V.I. – Kees Boeke

Previous post Powers of Ten (illiteration?) was based on an educational book by Kees Boeke called Cosmic View. While I am focusing on the Eames interpretation as a casestudy, the only real difference is in the title, location and some of the wording. But I’ll refer to that when it crops up in The Diss. This a selection of images accompanied by original text purely chosen because they’re my favourites and are only to scale if you click on them –

“The first picture, from which we start, is as we said already one of a child sitting in front of the school, with a cat on her lap. It is drawn on a scale of 1 to 10. This means that a centimeter on the drawing is in reality 10 centimeters. A centimeter (abbreviated “cm.”) is the hundredth part of a meter, which corresponds to the yard as a unit of length. To be precise, a meter is 3.37 inches longer than 1 yard. One centimeter is therefore nearly 0.4 inch. In both length and height, the picture measures 15 centimeters, or nearly 6 inches. An arrow shows the direction of north.”

“We have now jumped to a height of 50,000 meters or 50 kilometers, that is more than 30 miles, and we notice a second effect of our jumps: not only are all lengths we see reduced tenfold each time, but the area which comes into our field of vision increases a hundredfold. So the above illustration covers a square 15 kilometers on a side, and we see Bilthoven (1) as a suburb of Utrecht (2). A dotted wavy line symbolizes a radio wave of 298 meters wave length reaching Bilthoven from the transmitter southwest of Utrecht, called “Hilversum” after the town (3) where its studios are. The 1.5-centimeter square in the middle gives again, as it has done each time, a reduced representation of the preceding illustration. As this illustration contains a photograph of a detailed plan of Bilthoven, it just shows the houses, though very minutely.”

“The earth, which reached nearly to the large square on the previous page, now fits into the small square. The distance we have had to travel straight up, to get its size thus reduced, is tremendous: according to our reckoning in drawings 4 and 5, we should be now 500,000 kilometers up, or about 312,500 miles – more than the distance to the moon. From here we see the earth as a planet spinning counterclockwise in the empty, dark, surrounding space. The sun, in the south, makes it shed its shadow toward the north. Two faint dotted lines mark the limits of this “umbra” (1). Another dotted line (2) gives the path along which the earth moves, from right to left. Many faraway stars would be visible, but these are left out in this drawing and others that follow, to concentrate attention on our “immediate surroundings”.”

“The whole solar system is now in view. The sun and the planets nearest it – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars – have together been reduced to a tiny circle (1), but the other planets and their wider orbits are clearly seen; Jupiter (2), Saturn (3), Uranus (4), Neptune (5), and Pluto (6). The latter’s orbit at one place comes inside Neptune’s. The whole orbit of Halley’s Comet is here; also its position in 1951 (7). It will be near the earth again in 1986. The elliptic nature of the planets’ orbits has been taken into account. In most cases, however, this again means only that the sun is not in the center of an orbit, for the difference of its shape from the circle cannot be seen in any of them except Pluto’s. The inclination of the orbits to the plane of the horizon of Bilthoven has been neglected. Light would on this scale travel about 1 centimeter per hour.”

“Now that our whole local group of galaxies has shrunk to the size of less than 2 millimeters in the center of the small square, we have in the above drawing indicated some of the countless other galaxies and clusters of galaxies which are spread out in all directions. Their distribution is known to be fairly uniform. Naturally the above drawing does not try to be an exact representation. In the two previous ones the galaxies shown were actually placed in the positions they would be in, with reference to our galaxy, if we could look at them from our imaginary point of observation above that place on earth and on that moment when we undertook our fantastic flight. Now, however, all we can do is to sketch a large number of galaxies and groups of galaxies of different sizes and to make their average distance the kind of dimension it is known to be.”

“The living creature portrayed in this drawing is a mosquito, to be exact an anopheles, or malaria mosquito. We can see this from the way it sticks up its hind legs. This is the first strange coincidence, for from the first series of pictures we know that it was in December that the scene occurred, and this insect is rather rare in Holland in winter. We notice that there is a little cut in the girl’s finger. Right in the center of the tiny square in the middle is a minute white spot. It is a grain of salt which stuck to the girl’s hand, having been left there, we may assume, after she ate her lunch. As it is not exactly the thing we would most expect to find there, it will be evident that there is a special reason for choosing it. That reason will appear later.”

“This scale has a magnification of a million. The electron microscope therefore can no longer give us clear images, for at most it can magnify 100,000 times. A more schematic image is therefore unavoidable, that is, a diagram rather than a photographic enlargement. Yet we know that there would still be living creatures. We show the infantile paralysis virus (1), already visible in -5, and one of hoof and mouth disease (2). The latter is about the smallest now known. Apart from the viruses shown there exist several with shapes sharply different from these wholly or nearly spherical forms. The sinusoid (3) shown is of an ultraviolet ray. The dots in the upper left quadrant indicate molecules of the air. The inset has the flagellum composed of three strands as already shown in -5. The height of the salt crystal on this scale would be 500 meters.”

“In this final picture we see the nucleus of the sodium atom. We cannot even guess how the 12 protons and 11 neutrons in it are placed. This nucleus is not painted an even grey; its edge is of a somewhat lighter tone which gradually merges into the darker hue in the center. The meaning of this difference of tone is again different from that in drawings -7 to -11. Here a darker grey denotes greater density of electric charge. As a new element there is a gamma ray, full of astonishingly penetrating power, coming in from the left. Its wave length is only a millionth of an angstrom unit, which itself is a hundred millionth of a centimeter! Looking back on the whole series of 40 pictures we find that in only 10 of them (3 to -6) is life known to exist. In other scales there may, however, be forms of life we do not yet know.”


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