antique textbook

Science Aesthetics

I was feeling inspired last night, so I decided to make this purely for fun.

To the moon and back: Cold, dark nights clutching thermos flasks of hot coffee. Machinery whirring as telescopes trace a star across the sky. Intricate, geometric drawings of the celestial sphere. A messy bun and a NASA t-shirt. Filling in the logbook while punk rock blares in the background to keep you energised and awake. Pictures of nebulae and galaxies everywhere, because pretty space pictures is half the fun. Annoyed huffs every time someone mentions their star sign.

Natural Philosopher: Long, intellectual debates in coffee shops about mathematics, physics, philosophy. Chalkboards covered with equations and calculations in a precise, curving handwriting. That Eureka moment while deep in thought, expressed only with a small smile and a scribbled proof on the back of a serviette. Chaotic desks in front of bookshelves groaning with old textbooks. Antique lab equipment as functional decor.

Trust Me, I’m a Scientist”: Large computer screens running freshly-typed code. Neat lab books and PDFs of journal articles. The smell of whiteboard markers. Polished new equipment in a tangle of cables, hooked up to a digital oscilloscope. Exact amounts of chemicals in rows in metal shelves. Resting your feet up on the bench after a long day in the lab. The satisfying hum of your colleagues as they work on their experiments around you.   

Science Expedition: Dirt under your nails and a loosely-bound collection of field notes. Plant clippings carefully taken to be analysed back in the lab. Soft fur on tough, wild animals. The bitter smoke from eco-friendly firewood while you roast marshmallows and listen to a supervisor’s witty stories. Free-handing diagrams while looking through a microscope. Sketching flowers and that gorgeous ocean view from your last field trip. Reading Darwin on the bus home but falling asleep on your lab partner’s shoulder out of sheer exhaustion after the first three pages.

Life is a Science: Scrolling past an anti-vax facebook post and resisting the urge to burn down the internet. Shiny dissection kits and the sharp smell of formaldehyde. Making time to work out and pack a healthy lunch because your mind is sharpest when your body is well. Debunking the latest superfood fad with peer-reviewed journal articles. Making friends with some of the nicer med school kids in anatomy class. Colour-coded, neatly labelled diagrams and a thousand different terms memorised. Getting a double-helix DNA sculpture for your desk.      

What they show on TV isn’t real hacking: Rubbing your eyes after staring at a screen for five hours straight. Having a blank keyboard because all the letters are rubbed off already. Energy drinks in strange colours at strange hours. Being fluent in four different coding languages. Circuit boards and printouts. Ones and zeroes. Running jokes about turning everything off and on again. Rage-quitting when you realise you forgot a comma or a colon somewhere. Black screens with brightly coloured lines. The comforting click-click of fingertips tapping keys. Applying to intern at Google every three months because maybe they’ll take you this time. Writing a piece of code to do something simple just because.

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Athanasius Kircher - Diagrams showing the interconnectedness of Fire and Water inside the Earth, “Mundus Subterraneus”, 1665.

Kircher stated that “the whole Earth is not solid but everywhere gaping, and hollowed with empty rooms and spaces, and hidden burrows.” Deep down, it holds many great oceans and fires, interconnected by a system of passageways that reached all the way to its core. In his view, volcanoes, however awful and awe-inspiring, “are nothing but the vent-holes, or breath-pipes of Nature,” and earthquakes are merely the “proper effects of subterrestrial cumbustions” that are sure to go on constantly. The “prodigious volcanoes and fire-vomiting mountains visible in the external surface of the earth do sufficiently demonstrate it to be full of invisible and underground fires,” he wrote. “For wherever there is a volcano, there also is a conservatory or storehouse of fire under it…. And these fires argue for deeper treasuries and storehouses of fire, in the very heart and inward bowels of the Earth.” According to Kircher, “the fire and water sweetly conspire together in mutual service.” The tides, caused by the nitrous effluvia of the moon, push “an immense bulk of water” through “hidden and occult passages at the bottom of the Ocean” and thrust it “forcibly into the intimate bowels of the Earth.” The resulting winds “excite and stir up” and otherwise feed the subterraneous fire like a huge bellows. The seas, which would stagnate and freeze without the fires, keep the fires from getting out of hand, preventing “unlimited eruptions,” which would “soon turn all to ruins.” The “secret make-up of the mountains” is that they are hollow and serve as reservoirs. Hot baths, hot springs, and fountains are produced where underground water passageways come near or interconnect with the fire channels.

More than once, Kircher compares the movement of the earth’s water to the circulation of the blood in the body as described by William Harvey. The water of the oceans follows its “secret motions” up and around the globe toward the North Pole. Somewhere off the coast of Norway (the actual site of a major whirlpool system called the Moskenstraumen), he declared, is a giant maelstrom through which the water enters the earth - as if passing through a great drain - and runs through it, cooling it down, providing it with nutriments in particulate form before being eliminated through a nether opening at the South Pole. Sometimes the analogies referred more to the continuing process of the digestive system than the cycling of blood, but no matter: “You see therefore the manner and way of the Circulation of Nature.”