is tricky. But accounting for inflation is even harder. (For example, workers often paid rent informally, meaning that there are few records around).


And so it is unsurprising that researchers differ in their estimations of real wages. Some, such as Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, suggest that full-time earnings for British common labourers, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled in the seventy years after 1780. But Charles Feinstein argued that over the same period, British real wages only increased by around 30%. It’s a bit of a … mess.

Most people agree that after about 1840, real wages did better. Nicholas Crafts and Terence Mills shows that from 1840 to 1910, real wages more than doubled. Their findings are mirrored by other researchers ….


in almost all British cities, mortality conditions in the 1860s were no better—and were often worse—than in the 1850s. In Liverpool in the 1860s, the life expectancy fell to an astonishing 25 years. It was not until the two subsequent decades that rises in life expectancy were found


The auction for capital has happened in such diverse places as under banyan trees, in coffee shops, in whore houses, near the sandal market (Egypt, Jerusalem), in a cave, at farm crossroads, near lake edges and river deltas, at magic springs, over a levee, in private country club gardens, etc.

The folks who made it more comfortable thrived (Mr. Lloyd, for example). The folks who made this process more uncomfortable eventually killed the golden goose (not many trades in Florence anymore, and it is all Savanarola and the Bishop’s fault. Bonfire of Vanities indeed).
user “Bachelier”

(Source: mail.nuclearphynance.com)

Already getting on in years (I was past the change of life), Béatrice fell passionately in love with the young priest; her feeling was translated by the verb adamare. She threw herself at him. As Barthélemy Amilhac himself said later:

It was she who made the first advances; one day, when I had just finished teaching my pupils … Béatrice said to me: ‘Come to my house this evening.’

I did. When I was in her house, I found that she was there alone. I asked: ‘What do you want of me?’

And she said: ‘I love you: I want to sleep with you.’

And I answered: ‘All right.’

Straight away I made love with her in the antechamber of the ostal, and subsequently I possessed her often. But never at night. Always in the daytime. We used to wait until the girls and the servant were out of the house. And then we used to commit the carnal sin.

What she loved in him was his gentleness and his desire — priests were known to be much more lustful than mere laymen….Béatrice loved the young man so much that she accused him of having bewitched her:
I have never committed the sin of sorcery…. But I think the priest Barthélemy did cast a spell on me, for I loved him too passionately; and yet when I met him I was already past menopause.

After she became the vicaire's sweetheart Béatrice was continually annoyed by village gossip, spread by the parish slanderers (lauzengiers)…. She was also subjected to vexation by her brothers, who in typical Occitan style set themselves up as custodians of their sister’s virtue. She was afraid they might hurt her….

She [ran away] to Vicdessos, where she was joined by Barthélemy, and from there they both went on to Palhars, where a priest-cum-notary ‘married’ them, but without giving them his blessing. There they lived for a year in the same domus without causing the slightest scandal. They lived meagrely…[consuming her] dowry. Gradually Barthélemy got to know about [her heretical] past. He was afraid. There were quarrels…. They parted.

When they met again later it was just before they were both put in prison. Béatrice had already been roughly handled by the Inquisition, and she asked her former sweetheart to help her. Once again, as before … in the cellar at Dalou, Béatrice made love with the young vicar in a vineyard while her faithful maid kept watch… The rest of [their] story belongs to [the Inquisitor]. He put them both in prison. Then, a year later, on the same day, 4 July 1322, he set them both free.
Montaillou — southern France in the 1320’s (story ends 1322)

The reactions against Grassmann make a humorous chapter in the history of mathematics. For example, Professor Pringsheim, dean of German mathematicians and the author of over one hundred substantial papers on the theory of infinite series, both convergent and divergent, kept insisting that Grassmann should be doing something relevant instead of writing up his maniacal ravings. “Why doesn’t he do something useful, like discovering some new criterion for the convergence of infinite series!” Pringsheim asserted, with all the authority that his position conferred.

Gian-Carlo Rota, Indiscrete Thoughts

(if you don’t get why this insult is funny: Pringsheim’s articles must have been dry and small-minded, whereas Grassmann’s packs a universe
into a kernel)


Winthrop also subscribed to the belief that the native peoples who lived in the hinterlands around the colony had been struck down by G-d, who sent disease among them because of their non-Christian beliefs:

“But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as G-d hath thereby cleared our title to this place…”

New World Encyclopedia, via MRU

(search pictures of smallpox only if you have a strong stomach)