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Reckoning with Matter

Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage

Matthew L. Jones

Reckoning with Matter

Matthew L. Jones

336 pages | 54 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226411460 Published November 2016
E-book $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226411637 Published November 2016
From Blaise Pascal in the 1600s to Charles Babbage in the first half of the nineteenth century, inventors struggled to create the first calculating machines. All failed—but that does not mean we cannot learn from the trail of ideas, correspondence, machines, and arguments they left behind.
 
In Reckoning with Matter, Matthew L. Jones draws on the remarkably extensive and well-preserved records of the quest to explore the concrete processes involved in imagining, elaborating, testing, and building calculating machines. He explores the writings of philosophers, engineers, and craftspeople, showing how they thought about technical novelty, their distinctive areas of expertise, and ways they could coordinate their efforts. In doing so, Jones argues that the conceptions of creativity and making they exhibited are often more incisive—and more honest—than those that dominate our current legal, political, and aesthetic culture.
 
Contents
Introduction
1          Carrying Tens: Pascal, Morland, and the Challenge of Machine Calculation           
First Carry           Babbage and Clement Mechanize Table Making 
2          Artisans and Their Philosophers: Leibniz and Hooke Coordinate Minds, Metal, and Wood           
Second Carry       Babbage Gets Funded   
3          Improvement for Profit: Calculating Machines and the Prehistory of Intellectual Property 
Third Carry          Babbage Claims His Property
4          Reinventing the Wheel: Emulation in the European Enlightenment 
Fourth Carry        Babbage Confronts Prior Art 
5          Teething Problems: Charles Stanhope and the Coordination of Technical Knowledge from Geneva to Kent           
Fifth Carry Babbage’s Collaborators Emulate   
6          Calculating Machines, Creativity, and Humility from Leibniz to Turing      
Final Carry Epilogue    
Acknowledgments     
Conventions   
Abbreviations 
Notes  
References     
Index
Review Quotes
Choice
"Rather than being yet another history of calculating machines, this book rises much higher by its scholarly examination, explanation, and interpretation of that history from the perspectives of computational mathematics, philosophy, logic, mechanical engineering capabilities, artisan skills, intellectual property, and the creative process itself. Starting from the primary difficulty of carrying tens on a mechanical device, the author provides an invigorating journey through the inventive process of calculating machines from 1600 to 1830, while introducing readers to the creations—ideas, justification, machines, and failures—of Pascal, Morland, Leibniz, Hooke, Babbage, Clement, and Stanhope. In each case, the author carefully details why the proposed models or dreams could not be realized as physical models, especially as marketable tools. The last chapter weighs the significance of 18th-century calculating machines on mathematics, as well as the processes of thinking and creation. The excellent chapter notes, reference list, and index complement the book. In summary, this book is exceptional and succeeds at its proposed task; more so, it offers both an approach and standard that more historians of technology should emulate—critically interweaving theory, practice, and results. Essential."
New Books Network
"Innovative in its approach and its form, Reckoning with Matter offers a thoughtful and beautifully written history of technology that offers an important perspective on a division between two poles of writing the history of technology. Readers will not only enjoy a compelling account of machine calculation through the nineteenth century, but will also find the story of a frog that tears out the eyes of a fish, a man who designed machines for making breakfast, and discussions of the significance of credit and intellectual property, modern programming, sketching, imitation, and debates over the nature of thinking. Highly recommended!"
John Tresch, University of Pennsylvania
Reckoning with Matter provides a groundbreaking view into the archaeology of the thinking machine. Jones deftly takes us through the tricky materiality, tense negotiations, conceptual reconfigurations, and mechanical constraints faced by Pascal, Leibniz, the irascible Babbage, and many others in bringing their blueprints of calculating machines into reality. Before a machine could be made to do what every schoolchild now learns—how to carry a digit from one column of addition to another—the roles between philosophers, artisans, and mechanics had to be redefined, parts had to be standardized, and an entire cultural logic which prized emulation and gradual, collective improvement had to be replaced by the cult of the individual inventor. Going back over two and a half centuries before Turing, the meaning of thought, creativity, and the limits of the human were already at stake in the protracted efforts to build a machine that adds and subtracts. This fascinating journey through the material and mental workshops of a panoply of protocomputers and the politics of getting them built is much more than a formidable history of the early–modern roots of the digital age: it’s a boldly innovative, sophisticated, and eminently emulable example of how to make sense of the interwoven histories of science, labor, property, and technology.”
Michael R. Williams, emeritus, University of Calgary
Reckoning with Matter is a unique contribution to the history of calculating machines, their designers, the craftsmen who created them, and the interplay between the various groups. Jones not only details the inner workings of some of the machines but also provides a good look at some of the lesser–known creators such as Stanhope, Hahn, Müller, and others. With an extensive use of wonderful primary sources, Jones produces an insight that is rarely seen in the literature on calculating machines. Reckoning with Matter will fascinate.”
Ken Alder, Northwestern University
“Jones offers a sharp new argument about the sources of creativity in science and technology. This history of early-modern calculating engines—carefully gleaned from the cryptic notes of savants like Leibniz and the sketches of their artisanal collaborators—shows how novelty was discovered ‘in the making’ and not through the imposition of thought on matter. The descriptions are vivid and offer fascinating insights into the ways such machines did (and didn't!) work. In the process, the book tracks the fitful route by which ‘originality’ came to be the basis of intellectual property. Clever, detailed, and assembled with an originality all its own, Reckoning with Matter will certainly find an eager audience.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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