Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ancestors of the Tellyvishon (Eyes on Fire #2)

(1) Sigmund Exner, student of von Brücke and Helmholtz, also proprietor of a beard that was impressive even by the standards of 19th-Century Austrian psychophysicists. Exner was not a Scotsman wearing his kilt so high that the sporran was around his neck; he was winner of the Amazing Randi Look-alike Competition for three consecutive years, and on one memorable occasion in Hamburg until the error was recognised he was arrested on suspicion of eating a live badger.

In 1891, Exner described the scanning eyes of the copepod crustacean Copilia mirabilis. Copilia’s eyes are a system of powerful light-funneling optics but her retina is a zero-dimensional point; muscles scan it back and forth across the focal plane of the lenses, turning spatial information into a time-modulated signal, just like the Teev. Subsequent studies have authenticated this. But it is possible (and irresponsible not to speculate) that Exner created Copilia in his secret highly-illegal underground laboratory, in honour of

(2) Herrman Lotze, skeptical philosopher, who had NO BEARD AT ALL but nevertheless was brave enough to imagine zero-dimensional perception as a Gedankenexperiment in 1852*. This was before conducting experiments on Gedankens was banned in 1902 in response to pressure from the Gedanken Rights lobby.

Exner was certainly aware of Lotze’s speculations, and he compares the visual signals from Copilia to “running a finger along an object and reconstructing the Gestalt from the sequence of sensations”.

In matters of religion, Exner’s skepticism was legendary. Based on his knowledge of avian aeronautics, he published essays to prove that angels were not physiologically plausible, so any reports of humanoid levitation were more probably based on dream states than on actual observations.

With age, not unlike his intellectual and rebarbative descendent Randi, Exner became increasingly intolerant of religion and superstition, especially when used to take advantage of gullibility. On one occasion, it grieves me to report, he entered into a physical altercation with a spiritualist, unable to cope any longer with her smugness and certainty. Again he was taken into custody, but was released under his own cognizance after his lawyer explained to the magistrate that his client was merely “striking a happy medium”.
* Or so says J. G. Borges, and I think we can all agree that Borges would not simply make shit up:
More solitary than the statue that smells roses and at least becomes a man, the animal has but one sensitive spot on its skin, on the end of an antenna and therefore movable. The structure of this animal prevents it, as one can see, from receiving simultaneous perceptions, but Lotze believed that the ability to retract or project its sensitive antenna was enough to allow the all-but-isolated animal to discover the outside world (without the aid of Kantian categories) and to perceive the difference between a stationary object and a mobile one. Vaihinger admired this fiction; it is contained in the work titled Medizinische Psychologie, published in 1852.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

"Eyes On Fire" is not a top-shelf BOC song, sir.

I merely comment as I know how you treasure feedback from your readers in your efforts to maintain your standards.

Smut Clyde said...

It is true that there are occasional lapses in quality control at the end of a hard day of blogging and the fourth pint of Fullers ESB.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

...his client was merely “striking a happy medium”.

Smut is banned.

Smut Clyde said...

Actually a Two Ronnies joke so BAN THEM.