Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (1997)

Mason & Dixon

Father Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich

(aka Roger Joseph Boscovich)

Provided by Doug Millison

From Online Boscovich Bio:

Father Boscovich

"Two hundred years ago February 13, 1787 the Croatian Jesuit mathematician Roger Boscovich,S.J. died. He developed the first coherent description of atomic theory in his work Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis , which is one of the great attempts to understand the structure of the universe in a single idea. He held that bodies could not be composed of continuous matter, but of countless 'point-like structures'. In this work he states that the ultimate elements of matter are indivisible points 'atoms,' which are centers of force and this force varies in proportion to distance. What is remarkable is that his works appeared well over a century before the birth of modern atomic theory.

"Robert Marsh, the author of Physics and Poets, credits Boscovich with the idea of a FIELD: Faraday and others took the idea from him. His influence on modern atomic physics is undoubted. Boscovich was a creative scientist and his inventions included the ring micrometer and an achromatic telescope. He was the first one to apply probability to the theory of errors. Later mathematicians such as Laplace and Gauss acknowledged their indebtedness to his pioneering work which led to Legendre's principle of least squares.

[...]

"Well known all over Europe, Boscovich was later made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and today the name Boscovich is found on maps of the moon since a rather large lunar crater was named in his honor. Because of his prominence as a scholar, it was his influence that minimized the hostility of Catholic churchmen to the Copernican system.

"Russian scientists have always shown a strong interest in his work and more recently western scientists have become better acquanted with his contributions. This resurgence of interest in his works is evident from a host of recent books and articles. His legacy has been preserved in the special Boscovich Archives in the Rare Boooks library at the University of California in Berkeley. Amoung the 180 items housed there are found not only many of his 66 scientific treatices, but also correspondence with other mathematicians such as Euler, D'Lambert, Lagrange, Laplace, Jacobi and Bernoulli.

"It was assumed then as now that mathematicians have the practical sense to fix intricate things such as clocks, so he was commissioned by popes and emperors to repair the alarming fissures in the cupola of the Milan Cathedral, to reinforce the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica, to direct the drainage of the Pontine marshes, and to survey the meridian of the Papal states.

"Born in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia in 1711 Boscovich lived a long fruitful life and was one of the last renowned polymaths. Incisive in thought, bold in spirit, and independent in judgement he was a man of the eighteenth-century in some respects, but far ahead of his time in others."

From Another Website:

"Boscovich studied at the Collegium Romanum in Rome and was appointed professor of mathematics there in 1740. He was one of the first in continental Europe to accept Newton's gravitational theories and he wrote 70 papers on optics, astronomy, gravitation, meterology and trigonometry.

"His main work was in mathematical physics. In his study of the shape of the Earth he used the idea of minimising the sum of the absolute values of the deviations. His solution to this minimising problem took a geometric form. Boscovich was the first to give a procedure to compute a planet's orbit from 3 observations of its position and he also gave a procedure for determining the equator of a planet from 3 observations of a surface feature.

Boscovich became professor of mathematics at Pavia in 1764 and was director of Brera Observatory. He led an expedition to California in 1769 to observe a transit of Venus. From 1773 to 1783 he worked in Paris.

From Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil:

"As for materialistic atomism, it is one of the best refuted theories there are, and in Europe perhaps no one in the learned world is now so unscholarly as to attach serious significance to it for convenient household use (as an abbreviation of the means of expression) thanks chiefly to the Dalmatian Boscovich and the Pole Corpernicus have been the greatest and most successful opponents of visual evidence so far. For while Copernicus has persuaded us to believe, contrary to all the senses, that the earth does not stand fast, Boscovich has taught us to abjure the belief in the last part of the earth that 'stood fast' - the belief in substance, in 'matter,' in the earth-residuum and particle-atom; it is the greatest triumph over the senses that has been gained on earth so far.

"One must, however, go still further. and also declare war, relentless war unto death, against the 'atomistic need' which still leads a dangerous afterlife in places where no one suspects it, just like the more celebrated 'metaphysical need': one must also, first of all, give the finishing stroke to that other and more calamitous atomism which Christianity has taught best and longest, the soul atomism. Let it be permitted to designate by this expression the belief which regards the soul as something indestructible. eternal, in divisible, as a monad, as an atomon: this belief ought to be expelled from science! Between ourselves, it is not at all necessary to get rid of 'the soul' at the same time, and thus to renounce one of the most ancient and venerable hypotheses - as happens frequently to clumsy naturalists who can hardly touch on 'the soul' without immediately losing it. But the way is open for new versions and refinements of the soul-hypothesis; and such conceptions as 'mortal soul,' and 'soul as subjective multiplicity,' and 'soul as social structure of the drives and affects want henceforth to have citizens' rights in science. When the new psychologist puts an end to the superstitions which have so far flourished with almost tropical luxuriance around the idea of the soul, he practically exiles himself into a new desert and a new suspicion - it is possible that the older psychologists had a merrier and more comfortable time of it; eventually, however, he finds that precisely thereby he also concerns himself to invention - and - who knows? - perhaps to discovery."

 

Mason & Dixon
Mason & Dixon - Thomas Pynchon