Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Specter of The Spectacle

This blog takes its name from the editorial pseudonym of seventeenth century essayist and playwright Joseph Addison (1672-1719). He was an early figure of the Enlightenment, sometimes referred to as a "founding godfather" of the United States. 

Seen here with a poodle on his head.

Between 1711-1714, Addison published a daily periodical out of London called The Spectator, which celebrated the virtues of human progress as achieved through knowledge, ideas and understanding. Its proposed aim was "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality."

The articles posted on this site are intended to evoke a similar spirit of enlightened discourse, because only a critical understanding of our common humanity can unite us. 

Do good. 

Be well. 

Change the world.

~ Mr Spectator

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Center of the Universe

Back in 270 BCE, an ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician named Aristarchus of Samos had the crazy idea that the sun was actually bigger than the earth... even though from where he was standing, it wasn't much bigger than his thumb. From this, he deduced that it was more likely that the earth revolved around the sun as opposed to the other way around. You know, crazy talk.

The biggest controversy, however, was that this also meant that the orbit of the earth must not be a perfect circle. In ancient Athens, them's fightin' words. You don't fuck with geometry. Most people at the time thought he was insane, sacrilegious, or a combination of the two, like the Ozzy Osbourne of classical Greece... except as far as I know, Aristarchus never bit the head off a live bat on stage (although records from this period are sparse).

In fact, most of Aristarchus’s writing has been lost, which could make for the single greatest library fine in human history... except that much of his life's work is thought to have burnt up when the Library of Alexandria was destroyed in 391 AD under the order of the city's bishop, Theophilus. You see, old Theo didn't like any newfangled 'science' that conflicted with his ideology.

Nonetheless, references to Aristarchus's work have survived in other books, including the work of Archimedes, who concluded that if Aristarchus’s model was indeed accurate, then since the stars do not appear to change position from one year to another, this would mean that they are much further away than anyone had ever suspected.

"That means that one tiny atom in my
fingernail could be... one tiny little universe."

In other words, because of this guy, human beings first started to develop a sense of just how much space there is in space. Granted, they were still way lowballing their estimates, but even then, his fellow members of the Toga Party decided that they were unwilling to let their minds be so thoroughly blown at this time. Instead, they wrote it off as nonsense in favor of Ptolemy’s geocentric model. I presume that Claudius Ptolemy must have sat down to urinate, which is why the P was silent. He was also a mathematician, geographer and poet, a Renaissance Man of sorts about sixteen centuries before the Renaissance.

Almost eighteen centuries later, Nicolaus Copernicus even referenced Aristarchus in an early draft of his manuscript Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs (Swimsuit Edition), first published in 1543 and which is generally credited with introducing the idea of the heliocentric model of our solar system. However, there was one major caveat in Copernicus’s argument: the word “if,” which allowed the work to be read as a hypothesis instead of a theory or immutable law, thereby sparing him from persecution by the Catholic church. He also waited until he was dying before he dared publish it, at which point he presumably said, "Fuck it," then dropped the mic.

Galileo, on the other hand, either had too much foresight or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In 1632, he wrote and published Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World, Ptolemaic and Copernican, which takes Copernicus’s ideas further and was immediately put on the Catholic Church’s list of banned books. After his inquisition, followed by a light lunch, Galileo had to publicly denounce his findings and was forced to live out the rest of his life under house arrest. Hey, at least he had his telescope.

"You know, I probably should have brought a corkscrew, too..."

Galileo died in 1642, and it would be over a hundred years before a heavily censored version of Systems was permitted by the Church to be released.* It was not taken off the list of banned books until 1835, and this was only after another astronomer named Joseph Settle finally settled the issue, so to speak. Back in 1820, he had finally convinced the Pope to believe that the earth does in fact revolve around the sun... you know, less than a hundred and fifty years before human beings would walk on the goddamn moon.

Another 200 years or so, they might even come around on gay marriage.

And it all started with a wild-eyed stargazer in ancient Greece who had the audacity to suggest that maybe human beings aren’t the center of universe after all.

Imagine that.

* Fun Fact: Galileo's middle-finger is still on display in a museum in Florence, Italy, about a hundred and seventy miles from the Vatican.

View from the Top of the World

In 1921, a thirty-five-year-old British boarding school teacher named George Mallory decided that he wanted a change in scenery, so he joined an expedition to be among the first people in recorded history to see what the earth looks like from nearly six miles above sea level.

Basically, given the option of climbing the world’s tallest mountain or educating the insufferable children of the rich, Mallory chose the former. Keep in mind, the summit of Mount Everest is about ten thousand feet higher than even the most technologically advanced airplanes at that time could fly, so this guy makes Mr. Keating's challenge in Dead Poets Society to "Seize the day" seem like empty rhetoric. While Robin Williams's character stood on his desk, Mallory had his sights on winning the ultimate game of King-of-the-Mountain. When asked why he wanted to climb it, Mallory also set a new standard in cockiness when he replied, “Because it is there." Incidentally, that happens to be the same reason why I have ever set foot in a Radio Shack.

As the climbing team ascended the mountain, Mallory himself quickly ascended to the role of lead climber, discovering previously unknown routes through some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world. As a guy who "knows words real good," he was also tasked with writing about their journey. On their first attempt, they made it about 23,000 feet before turning back, only to try again the following spring. This time around, Mallory and seven Sherpas were caught in an avalanche, and the English teacher was the only one who survived. Two years later, he returned to Everest, frostbitten middle fingers a-flailing.

Mallory was joined in his third and final attempt to conquer the world's tallest mountain (above sea level) in 1924 by a twenty-two-year-old undergraduate student named Andrew “Sandy” Irvine. No stranger to cockiness himself, he had been invited based upon the first impression of another member of the expedition, who had climbed a three thousand foot mountain by foot only to discover Irvine at the summit, sitting on his goddamn motorcycle. The young man also proved to be skilled at MacGyvering their oxygen tanks, although their use was actually controversial at the time. A lot of people saw dependence upon breathing apparatus as cheating... kind of like wearing football helmets or boxing gloves. Real men didn't need such amenities.

George Mallory himself was against using the tanks, but when he realized that it would be impossible to reach the summit without being able to breathe properly, he and Irvine pressed on while the others stayed behind. Mallory needed Irvine’s expertise with the tanks and Irvine apparently believed himself to possess all of the powers of invincibility that come with being a college student. Another member of the expedition let them borrow a camera so that they could take the world's greatest selfie when they reached the peak. From a distance, Mallory and Irvine were last spotted on their way up the final pyramid, where it appeared as though they were making steady progress. Then some light clouds rolled in and the two men were never seen alive again.

Mallory’s frozen body was discovered seventy-five years later, with a number of clues suggesting that he had fallen on his way back down from the summit. In other words, there is a good chance that Mallory and Irvine were in fact the first people to climb Mount Everest. They just didn’t make it back down. Nearly a century later, Irvine’s body has still not been found, nor was the camera that may contain the cryogenically preserved photograph that could settle this once and for all. Of course, over the years, the near impossibility of finding it hasn't prevented fearless explorers from setting out in search of this artifact. Why?

Because it is there.

Random Article