With many thanks to Dickinson State College

I said in the last post that I didn’t know anything about Arthur Schuster before reading his quote on hearing the shape of a bell. Actually that was not quite true: he is mentioned three times in the book of Max Jammer on the history of Quantum Mechanics, and one reference leads to the source of the quote. This was a report for the 1882 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Southampton in August 1882. The full report of the meeting can be read online, and Schuster’s paper starts on page 120, the baffled skillful mathematician appearing at the end of this first page (I’ve also prepared a PDF of these two pages).

Now I have to thank whoever decided to withdraw Max Jammer’s book from the library of Dickinson State University (née Dickinson State College), which is where the copy I recently got from BetterWorldBooks came from…

The holder for the library slip

is still in the book, and it was apparently only borrowed twice, once in 1978 and once in 1982 (or maybe 1992).


I think I will safely eschew any controversy in this post by stating that there are more songs about love than about science. It is therefore nice to be able to add the fairly recent opera/oratorio “Kepler”, composed by Philip Glass, to that second select list. I have to admit that I have been listening to it almost obsessively in the last few weeks. Indeed, how often does one hear an enthusiastic chorus singing with gusto such rousing lines as

Numerus, quantitas et motus orbium!

Number, quantity and circular motion!

or declaiming the basis of the scientific method

entwerfen wir uns
in den Hypothesen
ein Bild
von der Natur der Dinge.
Dann konstruieren wir,
den Calculus,
die Weise der Berechnung.
So demonstrieren wir
In Folge die Bewegungen.
Und schliesslich pruefen wir,
den Weg zurueckverfolgend,
die wahren Regeln
unserer Rechnung

At first
We sketch
[See the first comment below for this change]
With hypotheses
An image
Of the nature of things.
Then we construct,
The calculus,
The way of computing.
Thus we demonstrate
The motions.
Lastly, we check
By retracing the path
[Strangely this was not translated in the original libretto, see the 6th comment]
The true rules
Of our calculation.

These quotes are in Latin and German, since P. Glass, as he often does, uses the original language for his texts, and in that case most of the libretto (written by Martina Winkel) is taken literally from Kepler’s own writings, interspersed with bits of German baroque poetry to put him in the context of his time and place.

[I’ve changed a bit the German translation in the second case from what is in the Libretto, where some constructions like “We place us in the hypotheses” seemed a bit strange; any better attemps at translating the German are welcome in the comments!] I just changed this piece following a suggestion from the first commenter below, and added the missing third-before-last line, as suggested by another commenter

While waiting for the DVD, I had a look at Youtube; and — marvel! — some ingenious soul has put there the full recording of the opera, presumably as it appeared on Austrian television some time in 2009 or 2010. As I’m not sure about the legality of this, I’ll abstain from putting a link, but searching “Kepler Glass” on the site will lead you to it quite quickly. (There are two separate movies for the two acts; the first quote above is located around 12:50 mn in the first act, and the second appears around 39:10). (5.2.2011: it seems that these have now been removed from Youtube, which is probably not surprising; fortunately, the DVD will come out in late February.)

(Note: I am aware that in certain rarefied circles, the music of Philip Glass is considered to be just one step above elevator music, but I am personally completely philistinate in that respect, and will not countenance comments along these lines…)

Roman dodecahedron

The platonic solids are of course quintessentially Greek (although a claim to their discovery has apparently been staked on behalf of rugged Scots — who certainly play rugby better, not that this should influence priority disputes). I was therefore quite intrigued to see today, in the Roman Museum of the town of Avenches, a very beautiful Roman dodecahedron:

The decorations are quite interesting; note for instance that the holes in the faces are not all of the same size. The accompanying text mentioned that at least 60 such objects have been found in what was ancient Roman territories north of the Alps, and that their purpose (if any) is not known. This one was found in a private house (the approximate date is not mentioned, but the old Roman city of Aventicum apparently flourished mostly during the first Century).

De la supériorité de l’esprit français

From the CERN English website:

CERN’s Visits Service organises tours of its experimental areas and facilities, which are free of charge. Tours in several languages are organised on Mondays to Saturdays starting at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. It is essential to book in advance.
Please note that the tours are not suitable for children under 14 years of age.

(emphasis mine, as people say in history books).

Now from the French version:

Le service des visites du CERN organise des visites gratuites de sites d’expériences et d’infrastructures. Ces visites sont proposées en plusieurs langues, du lundi au samedi, à 9h ou à 14h. La réservation est obligatoire.
Veuillez noter que le niveau des visites n’est pas adapté aux enfants de moins de 10 ans.