John Phin.

The seven follies of science; a popular account of the most famous scientific impossibilities and the attempts which have been made to solve them. To which is added a small budget of interesting paradoxes, illusions, and marvels online

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Online LibraryJohn PhinThe seven follies of science; a popular account of the most famous scientific impossibilities and the attempts which have been made to solve them. To which is added a small budget of interesting paradoxes, illusions, and marvels → online text (page 10 of 12)
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have examined the specimens of selected diatoms and in-
sect scales in which objects that are utterly invisible to the
naked eye are arranged with great accuracy so as to form
the most beautiful figures, can readily believe that a com-
bination of microscopical dexterity and skill in penmanship
might easily go far beyond anything that has yet been ac-
complished in this direction, either in ancient or modern

But by means of a very simple mechanical arrangement,
the motion of the hand in every direction may be accurately


reduced or enlarged to almost any extent, and it thus
becomes possible to form letters which are inconceivably
small. The instrument by which this is accomplished is
known as a pantagraph, and it has, within a few years,
become quite popular as a means of reducing or enlarging
pictures of various kinds, including crayon reproductions
of photographs. Its construction and use are, therefore,
very generally understood. It was by means of a very
finely-made instrument embodying the principles of the
pantagraph that the extraordinarily fine work which we
are about to describe was accomplished.

It is obvious, however, that in order to produce very fine
writing we must use a very fine pen or point and the finer
the point the sooner does it wear out, so that in a very
short time the lines which go to form the letters become
thick and blurred and the work is rendered illegible. As
a consequence of this, when the finest specimens of writing
are required, it is necessary to abandon the use of ordinary
points and surfaces and to resort to the use of the diamond
for a pen, and glass for a surface upon which to write. One
of the earliest attempts in this direction was that of M.
Froment, of Paris, who engraved on glass, within a circle,
the one-thirtieth of an inch in diameter, the Coat of Arms
of England lion, unicorn, and crown with the following
inscription, partly in Roman letters, partly in script : " Honi
soit qid mat y pensc, Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen
Victoria, and His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, Dieu et
mon droit. Written on occasion of the Great Exhibition,
by Froment, a Paris, 1851."

The late Dr. Barnard, President of Columbia College,
had in his possession a copy of the device borne by the seal
of Columbia College, New York, executed for him by M.


Dumoulin-Froment, within a circle less than three one-
hundredths of an inch in diameter, " in which are embraced
four human figures and various other objects, together with
inscriptions in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, all clearly legible.
In this device the rising sun is represented in the horizon,
the diameter of the disk being about three one-thousandths
of an inch. This disk has been cross-hatched by the
draughtsman in the original design from which the copy
was made ; and the copy shows the marks of the cross-
hatching with perfect distinctness. When this beautiful
and delicate drawing is brought clearly out by a suitably
adjusted illumination, the lines appear as if traced by a
smooth point in a surface of opaque ice."

Lardner, in his book on the " Microscope," published in
1856, gives a wood cut which shows the first piece of en-
graving magnified 1 20 diameters, but he said that he was
not at liberty to describe the method by which it was
done. As happens in almost all such cases, however, the
very secrecy with which the process was surrounded natu-
rally stimulated others to rival or surpass it, and Mr. N.
Peters, a London banker, turned his attention to the subject
and soon invented a machine which produced results far
exceeding anything that M. Froment had accomplished.
On April 25, 1855, Mr. Farrants read before the Microsco-
pical Society'of London a full account of the Peters machine,
with which the inventor had written the Lord's Prayer (in
the ordinary writing character, without abbreviation or
contraction of any kind), in a space not exceeding the one
hundred and fifty-thousandth of a square inch. Seven
years later, Mr. Farrants, as President of the Microscopical
Society, described further improvements in the machine of
Mr. Peters, and made the following statement : " The


Lord's Prayer has been written and may be read in the
one-three hundred and fifty-six thousandth of an English
square inch. The measurements of one of these specimens
was verified by Dr. Bowerbank, with a difference of not
more than one five-millionth of an inch, and that difference,
small as it is, arose from his not including the prolongation
of the letter/ in the sentence 'deliver us from evil ' ; so
he made the area occupied by the writing less than that
stated above."

Some idea of the minuteness of the characters in these
specimens may be obtained from the statement that the
whole Bible and Testament, in writing of the same size,
might be placed twenty-two times on the surface of a square
inch. The grounds for this startling assertion are as
follows : " The Bible and Testament together, in the English
language, are said to contain 3,566,480 letters. The num-
ber of letters in the Lord's Prayer, as written, ending in
the sentence, 'deliver us from evil,' is 223, whence, as
3,566,480 divided by 223, is equal to 15,922, it appears
that the Bible and Testament together contain the same
number of letters as the Lord's Prayer written 16,000
times; if then the prayer were written in 1-16,000 of an
inch, the Bible and Testament in writing of the same size
would be contained by one square inch ; but as i-356,oooth
of an inch is one twenty-secondth part of 1-15,922 of an
inch, it follows that the Bible and Testament, in writing of
that size, would occupy less space than one twenty-secondth
of a square inch."

It only now remains to be seen that, minute as are the
letters written by this machine, they are characterized by a
clearness and precision of form which proves that the mov-
ing parts of the machine, while possessing the utmost


delicacy of freedom, are absolutely destitute of shake, a
union of requisites very difficult of fulfilment, but quite
indispensable to the satisfactory performance of the ap-

I have no information in regard to the present where-
abouts of any of the specimens turned out by Mr. Peters,
and inquiry in London, among persons likely to know, has
not supplied any information on the subject.

There was, however, another micrographer, Mr. William
Webb, of London, who succeeded in producing some mar-
vellous results. Epigrams and also the Lord's Prayer
written in the one-thousandth part of a square inch have
been freely distributed. Mr. Webb also produced a few
copies of the second chapter of the Gospel, according to St.
John, written on the scale of the whole Bible, to a little
more than three-quarters of a square inch, and of the Lord's
Prayer written on the scale of the whole Bible eight times
on a square inch. Mr. Webb died about fifteen years ago,
and I believe he has had no successor in the art. Speci-
mens of his work are quite scarce, most of them having
found their way into the cabinets of public Museums and
Societies, who are unwilling to part with them. The late
Dr. Woodward, Director of the Army Medical Museum,
Washington, D.C., procured two of them on special order
for the Museum. Mr. Webb had brought out these fine
writings as tests for certain qualities of the microscope, and
it was to "serve as tests for high-power objectives" that
Dr. Woodward procured the specimens now in the micro-
scopical department of the Museum. I am so fortunate as
to have in my possession two specimen's of Mr. Webb's
work. One is an ordinary microscopical glass slide, three
inches by one, and in the center is a square speck which


measures 1-4 5th of an inch on the side. Upon this square
is written the whole of the second chapter of the Gospel
according to St. John the chapter which contains the
account of the marriage in Cana of Galilee.

In order to estimate the space which the whole Bible
would occupy if written on the same scale as this chapter,
I have made the following calculation which, I think, will be
more easily followed and checked by my readers, than that
of Mr. Farrants.

The text of the old version of the Bible, as published in
minion by the American Bible Society, contains 1272
pages, exclusive of title pages and blanks. Each .page
contains two columns of 58 lines each, making 116 lines
to the page. This includes the headings of the chapters
and the synopses of their contents, which are, therefore,
thrown in to make good measure. We have, therefore,
1272 pages of 116 lines each, making a total of 147,552

The second chapter of St. John has 25 verses contain-
ing 95 lines, and is written on the 1-202 5th of an inch, or,
in other words, it would go 2025 times on a square inch.
A square inch would, therefore, contain 95 X 2025 or
192,375 lines. This number (192,375), divided by the
number of lines in the Bible (147,552), gives 1.307, which
is the number of times the Bible might be written on a
square inch in letters of the same size. In other words,
the whole Bible might be written on .77 inch, or very little
more than three-quarters of a square inch.

Perhaps the following gives a more impressive illustration :
The United States silver quarter of a dollar is .95 inch in
diameter, so that the surface of each side is .707 of a square
inch. The whole Bible would, therefore, very nearly go on


one side of a quarter of a dollar. If the blank spaces at
the heads of the chapters and the synopses of contents
were left out, it would easily go on one side.

The second specimen, which I have of Mr. Webb's writ-
ing, is a copy of the Lord's Prayer written on a scale of
eight Bibles to the square inch. According to a statement
kindly sent me by the superintendent of the United States
Mint at Philadelphia, the diameter of the last issued gold
dollar, and also of the silver half-dime, is six-tenths of an
inch. This gives .2827+ of a square inch as the area of
the surface of one side, and, therefore, the whole Bible
might be written more than two and a quarter times on one
side of either the gold dollar or the silver half dime.

Such numerical and space relations are far beyond the
power of any ordinary mind to grasp. With the aid of a
microscope we can see the object and compare with other
magnifications the rate at which it is enlarged, and a per-
son of even the most ordinary education can follow the
calculation and understand why the statements are true,
but the final result, like the duration of eternity or the
immensity of space, conveys no definite idea to our minds.

But at the same time we must carefully distinguish
between our want of power to grasp these ideas and our
inability to form a conception of some inconceivable sub-
ject, such as a fourth dimension or the mode of action of a
new sense.

Wonderful as these achievements are, there is another
branch of the microscopic art which, from the practical
applications that have been made of it, is even more inter-
esting. This is the art of microphotography.

About the middle of the last century Mr. J. B. Dancer,
of Manchester, England, produced certain minute photo-


graphs of well-known pictures and statues which com-
manded the universal attention of the microscopists of that
day, and for a time formed the center of attraction at all
microscopical exhibitions. They have now, however, be-
come so common that they receive no special notice. Mr.
Dancer and other artists also produced copies -of the Lord's
Prayer, the Creed, the Declaration of Independence, etc.,
on such a scale that the Lord's Prayer might be covered
with the head of a common pin, and yet, when viewed
under a very moderate magnifying power, every letter was
clear and distinct. I have now before me a slip of glass,
three inches long and one inch wide, in the center of
which is an oval photograph which occupies less than the
i-2OOth of a square inch. This photograph contains the
Declaration of Independence with the signatures of all the
signers, surrounded by portraits of the Presidents and
the seals of the original thirteen States. Under a moder-
ate power every line is clear and distinct. In the same
way copies of such famous pictures as Landseer's " Stag
at Bay," although almost invisible to the naked eye, come
out beautifully clear and distinct under the microscope, so
that it has been suggested that one might have an exten-
sive picture gallery in a small box, or pack away copies of
all the books in the Congressional Library in a small hand-
bag. With such means at our command, it would be a
simple matter to condense a bulky dispatch into a few
little films, which might be carried in a quill or concealed
in ways which would have been impossible with the origi-
nal. If Major Andre had been able to avail himself of
this mode of reducing the bulk of the original papers, he
might have carried, without danger of discovery, those re-
ports which caused his capture and led to his death. And


hereafter the ordinary methods of searching suspected
spies will have to be exchanged for one that is more

The most interesting application of microphotography,
of which we have any record, occurred during the Franco-
Prussian war in 1870-71.

On September 21, 1870, the Germans so completely
surrounded the French capitol, that all communication by

Fig. 21.

roads, railways, and telegraphs, was cut off and the only
way of escape from the city was through the air. On
April 23, the first balloon left Paris, and in a short time
after that, a regular balloon post was established, letters
and packages being sent out at intervals of three to seven
days. In order to get news back to the city, carrier
pigeons were employed, and at first the letters were simply
written on very thin paper and enclosed in quills which
were fastened to the middle tail-feather of the bird, as
shown in the engraving, Fig. 21. It is, of course, . need-


.less to say, that the ordinary pictures of doves with letters
tied round their necks or love-notes attached to their
wings, are all mere romance. A bird loaded in that way
would soon fall a prey to its enemies. As it was, some of
the pigeons were shot by German gunners or captured by
hawks trained by the Germans for the purpose, but the
great majority got safely through.

Written communications, however, were of necessity,
bulky and heavy, and therefore M. Dagron, a Parisian
photographer, suggested that the news be printed in large
sheets of which microphotographs could be made and trans-
ferred to collodion positives which might then be stripped
from the glass and would be very light. This was done;
the collodion pellicles measuring about ten centimeters
(four inches) square and containing about three thousand
average messages. Eighteen of these pellicles weighed
less than one gramme (fifteen grains) and were easily
carried by a single pigeon. The pigeons having been bred
in Paris and sent out by balloons, always returned to their
dove-cotes in that city.

M. Dagron left Paris by balloon on November 12, and
after a most adventurous voyage, being nearly captured by
a German patrol, he reached Tours and there established
his headquarters, and organized a regular system of com-
munication with the capitol. The results were most satis-
factory, upwards of two and a half millions of messages
having been sent into the city. Even postal orders, and
drafts were transmitted in this way and duly honored.

And thus through the pigeon-post, aided by micropho-
tography, Paris was enabled to keep in touch with the
outer world, and the anxiety of thousands of families was


It is not likely, however, that the pigeon-post will ever
again come into use for this purpose ; our interest in it
is now merely historical, for in the next great siege, if we
ever have one, the wireless telegraph will no doubt take
its place and messages, which no hawks can capture and no
guns can destroy, will be sent directly over the heads of
the besiegers.

But let us hope and pray, that the savage and unneces-
sary war which is now being waged in the east will be the
last, and that in the near future, two or more of the great
nations of the globe will so police the world, that peace on
earth and good will toward men will everywhere prevail.


UR senses have been called the "Five Gateways
of Knowledge " because all that we know of the
world in which we live reaches the mind, either
directly or indirectly, through these avenues.
From the " ivory palace," in which she dwells apart, and
which we call the skull, the mind sends forth her scouts
sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell bidding them
bring in reports of all that is going on around her, and if
the information which they furnish should be untrue or
distorted, the most dire results might follow. She, there-
fore, frequently compares the tale that is told by one with
the reports from the others, and in this way it is found that
under some conditions these reporters are anything but
reliable ; the stories which they tell are often distorted and
untrue, and in some cases their tales have no foundation
whatever in fact, but are the "unsubstantial fabric of a

It is, therefore, of the greatest importance to us, that we
should find out the points on which these information
bearers are most likely to be deceived so that we may
guard against the errors into which they would otherwise
certainly lead us.

All the senses are liable to be imposed upon under
certain conditions. The senses of taste and of smell are
frequently the subject of phantom smells and tastes, which
are as vivid as the sensations produced by physical causes
acting in the regular way. Even those comparatively new



senses 1 which have been differentiated from the sense of
touch and which, with the original five, make up the mystic
number seven, are .very untrustworthy guides under certain
circumstances. Thus we all know how the sense of heat
may be deceived by the old experiment of placing one hand
in a bowl of cold water and the other in a bowl of hot
water, and then, after a few minutes, placing both hands
together in a bowl of tepid water ; the hand, which has
been in the cold water will feel warm, while that which has
just been taken from the hot water, will feel quite cold.

We have all experienced the deceptions to which the
sense of hearing exposes us. Who has not heard sounds
which had no existence except in our own sensations ?
And every one is familiar with the illusions to which we
are liable when under the influence of a skilful ventrilo-

Even the sense of touch, which most of us regard as
infallible, is liable to gross deception. When we have
"felt" anything we are always confident as to its shape,
number, hardness, etc., but the following very simple ex-
periment shows that this confidence may be misplaced :

Take a large pea or a small marble or bullet and place it

1 The old and generally recognized list of the senses is as follows : Sight,
Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch. This is the list enumerated by John
Bunyan in his famous work, " The Holie Warre." It has, however, been
pointed out that the sense which enables us to recognize heat is not quite
the same as that of touch and modern physiologists have therefore set
apart, as a distinct sense, the power by which we recognize heat.

The same had been previously done in the case of the sense of Muscular
Resistance but, as the author of " The Natural History of Hell " says,
"when we differentiate the ' Sense of Heat,' and the 'Sense of Resistance*
from the Sense of Touch, we may set up new signposts, but we do not
open up any new ' gateways ' , things still remain as they were of old, and
every messenger from the material world around us must enter the ivory
palace of the skull through one of the old and well-known ways."


on the table or in the palm of the left hand. Then cross
the fingers of the right hand as shown in the engraving,
Fig. 22, the second finger crossing the first, and place them
on the ball, so that the latter may lie between the fingers,

Fig. 22.

as figured in the cut. If the pea or ball be now rolled
about, the sensation is apparently that given by two peas
under the fingers, and this illusion is so strong that it can-
not be dispelled by calling in any of the other senses (the
sense of sight for example) as is usually the case under
similar circumstances. We may try and try, but it will


only be after considerable experience that we shall learn to
disregard the apparent impression that there are two balls.

The cause of this illusion is readily found. In the ordi-
nary position of the fingers the same ball cannot touch at
the same time the exterior sides of two adjoining fingers.
When the two fingers are crossed, the conditions are ex-
ceptionally changed, but the instinctive interpretation
remains the same, unless a frequent repetition of the exper-
iment has overcome the effect of our first education on this
point. The experiment, in fact has to be repeated a great
number of times to make the illusion become less and less

But of all the senses, that of sight is the most liable to
error and illusion, as the following simple illustrations will

In Fig. 23 a black spot has been placed on a white

Fig. 23. Fig. 24.

ground, and in Fig. 24 a white spot is placed on a black
ground ; which is the larger, the black spot or the white
one ? To every eye the white spot will appear to be the
largest, but as a matter of fact they are both the same size.
This curious effect is attributed by Helmholtz to what is
called irradiation. The eye may also be greatly deceived
even in regard to the length of lines placed side by side.



Thus, in Fig. 25 a thin vertical line stands upon a thick hor-
izontal one ; although the two lines are of precisely the
same length, the vertical one
seems to be considerably longer
than the other. I

In Figs. 26 and 27 a series
of vertical and horizontal lines
are shown, and in both forms the
space that is covered seems to
be longer one way than the other.
As a matter of fact the space in
each case is a perfect square,
and the apparent difference in
width and height depends upon whether the lines are ver-
tical or horizontal.

Advantage is taken of this curious illusion in dec-
orating rooms and in selecting dresses. Stout ladies of
taste avoid dress goods having horizontal stripes, and

Fig- 25.

Fig. 26.

Fig. 27.

ladies of the opposite conformation avoid those in which the
stripes are vertical.

But the greatest discrepancy is seen in Figs. 28 and 29,
the middle line in Fig. 29 appearing to be much longer
than in Fig. 28. Careful measurement will show that they
are both of precisely the same length, the apparent differ-



ence being due to the arrangement of the divergent lines
at the ends.

Converging lines have a curious effect upon apparent
size. Thus in Fig. 30 we have a wall and three posts, and




Fig. 28. Fig. 29.

if asked which of the posts was the highest, most persons
would name C, but measurement will show that A is the
highest and that C is the shortest.

A still more striking effect is produced in two parallel
lines by crossing them with a series of oblique lines as seen

Fig. 31.

in Figs. 3 1 and 32. In Fig. 3 1 the horizontal lines seem to
be much closer at the right-hand ends than at the left, but



accurate measurement will show that they are strictly

By changing the direction of the oblique lines, as shown
in Fig. 32, the horizontal lines appear to be crooked although
they are perfectly straight.

Fig. 3*.

All these curious illusions are, however, far surpassed by
an experiment which we will now proceed to describe.


HE following curious experiment always excites
surprise, and as I have met with very few persons
who have ever heard of it, I republish it from
"The Young Scientist," for November, 1880.

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Online LibraryJohn PhinThe seven follies of science; a popular account of the most famous scientific impossibilities and the attempts which have been made to solve them. To which is added a small budget of interesting paradoxes, illusions, and marvels → online text (page 10 of 12)