Friday, May 20, 2011

science demons

Laplace's Demon

This is the 3rd demon in my 'Imaginary Friends of Science' series. In fairness Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827), French mathematical physicist (who incidentally, did invaluable work in geophysics), was pretty hard-headed and probably didn't really have any imaginary friends. In 1814, when he envisioned an entity such that if it knew the precise location and momentum of every 'atom'* in the universe then it could use deterministic principles to reveal the entire course of cosmic events, past and future, he didn't name it a demon. His biographers did. But less face it - hard-headed or not, this hypothetical entity is much like those thought experiments of Maxwell and Descartes, also called demons. So, I've made linocuts of the entire trio. Each block is 6 inches by 7 inches and printed on Japanese kozo (or mulberry paper).

I imagined this demon as containing 'everything' between his horns (galaxies, stars, planets, comets, and so on), bearing a maked ressemblance to Laplace, and, since it knows everything, being enlightened, so I've borrowed some associated iconography.*

Recall the other demons:
Maxwell's DemonDescartes' Demon all

*this of course, pre-dates our modern knowledge and ability to detect atoms, so you must read the word in its original sense of 'small, indivisible, primordial particle'

**there is a story about Laplace, possible apocryphal, that when questioned by Napoleon about his lack of reference to God or a Creator that he stated that he had had 'no need of that hypothesis' (Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là). To which an amused Napoleon alledgedly replied, Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses. ("Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.") So, it seems he was likely atheistic, and would be surprised to find his thought-experiment turned into a Buddhist demon.

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