Metaphysical Necessity

In the early 1770s a writer signing himself Junius published a series of letters in the Public Advertiser, criticizing the British government. His identity was the matter of much speculation, so much so that Samuel Parr jokingly wrote to Jane Morsingale, “Madam, You are a very charming woman, and I should be happy to obtain you as a wife. If you accept my proposal I will tell you who was the author of Junius.”

The writer’s identity was never discovered, but suppose he was Sir Philip Francis, as is widely suspected. We would say that Junius necessarily is Francis. But this seems an odd kind of necessity: There’s no logical contradiction in the sentence “Junius is not Francis,” and the laws of physics don’t prevent the two from being distinct.

“There is a kind of necessity that is neither logical nor physical, namely metaphysical necessity,” writes Robin Le Poidevin in Travels in Four Dimensions. “When we say that something is metaphysically necessary, we do not imply that in denying it, one would commit oneself to a logical contradiction. Nor are we saying that it is required by the laws of nature. But we are saying that, in some fundamental sense, matters could not be otherwise.”

A related puzzle: Charles Dodgson made this entry in his diary on Nov. 8, 1897:

A letter came, addressed to ‘L. Carroll, Christ Church, Oxford.’ So many such now come, that I have decided to refuse them, and gave it, unopened, to Telling, to return to the Post Office. All such will now go back to the writers, through the Dead Letter Office, with endorsement ‘not known.’

If Charles Dodgson explicitly disavows being Lewis Carroll — then who is Lewis Carroll?

“Atmosphere Never Dark on a Windy Night”

Several years since, when travelling by night in the mail coach, in the depth of winter and during the absence of the moon, I was surprised to observe, that, though dense clouds covered every part of the horizon, and not a single star could be seen, yet the night was far from being dark, and large objects near the road were easily discerned. On expressing my surprise to the driver, he replied, ‘The wind is very high, and during a great many years that I have been upon the road, I never knew it to be dark on a windy night.’ The observation was at that time new to me; but subsequent experience has convinced me that it was true.

— B. Hampstead, in The Magazine of Natural History, May 1831

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that this seems to be true — the darkest nights are calm, regardless of cloud cover. Why?

“Extraordinary Wave in the Channel”

The Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company’s mail steamer Aquila left Weymouth at midnight on Friday for Guernsey and Jersey. On her passage across Channel, the weather was calm and clear, and the sea was smooth. When about one hour out, 1 a.m., 31st March, 1883, the steamer was struck violently by mountainous seas, which sent her on her beam ends and swept her decks from stem to stern. The water immediately flooded the cabins and engine room, entering through the skylights, the thick glass of which was smashed. As the decks became clear of water, the bulwarks were found to be broken in several places, one of the paddle boxes was considerably damaged, the iron rail on the bridge was completely twisted, the pump was broken and rendered useless, the skylight of the ladies’ cabin was completely gone, and the saloon skylight was smashed to atoms. The cabins were baled out with buckets, while tarpaulins were placed over the skylights for protection. Five minutes after the waves had struck the steamer, the sea became perfectly calm. Several of the crew were knocked about, but no one was seriously injured.

Symons’s Monthly Meteorological Magazine, April 1883

Ice Route

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cullinan_diamond_rough.jpg

The largest gem-quality diamond ever found was discovered in a South African mine in 1905. The so-called Cullinan diamond weighed 3,106 carats, or about 1-1/3 pounds.

The Transvaal government purchased the stone and offered it to Edward VII on his 66th birthday, but the problem remained how to transport such a valuable object safely to England. Amid great publicity and heavy security, an ocean liner set out carefully for London.

It was carrying a decoy stone — the real diamond was sent by parcel post. It arrived safely.

(Thanks, Ross.)

Hell’s Kitchen

Probably you’ll want to skip this one — a recipe “to rost a Goose alive,” from Johann Wecker’s Secrets of Nature, 1582:

Let it be a Duck or Goose, or some such lively Creature, but a Goose is best of all for this purpose, leaving his neck, pull of all the Feather from his body, then make a fire round about him, not too wide, for that will not rost him: within the place set here and there small pots full of water, with Salt and Honey mixed therewith, and let there be dishes set full of rosted Apples, and cut in pieces in the dish, and let the Goose be basted with Butter all over, and Larded to make him better meat, and he may rost the better, put fire to it; do not make too much haste, when he begins to rost, walking about, and striving to flye away, the fire stops him in, and he will fall to drink water to quench his thirst; this will cool his heart and the other parts of his body, and by this medicament he looseneth his belly, and grows empty. And when he rosteth and consumes inwardly, alwayes wet his head and heart with a wet Sponge: but when you see him run madding and stumble, his heart wants moysture, take him away, set him before your Guests, and he will cry as you cut off any part from him, and will be almost eaten up before he be dead, it is very pleasant to behold.

Wecker credits this to a cook named Mizald. William Kitchiner calls it “diabolically cruel”; he quotes another commentator who says “We suppose Mr. Mizald stole this receipt from the kitchen of his Infernal Majesty: probably it might have been one of the dishes the devil ordered when he invited Nero and Caligula to a feast.”

Men of Letters

The Strand set itself a novel challenge — to create a complete alphabet using human figures. It engaged an acrobatic trio known as the Three Delevines and set to work in a studio in Plymouth:

http://books.google.com/books?id=8ukvAAAAMAAJ

“We would venture to say that each and every one of these letters and figures will well repay careful individual study. Each one had first of all to be thought out and designed, then built up in a way which satisfied the author, and finally ‘snapped’ by our artist, for the slightest movement of a head or limb altered the physiognomy of a letter in a surprising way.”

“When the human components had so grouped themselves that the result really looked, even ‘in the flesh,’ like the letter it was supposed to represent, then the author gave the word ‘Go,’ and immediately afterwards, with a sigh of relief, the Three Delevines ‘stood at ease,’ wondering how on earth the next on the list was going to be formed. Neither time nor trouble was spared in the preparation of this most unique of alphabets. Observe that, while we might have inverted the M to form a W, we did not do so; and we think everyone will agree that the last-named letter was well worthy of being designed separately.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=8ukvAAAAMAAJ

“Perhaps some enterprising publisher would like to publish a whole novel in ‘living’ type. Such a work might, or might not, command a huge sale; but, at least, there can be no two opinions about the human interest of the work.”

Extra Credit

Boeing was demonstrating its new Dash-80 airliner for the nation’s air transport executives in Seattle in August 1955 when test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston decided to impress them — instead of a simple flyover he performed a barrel roll:

In 1994, just before test pilot John Cashman undertook the maiden flight of the 777, Boeing president Phil Condit told him, “No rolls.”

Dinner Charge

A curious effect produced by lightning is described to us by Dr. Enfield, writing from Jefferson, Iowa, U.S. A house which he visited was struck by lightning so that much damage was done. After the occurrence, a pile of dinner plates, twelve in number, was found to have every other plate broken. It would seem as if the plates constituted a condenser under the intensely electrified condition of the atmosphere. The particulars are, however, so meagre that it is difficult to decide whether the phenomenon was electrical or merely mechanical.

Nature, June 12, 1902

Spring Poetry

From a letter by Henry U. Swinnerton of Cherry Valley, N.Y., to Science, March 10, 1893:

Towards sunset, late in April, 1886, on a warm, thawing day, the snow rapidly disappearing, two men, Capt. John E. Hetherington and Mr. Marcus Sternberg, as they rode down the long hill towards this village from the east, saw what appeared to be innumerable spherical bodies floating in the air like soap-bubbles. Both men saw and wondered at the appearance for some moments before either spoke. Capt. H. then said, ‘I wonder whether I am dreaming?’ The other rubbed his eyes and echoed the sentiment. ‘Well,’ said the captain, ‘I wonder if you see what I see; what do you see?’ They questioned each other, and both agreed as to their impressions. An orchard lay along the lower and northwesterly side of the road, and all in among the apple-trees were thick, gently descending multitudes of these bubbles, pretty uniform in size, say, 8 or 9 inches in diameter, apparently; none less than six; no small ones being observed.

The two observers state that they carefully fixed their attention on particular bubbles, in order to compare notes, and saw them seem to rest on the bough of a tree, or the top board of the fence, and then gently roll off and disappear or go out of sight. The sun was sinking and dropped below the opposite hills as they reached the foot of the long descent and entered the village, and the appearance came to an end. But up to this time the air seemed to be filled with these transparent floating spheres. The position of the observers with regard to the light seems to have made some difference as to seeing well this or that large aggregation or swarm that one or the other pointed out. The bubbles were highly colored, iridescent, gave the same sort of reflections as soap-bubbles, and apparently vanished individually in much the same way. All these points I have ascertained by repeated conversations.

Swinnerton vouches for the “unimpeachable character” of the witnesses. “The only theory I have been able to form to account for such a phenomenon is, that if a certain kind of dust floated off in the air, each particle composed of some sort of saponaceous envelope, enclosing a highly expansible centre or core, like ammonia, particles of this character expanded by the warm air, and at the same time moistened, might, under very nice conditions, produce such an effect.”