Tuesday 28 November 2023

Strange Connections, The Thesaurus Guy


From a 2011 post with some additions.

I recently came across a note that the Peter Mark Roget whose name is associated so closely with the thesaurus was a scientific type.  More particularly, in 1815 he invented the log-log scale (the logarithm of the logarithm of the number on the C and D scales... ) on the slide rule which facilitated finding powers and roots of numbers. 

I looked into his history and found that his education was in medicine and his work on the thesaurus was part of a lifelong coping mechanism to fight depression.  Roget described his thesaurus in the foreword to the first edition in 1852:

"It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification similar to that on which the present work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published."

But before he actually got around to publishing his great book, he not only invented the slide rule scale, but following the death of Sir John Herschel, Roget was secretary of the Royal Society from 1827 to 1848. He also made observations in sight and persistence of vision that influenced the development of movies. 

From"Cheshire Antiquities,© Craig Thornber, Cheshire, England, UK.
"His observations were based initially on looking at the world through a series of slits such as one might have in a vertical Venetian blind or palisade. A rotating cartwheel viewed through such as system gives an optical illusion. The spokes at the top and bottom appear straight but those at the sides appear to bend downwards. Roget worked out the path of the light to show how this happened. He went on to explain a phenomenon that often perplexes devotees of Westerns, a hundred years before the invention of film. At certain speeds, the cartwheel appears to stop or go backwards. Roget's observations were made by viewing through vertical slits but he showed the position of each spoke in the wheel at each glimpse and how this could lead to the optical illusion of stasis or backward motion. The same phenomenon is observed when a film is made with a cine camera. In 1820, Roget worked with Michael Faraday and Joseph Plateau in a series of experiments on vision leading to Roget's paper to the Royal Society on the Persistence of Vision. Roget's work showed that an image persists in human perception for about one sixteenth of a second and this forms the basis on which animations, film and television are based. "

On 9 December 1824, Roget presented a paper entitled Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures. ...
While Roget's explanation of the illusion was probably wrong, his consideration of the illusion of motion was an important point in the history of film, and probably influenced the development of the Thaumatrope, the Phenakistiscope and the Zoetrope.

Amazon offers a paperback (20 pages) book from Roget's paper.

Roget also was involved in the creation of University of London and the precursor to the Royal Medical Society.    A busy Guy...


William Ensign Lincoln invented the definitive zoetrope in 1865 when he was about 18 years old and a sophomore at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Lincoln's patented version had the viewing slits on a level above the pictures, which allowed the use of easily replaceable strips of images. It also had an illustrated paper disc on the base, which was not always exploited on the commercially produced versions. On advice of a local bookstore owner, Lincoln sent a model to color lithographers and board game manufacturers Milton Bradley and Co.

The name zoetrope was composed from the Greek root words ζωή zoe, "life" and τρόπος tropos, "turning" as a translation of "wheel of life". The term was coined by inventor William E. LincolnW.E. Lincoln's U.S. Patent No. 64,117 of April 23, 1867 

While I was searching this out, I came across the fact that the invention of the Ln scale (for finding e^x) was by an 11th grade high school student. 
From a post by Robert Adams:

The Ln scale was invented by a high school student, Stephen B. Cohen, in 1958. The original intent was to allow the user to select an exponent (in the range 0 to 2.3) on the Ln scale and read e^x on the C (or D) scale and e^(-x) on the CI (or DI) scale. Pickett and Eckel were given exclusive rights to the scale in the early sixties. Later, Stephen Cohen created a set of "marks" on the Ln scale to extend the range beyond the 2.3 limit, but Pickett never incorporated these marks on any of their slide rules.

And just one more footnote, I always found it a little quirky that the log scale on the slide rule was linear.

After I wrote this, several readers commented about people you might not know were science/math folks.  Steven Colyer offered three offhand :

Art Garfunkel studied Mathematics at Columbia University.

Mick Jagger went to The London School of Economics.

August Ferdinand Möbius of Möbius strip fame was primarily an Astronomer.

I added that actress Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane, Desperate housewives...) studied math and engineering at  De Anza College. Not an unlikely choice since her mother was a computer programmer at Lockhead-Martin and her dad was a nuclear physicist.

Steve reminded me that Winnie on "Wonder Years" long ago, Danica McKellar, studied math at UCLA and later wrote several books, including "Math Doesn't Suck" to motivate young women towards math science studies.

And in more modern time several writers on The Simpsons, and Mayim Bialik on The Big Bang Theory have impressive Sci/math credentials.

Surprise me with your list of strange connections.


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