Science Behaving Badly III.
Signs and Symbols: Wire Mother, Smiley Face and Phaneroscopic Science.
By Richard Flavin
Charles Sanders Peirce, Wire mother surrogate, rhesus monkey and Prof. Harry Harlow, and Harvey R. Ball.
Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914) worked for thirty-two years at the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and taught logic for five years at the Department of Mathematics at the Johns Hopkins University. Both positions came to an end due to budget cutbacks and Peirce spent the last twenty-five years of his life struggling to support himself. At mid-life, Peirce began to publish on ‘Pragmatism’ (Peirce 1905; Peirce 1931-1958; vol. 5), by suggesting that “...all the followers of science are animated by a cheerful hope that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to each question to which they apply it (Peirce 1878; p. 299).” In support of science as constructing hypotheses, deriving consequences from these hypotheses, and then experimentally testing these hypotheses through an economy of research, Peirce followed common sense as a sure way to avoid the incidental excess of sophistry and promoted the testable over “indubitable propositions (Hookway 1990; p. 403).”
Prof. William James (Harvard, philosophy) championed Peirce’s ideas, arranged for a series of lectures at Harvard in 1903 (Peirce 1997), and is said to have given monies on several occasions when Peirce was experiencing financial hardships. Peirce didn’t attempt to publish a substantial amount of his work and his major contributions were generally recognized only after his passing. His ideas on the importance of the study of signs or semiotics continues to solicit discussion (Guinard 1993; Mather 2004). During a 1904 lecture, “Logic viewed as Semeiotics,” Peirce explained ‘phaneroscopy’ (phanero-, comb. form meaning “evident”) as “...the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind, quite regardless of whether it corresponds to any real thing or not (Peirce 1931-1958; 1: 286–287).” What was important for Peirce was making financial ends meet. Though he speculated on scientific matters, the goals for publishing, making money and academic gains while benefitting a greater good would be for others. Life got in the way of Peirce’s research.
Harry F. Harlow (1906-1981) was a respected psychologist and helped our understandings of learning and love (Harlow 1949; 1958). With innovative exactitude and verve, traits which garnered funding and public debate, he pioneered laboratory primate behavioral studies. Born Harry F. Israel on Halloween night, 1905 in Fairfeild, Iowa to a lapsed Episcopalian family, it was urged by his Yale University doctoral advisor that he change his surname to something less “Jewish” (Blum 2002; pp. 9, 13 &29). Harlow’s subsequent time spent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a defining example of achievable thoroughness.
Constructed with reason and preparation, science and production, with efficient academic programs and clinic management being significant components of result and presentation, Harlow’s work is remarkable for its data accomplishment as well as the bold effectiveness of precise laboratory methodology. Late in his career, disturbing documentation of isolation and recovery studies made obvious the importance of photographic recording (Harlow & Suomi 1971). Harlow had a full life besides research, private high and low points, and his experiments will likely generate lively re-evaluation for many years to come.
The same tenacious simplicity which Harlow used to establish a model primate laboratory and breeding zoo extended to the devising of practical research equipment and testing apparatuses. One such item, surely a leading and infamous example, is the ‘Wire mother surrogate’ which was “deliberately built [to have] less than the maximal capability for contact comfort (Harlow 1958; p. 676).” Its sparse face makes common scientific sense, in contrast to the lush details of the ‘Cloth mother surrogate’, and precipitates developments in facial recognition and imprinting. It also anticipated a cultural phenomenon and pop icon.
As a graduate of the Worcester School of Fine Arts and the owner of a small advertising and public relations firm, Harvey R. Ball (1922-2001) earned a descent income throughout his life. He enjoyed a long marriage, served as an officer in the National Guard and Army Reserve for twenty-seven years, and survived to see his great-grandchildren. In December 1963, after the State Mutual Life Assurance insurance company of Worcester, MA acquired the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio and merged it with a subsidiary, the Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and both staffs become somewhat depressed and dysfunction, a new campaign used a graphic designed by Ball to encourage employees to smile more.
With a cheery yellow background, Ball worked approximately ten minutes on the composition of a minimalist face set in a large circle with a prominent smile (two dots as eyes were added to orient the face and avoid a frown with a mis-viewing upside-down). The endearingly goofy and syrupy sweet Smiley Face earned Ball a $45 check from State Mutual Life, who used the graphic on motivational buttons (People 1998). In 1972, State Mutual lawyers investigated the possibility of copyrighting the graphic, but learned that the American rights to Smiley Face had been granted to brothers in California and international rights to a fellow in France. Many made millions beyond the Worcester area as Smiley Face acquired image recognition on a global level and slowly become one of the leading popular symbols in history. A U.S. Postal Service stamp was issued in 1999. Content with making and marketing signs for local businesses, Ball never regretted missing out on fame and fortune.
Gaining recognition and reward in one’s chosen field is a rare achievement. Peirce sensed the basic importance of sign and symbol, yet couldn’t market his lectures into full-time employment, Harlow appeared to almost effortlessly produce his archetypal images of monkey love and despair through near casual genius, and Ball went about a wonderful life unaware he’d tapped into sign and symbol as no one else had done before.
Prof. Umberto Eco (University of Bologna, semiotics) began his professional career as a medievalist and freelance writer. In 1965, he took a professorship in visual communication at Florence and a year later, after publishing a work on James Joyce accepted a position in Milan lecturing on semiotics. It was while he was at Milan that he wrote his La struttura assente (“The Absent Structure”), which was later revised as A Theory of Semiotics (Eco 1976). Eco openly revels in signs and symbols and has written a series of novels which employ semiotics as a unique narrative device.
Prof. Umberto Eco, Jean Bernard Léon Foucault and magazine cover featuring first public exhibition of Foucault's Pendulum.
His first novel, 1980's The Name of the Rose, is a thriller about a lost treatise on humor by Aristotle and murders in a medieval monastery. The novel was made into a popular movie starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater in 1986. A second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum (Eco 1989), employed semiotics with a theme of global politico-religious conspiracies vying for attention, not unlike Another Roadside Attraction (Robbins 1971), The Illuminatus! Trilogy (Shea & Wilson 1975), the related 1990s' bestseller, The Secret History, and recently reworked with widespread acclaim and controversy as The Da Vinci Code (Brown 2003). The title for Foucault’s Pendulum suggests the 1851 demonstration in the Paris Panthéon by the French physicist, Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, which provided the first evidential proof of the Earth’s rotation (Foucault 1852). Perhaps Eco was offering a nod to an apocryphal saying of Galileo Galilei, “Epur si muove” or “And yet it does move,” incorrectly attributed by Enlightenment historians to the Florentine mathematician. The actions of rotation and movement compliment the premise of the novel when the protagonist characters become aware that local events can indicate widespread importance. The Island of the Day Before, the third novel by Eco, didn’t sell that well, as its theme was on ‘time’ and annoyingly re-told the same damned chapter again and again. His career as a novelist may be over, but he continues the study of semiotics as a scientist.
Covers for Another Roadside Attraction, The Illumintus! Trilogy, Foucault's Pendulum, and The Secret History.
The Da Vinci Code thrilled many premorbid paranoids with the topical illusion of a great secret being discreetly withheld from general knowledge for many years. Many average readers, not just the tin-foil hat wearers, savored the thought or idea of a great secret and Dan Brown’s occult detective novel and subsequent film continue to earn mega-oodles of profit. However, the success of a 'great secret' or the hoax of such has precedent and has enjoyed currency in the past.
Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code: A Novel, poster for the 2006 film and Homer Simpson's explanation of The Da Vinci Code.
A sixth century Welsh bard and teller of tall tales, Gwion Bach known as Taliesin (Tal Iesin or “Shining Brow”), composed a series of poems which hinted at great secrets, principally the true meaning of the letter-names of the ogham alphabet and their ordered significance in sacred or fictionalized secular history. An irreverent verisimilitude of historicity is a hallmark of Gaelic wit and has long been regarded as belonging to a superior category of humorous bovine feces. As modern scholarship arose, the Episcopalian Right Rev. Dr. Charles Graves, Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (Dublin University, mathematics; 1843-1862), was critical of such fantastic claims for ogham as its invention by Ogma, the Celtic solar hero-god, and its alleged hoary antiquity, arguing the arrival of Christianity coincided with the earliest extant ogham inscriptions (Graves 1879). Dr. Graves was considered a leading authority on ogham and familiar with the opinions of his contemporaries as well as previous scholarship, including the Auraicept na n-Éces, the “Hearings Of The Scholars” and what he calls a “manual of cryptography,” known from Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta or the “Book of Ballymote (ca. 1390; RIA MS 23 P 12, 275 foll.).” A ready audience for a translation and commentary of the Auraicept by George Calder, B. D. (University of Glasgow, Lecturer in Celtic) was produced by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Celtic revival (Calder 1917). Another work which appealed to the ready audience of the Celtic revival with great secrets from many ancient religions and mythologies was The Golden Bough (Frazer 1890).
Title-pages for the Auraicept, the 3rd edition of The Golden Bough, and covers for The White Goddess and The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The British anthropologist, Sir James George Frazer (Trinity College, classics) has credited the inspiration for the writing of The Golden Bough to researching notes for his translation of Pausanias' Description of Greece, a 2nd century CE travel account with descriptions of pagan rituals and customs (Frazer 1898). Such magnificent asides are undertaken when needed and Robert Graves, while constructing support for a plot device consisting of a system of ancient pan-societal and global mystical signs for use in a historical novel about Jesus, wandered an unexpected path and produced The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, a smart and witty blur and blending of his appreciation of women and the symbolism of the Irish ogham alphabet (Graves 1948). As the grandson of Dr. Charles Graves, the poet and scholar played with straight lines and soft curves. Necessity and women are demonstrably related, as at the all-female Sarah Lawrence College (founded in 1926, a year before formation of ‘The Seven Sisters’), when a comparative literature professor (after his recent popular critical review of James Joyce) published the immediately iconic and, some would argue culturally paradigmatic (e.g. Star Wars geeks), The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Campbell 1949). These tomes of explanation have become scripture for some, vessels of exploratory imagination to many, yet for an increasing number of historians and mythographers these are just new beginnings and not any ‘end’ of old investigations.
Mundus Subterraneus, 1872 English trans. of L' Origine de tous les cultes, The Book of the Damned, and Le matin des magiciens.
While teaching mathematics and oriental languages at the Collegio Romano, the German Jesuit, Fr. Athanasius Kircher, composed and followed through with the publication of many remarkable and lavish works on natural science. From magnetism, Egyptian hieroglyphs and comparative religion, to subterranean rivers throughout Eurasia (Kircher 1678), he shared an extraordinary amount of spectacular wisdom with the world, an achievement which earned him praise and teasing. In the third year of Napoleon’s Republic, citizen and scholar Charles François Dupuis was encouraged to advance his account of common and shared traits and components of several occidental and oriental religions, The Origin of All Cults (Dupuis 1795). Like Kircher, Dupuis likewise was awarded praise and teasing, though because he had the expository temerity to include Christ along with the solar calendar heroes of Osiris and Mithra, the recently emigrated natural scientist and outspoken religious and political pamphleteer, Joseph Priestly, attacked Dupuis from the new American State of Pennsylvania, far away from his native England and Dupuis' France (Priestly 1799). Priestly’s vigorous defense of Christianity wasn’t rigorous or exacting, but the attack was nasty and made for noticeable copy in American and European newspaper and magazine articles (as intended).
Through its constituency, religion remains controversial while science struggles with self-correction using dialog and experiment. Yet, science also has its murky and under-investigated paths as some studies have shown. Arguably the first (and perhaps the most entertaining) of his books on anomalous phenomena lacking adequate scientific explanation, struggling journalist and novelist, Charles Hoy Fort, collected clippings and with minimal personal commentary about odd and really exceptionally odd events and occurrences, and released the work as The Book of the Damned (Fort 1919). With “A PROCESSION of the damned. By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded,” Fort and his studies became the foundation of the strange phenomena they describe. He continues to receive praise and teasing, his books still sell well, a financially independent society furthers interest and his name has become a term (as ‘Fortean’) to specify unexplained anomalies. Suggestive skepticism, in spite of accounts of little green men showing up and handing out free pancakes, thrives as a middling choice between the possible or probable and the impossible and the improbable.
A chance meeting between a frustrated scientist and a disturbed writer in 1954 led directly to the popular “fringe science” movements of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and beyond. Promoting “fantastic realism,” the two assembled data much like Fort had done, however their interpretations and conclusions were ...unacceptable in a sane world (Pauwels and Bergier 1960). The authors suggested that Nazis, extraterrestrials and secret societies were part of an “open conspiracy” to direct mankind’s future. Jacques Bergier (born in the Ukraine and the son of a rabbi) and Louis Pauwels (a lapsed Catholic who followed the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff) were both imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII. With the profits from their best-seller, they began a magazine, Planète, which was published from 1961 to 1972 and is thought by some to have anticipated such science fact and fiction magazines as OMNI (1978-1995). While little of actual scientific value may be found in their efforts, the insane combination of Nazis, extraterrestrials and secret societies continues to fascinate audiences and serves as a doggedly minor, but Sirius, obstacle to the general teaching and acceptance of the modern scientific method to the lay populous. Perhaps if Harvard’s Dr. John Mack had actually been probed by extraterrestrials (like Pauwels and Bergier were tortured by the Nazis), his conclusions may have carried a tad more weight. Still, for too many, the “great secret” appears to be that which sells well and not the presentation of evidential science.
Les Templiers sont parmi nous, a 1970s' version of Hamlet's Mill, Plantard and son in 1979, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
An ‘alternative’ history of science has emerged with a fair market share, however, any current ‘alternative’ history of religion remains the eternal champion of conundrum and reigns supreme with the purchasing public. We do go in and on for blather about God. As Pauwels and Bergier were starting something with science, the French Surrealist author, Gérard de Sède, began in 1962 to sketch out a “great secret” of history and religion in a series of works involving Templars, treasure and a secret society working clandestinely in France and the rest of the world to protect a powerful truth about ...Jesus (Sède 1962). Oh, it wasn’t “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” but the series made a lot of money and attracted interest from unexpected readers. The authors of Hamlet’s Mill (Santillana and Dechend 1969) attempted to demonstrate that the tragedy of the cheesy Danish prince was an astro-myth which had been known for many ages (i.e. that the "wheel of time" periodically becomes unhinged and epochs pass). A dust-jacket blurb from Hamlet's Mill quotes Charles François Dupuis in comparison (see above), “Mythology is the work of science; science alone will explain it." During their research, the authors became interested in de Sède and a comment attributed to one of his contributors, Pierre Plantard.
From Hamlet's Mill Chapter XXII: The Adventure and the Quest
How could the secretary to Frederick Barbarossa, an emperor who was himself bound to that place where expired ages and their rulers sleep, get hold of the "right" version? (We should be glad to learn, moreover, where the archaeologist Pierre Plantard [quoted by Gerard de Sede: Les Templiers sont parmi nous (1962), p. 280] got hold of the information on "Canopus, l'oeuil sublime de l'architecte, qui s'ouvre tous les 70 ans pour contempler l'Univers.")] and in geographical space, as only he is entitled to do, to Kiho-tumu, for instance, creator god of the Tuamotu islands, Kiho-tumu "the-AIl-Source" who sleeps, face downward, in "Great-Havaiki-the-Unattainable," and yet takes action when the "administration" oversteps the "laws" and measures given by him (Santillana and Dechend 1969, p. 299).
While reading a bit more like cosmic horror fiction than science writing (Lovecraft 1928), the authors truly believed they were correctly following the roebuck through the thicket. Recently, a "fringe science" investigator, supposedly after spending nine years in consideration, has proclaimed a Eureka! moment and translates de Sède with: “Trying to penetrate through the Hermetic as quickly as possible, the star Canopus was identified with the eye of God, who looked at the Universe every 70 years (Coppens 2004).” Coppens is concerned with (among other fantastic things) a pseudo-historical basis for the 1994 film, Stargate, as well as certain crackpot theories which preceded the movie. The confusions as to why de Santillana and von Dechend were interested in Canopus, “soul-gates” as “star-gates,” and the ability and importance of ‘seeing’ stars during the day are in dire need of discussion. Trix are for kids, Klaatu barada nikto, and etcetera.
As the visibility of Canopus significantly decreases north of 36° latitude North, an association with Asia Minor (i.e. the Troad, Anatolia, and the areas of the Milesian and Ionian schools) is warranted. Early Greek astronomers placed Canopus as part of the Great Argo constellation, though it was also regarded as a Southern pole star and used in navigation. Inquiring after whether the navigation was by land (Northern Africa or Central Asia) or water (Mediterranean Sea or Indian Ocean) would seem valid. As seventy is certainly a symbolic number, the year amount may be regarded as approximate for “once in a lifetime” or on rare occasions. Yet, ‘visibility’ may be literal or metaphorical and mathematical. For discussion purposes, we may differentiate between naked-eye direct observation, nautical dawn assessment with mental projections throughout the day, and the seldom addressed navigational technology of harnessing light obliquity with a long tube or by viewing from a dark enclosure. The Norse had their sun-stones to catch a reflection of the Sun on overcast days, however, with a clear sky sailors of the Mediterranean could distinguish the faint light of several stars and planets during daylight hours with practice, patience and luck. This was and remains a great secret. When, on a happenstance occasion, the secret was shared, outsiders and dilettantes marveled at the ability (and still do). The navigational technology of midday viewing of stars was to be explored in a future work by Hertha von Dechend, entitled “High Noon,” but the status of the work remains unknown, beyond a brief mention in a paper by an M.I.T. colleague, the classicist, Harald A. T. Reiche (Reiche 1993, p. 164). Coppens writes, “Plantard had used knowledge from ancient Africa, which had been passed on to the ancient Egyptians, had been retained in the Hermetic writings, and had ended up with Plantard,” to account for Plantard’s inclusion in Hamlet’s Mill (op cit). Silliness, of course. The proto-science and mythology regarding Canopus and alignments arose from Mesopotamian and Greek sources and diffused to Africa and India. Plantard’s astrology was part of a larger hoax, unlike the pseudoscience of Hancock, Bauval, Schoch and others who are just inanely wrong about ancient Egypt.
Giorgio de Santillana, Hertha von Dechend, and Harald A. T. Reiche.
The hoaxer has been described as a French fascist who is said to have done prison time for his involvement with ‘Alpha Galates’, an anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic group, and also for fraud and embezzlement. Besides the authors of Hamlet’s Mill, Plantard also attracted the attention of the documentarian, Henry Lincoln (pseudonym of the '60s British television actor and Dr. Who script-writer, Henry Soskin) who wrote and directed two BBC Chronicle episodes on the Rennes-le-Château mystery and the Knights Templar. In the 1950s, Plantard and his co-conspirators salted the stacks of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris with bogus documents alleging the existence of a secret society founded to protect the holy bloodline of Jesus (through Mary Magdalene and their son, Bar-Abbas). After the Chronicle episodes, Lincoln brought in Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, and together wrote, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln 1982). The book features a picture of Plantard holding his son, Thomas, said to be a living descendent of Jesus. Everyone knows the details of this story, despite the Court ruling against copyright violation, the Plantard hoax ...is the story told in The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps, instead of Tom Hanks, an Italian actor should have been used to pay homage to Professors Umberto Eco and Giorgio de Santillana. It would have been a symbolic choice, but one which would have steered us toward science and away from pseudoscience.
Dr. Donna Jeanne Haraway, Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, and Michel Foucault.
In an antagonistic review of Harlow, Dr. Donna J. Haraway wrote, “Sadism is a shadow twin to modern humanism, a fact well understood by de Sade and Foucault. Harlow’s lab was about the fulfillment of primate potential, not about the agony of research animals (Haraway 1989; p. 233).” The O.E.D. records that in 1670 Henry Stubbes used “semeiotics” to mean a branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs and later Charles W. Morris wrote that “‘Pragmatics’ studies the relation between the sign system and its human (or animal) user.” Peirce appreciated semiotics from afar, Harlow embodied sign and symbol in his work on learning and love, and Ball and Eco likewise utilized basic source imagery. Haraway plays with symbols, only she does so mean-spirited and, I opine, with pragmatic contextual failure.
A guess has Haraway regarding humanists as hedonists and evoking the characters of an eighteenth century pornographer and a sadomasochistic homosexual philosopher of science who died from A.I.D.S. in 1984 as a way to appear sardonic, à la Prof. Camille Paglia (Philadelphia University of the Arts, humanities and media studies) or the conservative pundit, Ann Coulter. As a biologist and post-modern feminist, Haraway has used the metaphor of a ‘cyborg’ to reach her target audience (Haraway 1991). Her comment, “To borrow from modern film theory, sadism in Harlow’s laboratory is an effect of the ‘scientific apparatus’ (Haraway 1989; p. 234),” uses evocative imagery and is befitting an arts critic more than a critical scientist. She seems to mistrust Harlow as being without empathy and also for presuming to define a mother and child relationship. Her mockery suggests the author is projecting a fetish onto others, as she probably intends her words as autobiography. A recent investigation into maternal instinct deems Harlow’s work as unfinished and his hypotheses as inadequately demonstrated (passim Vicedo-Castello 2005). Haraway left the path of wisdom and turned at The Twilight Zone sign-post up ahead, choosing to be a writer with flair, rather than a fair scientist. Let’s hope she looks at things differently and finds her way pragmatically back to phaneroscopic or evidential science.
Marketing common-sensism is a goal of science and its frugal economy is sometimes, as with Harlow, profound in its minimalism. We delight in complex symbols, but also adore the simple signs. Making matters more complicated than they should be appears a favored pastime for many.
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