Strange machines and Wunderkammern

Quick: which is more important? Reason or wonder?

Don’t tell me you need more information… just answer the question. Which is more important? And which is more powerful? They clearly have a tangled relationship. Science fiction authors and scientists are always quoting each other. Arthur C. Clarke, quoting himself, famously conflated magic and technology: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I just finished reading a gift from my sister-in-law, an odd little book called Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler. Actually, the book isn’t so odd… it’s the book’s topic that is odd: The Museum of Jurassic Technology. The cabinet of wonder is the museum, a bizarre and disordered little museum on a nondescript street in Los Angeles. But the more nonsense you read about it, the more sense it all makes. Wonder is the fountainhead of reason.

Wunderkammern, or rooms of wonder, were the sixteenth century predecessors of museums. In modern terms, they were eccentric collections of tchotchkes and oddities from the natural world thrown together with, ideally, a sense of style.

Like this: Athanasius Kircher takes us from here to here, where we learn about these and this which eventually takes us to Arthur Ganson’s Machines (make sure you watch Wishbone Man walking, that tiny tireless Sisyphus). And from Wishbone Man it is a short stroll to here.

2 thoughts on “Strange machines and Wunderkammern”

  1. I am a big fan of Ganson’s machines (I ordered the DVD from him). Did I ever tell you about the exhibits in the Natural History and Ethnography museum in Oxford (Pitt Rivers?). Maybe at CHI…

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