Friday 22nd of September 2023

as time goes by...


Voltaire and his squeeze (for most of her adult life), the Marquise du Châtelet were not convinced by John Locke’s "thinking matter” as a decent system given by godot-almighty.
Apart from a few sane nutcases, most of European thinkers were still in the grip of Christian thinking — though these philosophers were trying to shake the apple tree through secular investigation. Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet — mistress of Voltaire — was such an important intellectual and scientist of the 18th century.

John Locke had written:

We have the Ideas of Matter and of Thinking, but possibly shall never be able to know, whether any material being thinks, or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own Ideas, without revelation, to discover whether Omnipotency has not given to some System of Matter fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined to matter so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance.

Because of her well-known long collaboration and romantic involvement with Voltaire, barely tolerated by her husband in a ménage à trois, Du Châtelet’s achievements have often been second fiddle in Voltaire's shadow. Yet, her own works focused on the empowerment of individuals, including women, to issues of social contract, and to the conceptualisation of energy, deriving its quantitative relationships to the mass and velocity of an object.

Her philosophical magnus opus, Institutions de la Physique (Paris, 1740, first edition), Foundations of Physics, generated heated debates, was republished and translated into several languages within two years of its original publication. She participated in the famous vis viva debate, concerning the best way to measure the force of a body and the best means of thinking about conservation of energy principles

Leinniz's concept of vis viva (living force) was the precursor to our modern concept of kinetic energy. His formula (mv2) was near to the modern non-relativistic 1/2mv2, with the half quotient eventually getting eliminated in the "derivatived" relativistic Einstein formula E = mc2. Now you know.

Vis viva became a bone of contention between the Newtonians and the Cartesians. The debate mixed technical, philosophical and even theological issues that would be strange to modern thinkers — except to bogans from the shire who have not a clue about anything philosophical that does not have barbecue and sausages in it — or a hot cross bun at Easter. Praise the lodylord and Mister Rabbit...

Madame du Châtelet's ideas were taken posthumously into the text of the Fench Enlightenment major book, the Encyclopédie of Denis (no freedom until the last king is hung with the entrails of the last priest) Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, first published shortly after the Marquise du Châtelet's death.

Books and plays have been written about her life and her work since then. In the early 21st century, her quaint big ideas have seen renewed interest.

Du Châtelet criticised John Locke's philosophy as she emphasised the necessity of the verification of knowledge through experience. Good. Her critique of Locke first appeared in her Bernard de Mandeville commentary on the Fable of the Bees. In the preface, she also argued in favour of women's education, particularly secondary education, as was available for young men then. Good. The lack of women's education prevented them to become eminent in the arts and sciences. Not good. She supported universal principles which precondition human knowledge and actions. Not good... Du Châtelet supported this universal presupposition, because if there were no such beginning, all our knowledge would be relative. Here comes Einstein again...

Thus du Châtelet did not like John Locke's unconvincing aversion to innate ideas and to a-priori principles. The debate went on and on, and is still part of our modern discussion, including a long one between Einstein and Bohr: The agnostic relativists versus the atheistic quantum mechanists. "Don't tell god what He (god is a male) can or can't do..." In a strange way, the quantum mechanists are more in favour of a "predestined future" than the relativists. This debate could make for another long rhetorical development on a bright Sunday barbecue, but we won't go there, yet.

Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, himself a scientist who invented the "principle of least action", and Julien Ofray de la Mettrie referenced du Châtelet's deliberations on motion and free will, on "thinking matter" and numbers — and on the proper way to do metaphysics. Du Châtelet rebuked Maupertuis for finding the truth with mathematical laws. She was a clever woman who was "sometimes never wrong". We know.

Here we enter the old chestnut of who discovered what, especially when everyone with a brain is looking for a better answer than Eve and Adam, and the Devil's rotten apple in regard to the bizarre human condition... Lucky, came the family of bright pommy thinkers, starting with granddaddy placing his left toe in the theory of evolution, to culminate with Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species". The monkeys were emerging from under the elegant and perfumed clothes.

Meanwhile, the "principle of least action" — or the principle of stationary action — is a variational principle that, when applied to a mechanical system can be used to obtain the equation of motion for that system. Here, friction between surfaces is often ignored, as if systems were operating in the best of the worlds. In quantum mechanics, an action is minimised or maximised, with nothing in between. This is the quanta. If something happens in between, then a new particle is invented with a smaller quanta. Simple... Not really.

The principle of least action has been used to derive Newtonian, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion, and even general relativity with the Einstein-Hilbert action.

The physicist Paul Dirac, followed by Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman, demonstrated how this principle can be used in quantum calculations. It was historially called "least" because the solution requires finding the path with the least value.

This is where Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis' principle is more important than Madame du Châtelet's views. Quantum mechanics is only a mathematical model of matter that accurately predicts the behaviour of matter by making assumption about what matter is.

The present principle of least action used in classical and electromagnetic expressions is a direct concequence from being applied to quantum mechanics, yet in a reversed perversity, the "stationary action" of classical mechanics helped develop quantum mechanics.

The least action principle remains central to modern physics, mathematics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, relativity, quatum mechanics, particle physics (including string theory) and topology... Meanwhile, we, artists, tend to complicate things with volutes and distortions.

While sciences try to use the least action principle in search of the truth, the artful kingdom — say art of all sorts, politics, religions and economics — are economical with the truth in order to propagate the porkies principle. It has to be said here that "economics" may claim to use the least action principle by using statistics and numbers, but in economics the least action principle ony appears in tax evasion and minimisation of wages.

The least action principle is preceded by earlier concepts in optics... In Catoptrica, Euclid wrote that when light reflects in a mirror, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Hero of Alexandria showed that this was the shortest path in length and in time — hence the least action principle being observed. 

Scholars credit Maupertuis for formulating the principle of lest action as he wrote first about it in 1744. However Leonhard Euler also discussed the principle in 1744 as well, while Gottfried Leibniz had had views on the subject 39 years earlier.

While Voltaire remained a Newtonian, the Marquise adopted some of Leibniz arguments against Newton. Both had fun.

Voltaire, who used about 176 noms-de-plume to stay clear of the authorities for writing his anti-government bile, did a couple of stints in prison at the Bastille. The first instance (1717-1718) was for writing a satirical verse in which he mentioned the Régent having an incestuous relationship with his daughter.

In plays and other works, Voltaire argued for freedom of thought and religious tolerance while campaigning to eradicate the religious and monarchical authority. He was in favour of a constitution monarchy that protectected people's rights.

His second stint at the Bastille was due to Rohan-Chabot, a French nobleman, of whom Voltaire had said that his name "Voltaire" would be honoured while the nobleman would dishonour his own... Offended, de Rohan-Chabot arranged for Voltaire to be beaten up by thugs a few days later. Seeking redress, Voltaire challenged de Rohan-Chabot to a duel, but the nobleman's powerful family had Voltaire arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille on 17 April 1726. Voltaire asked to be exhiled instead and the authorities escorted him of May 2, to Calais and sent him to Britain. Good Riddance.

In Britain, Voltaire appreciated the representative monarchy, a concept that challenged the French absolute monarchy. He circled in the high English society, meeting Alexander Pope, John Gay, Jonathan Swift and many other members of the nobility and royalty. Voltaire's exile in Great Britain greatly influenced his thinking. He was enthused by Britain's freedom of speech and of religion — freedom which with Assange in prison has gone to the dogs...

Returned to France and making a small fortune on the kingdom’s lottery, Voltaire wrote more stuff. In a visit to Paris in 1744, Voltaire found a new love — his niece. At first, his attraction to Marie Louise Mignot was sexual, as evidenced by his letters to her (discovered in 1957). They remained together until Voltaire's death. Meanwhile, the Marquise du Châtelet also took a lover, the Marquis de Saint-Lambert with whom she had a kid… She died in 1749, during childbirth of the said child who died 20 months later. Sad.

In parallel to these characters, misogynist JJ Rousseau was pushing his own social ideas that shook Europe. His views encouraged the revolution of the people, for the people by the people, a true revolution of the masses — contrary to the earlier one of the USA that was a revolution for the rich by the rich people who hated paying taxes on tea. There, nothing much has changed since in the Americas, the idea of behaving like armed little shits for freedom of making cash whichever way is sub-ingrained in the US constitution.

Despite 250 years of progressive enlightenment, obviously evolving into secularity and atheism intellectually applied to social constructs, there are still a few ningnong hell-bent on believing that Noah’s Ark’s ridiculous adventures is key to our relationships. Mind you, all the silly bits around Abraham’s sacrifices and Moses’ plagues of frogs were enforced by Emperor Constantine because it would better to unify “his” people by living in FEAR of one god, rather than be amused by a skewer of legendish Roman godots which started to look a bit ragged and had been behaving badly.

The concept of one godot was soon adopted by Mohammed in his quest to unify the “Arab world”.

Preceding Voltaire by a couple of hundred years, Rabelais enjoyed himself as a spanner in the works. A monk and a physician, Rabelais used his spare time to write and publish humorous pamphlets critical of established authority, preoccupied with the education and monastic moires of the time.

In 1532, under the pseudonym Alcofribas Nasier (a nonsensical anagram of François Rabelais), he published his first book, Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, the first of his Gargantua series. 

The inspiration for this came from an allegory about giants — the anonymous legends of les Grandes chroniques du grand et énorme géant Gargantua, which were sold as popular cheap literature in pamphlets by travelling salesmen, and found at stalls at fairs in Lyon. 

"LEs gra(n)des et 
inestimables Cronicques: du grant et enor- 
me geant Gargantua: Contenant sa genealogie/ 

La grandeur & force de son corps. Aussi les merveil-

leux faictz darmes qu’il fist pour le Roy Artus/ com- 

me verrez cy apres. Imprime novellement. 1532 

THE great and
inestimable Chronicles: of the big and enor-
mous giant Gargantua : Containing his genealogy/
the bigness & strength of his body. As well the marvel-
lous facts of battle that he did for King Artus/ as
you can see thereafter. Just printed. 1532.”

Note that “mass” printing has barely been invented — as Gutenberg's first book ever printed in Europe, from movable type, was the “Forty-Two-Line” Bible completed in 1455. 

Pantagruelism is an "eat, drink and be merry" philosophy, which led Rabelais into disfavour with the church. His book brought him popular success and the admiration of critics, while it gave him a conduit to dissect, inspect and criticise the way societies were (badly) run… Nothing has changed much since.

This first book, critical of the monastic and education system, contains the first known occurrence in French of the words encyclopédie, caballe, progrès and utopie among others. 

Despite this book's popularity, the series about the life and exploits of Pantagruel's father Gargantua were condemned by La Sorbonne in 1543 and by the Catholic Church in 1545.

With support from the du Bellay family, Rabelais received approval from King Francis I to continue to publish his works. However, after the king's death in 1547, the academic élite turned against Rabelais, and the French Parliament suspended the sale of his fourth book (Le Quart Livre) published in 1552.

Rabelais often traveled to Rome with his friend Cardinal Jean du Bellay, for whom Rabelais was the “physician”. He lived in Turin as part of the household of du Bellay's brother, Guillaume, for a short while. Rabelais spent much time lying low, under threat of being condemned of heresy "depending upon the health of his various protectors". He had to make sure his benefactors such as the Cardinal du Bellay didn’t die. His own life depended on this fact.

Now, all of this could seem esoteric and obscure… But in our time of government decrees to force us into isolation and other weird behaviour, we have to ask what these brave libertine (before the word became associated with debauchery) would have done in pamphlets and other formats of satirical protests. They would have gone ballistic, like kids in lolly-shops, in our world of emails, internet, TV and radio. They would have been like a million Sammy J who excelled himself tonight with a video conferencing going apeshit. Magnificent. But we need more: we need a revolution but we have been too comfortable for too long.
Someone somewhere must be laughing their heads off, as in one swoop from fear of a virulent disease, most of science, religions, governments and nearly all the people have joined forces to destroy the spirit of humankind — a spirit based on freedom, equality, sharing and conviviality… unless you live in countries where godot’s (say Allah) decrees — in which the spirit of humankind has been imprisoned anyway... 

Welcome to the old normal, before the French revolution...

The bogans of these time gone by — about to be fed cakes instead of bread — were far more astute than the sheep of today… Propaganda has won. The satirists don’t have a chance.

Awaiting the next Rabelais...

life and time of a couple of satirists...

The article above has been restored after a few posting technical problems. 
Meanwhile here is a funny picture:signs
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am I still alive?...

The Enlightenment emerged from a European intellectual movement known as Renaissance humanism. Some historians consider the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica in 1687 as the first major enlightenment work. 

(Contrarian) French historians date the Enlightenment from the death of Louis XIV (1715) until the French Revolution (1789), which was a pivotal realignment of people's powers — until Napoleon. It took France another 110 years to fully recover its secular spirit — a spirit that has become a bit wonky as leaders since Charles de Gaulle have been ambiguous about the purpose of society — and also due for its religious tolerance that has broken up the social fabric. For this we’ll also blame the Americans for their fast food, Hollywood and their little wars. Enlightenment never reached the fatal shores Australia. 

This historical vacillation was not exclusive to France. In Germany, the unification led to the rise of the Kaiser, and in England, for whatever reason, Enlightenment has been wishy-washy under a bunch of Houses and royal Germans since Elizabeth the First. Two world wars ensued — and Assange is still in prison. Thus British enlightenment is complete rubbish. Yes, there has been plenty of eccentrics and playwrights who exposed this lack of enlightened views in England and George Bernard shaw was one of them. While Dickens exploited the voyeurism of the masses, Oscar Wilde was pushing a more discreet tolerance of differences. D H Lawrence pushed the boundaries of … what had been going on since… well since… kings were having sex with "the help" or the courtesans, and possibly before. What? A gardener having it off with the Lady of the house?… Nothing new. Except that no one dared mention it, except Voltaire in his pamphlet about the Régent having an affair with his own daughter… That way to the Bastille, Mr Voltaire...

Philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment exchanged ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffee houses and in printed books, journals, and pamphlets. The Enlightenment aimed to investigate scientific truth with ideas based on reason, measurements and the evidence from the senses. As well, Enlightenment introduced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity,  constitutional government and separation of church and state — eventually leading to the republican democratic ideal. Thus the Enlightenment had to undermine the authority of the monarchy and the Church. Here in Aussieland, still peddling a monarchical democracy, we’re as far from Enlightenment as were the peasants in the Middle Ages. Thank you Malcolm for having mucked up this one. 

The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased rejection of religious beliefs — an attitude captured by Immanuel Kant's essay Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment, in which the words Sapere aude (Dare to know) appear. 

As well, there was a strong push for the equality between women and men, not in tasks such as going to war — though we all (we all should) remember Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431), nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" (La Pucelle d'Orléans), considered a French heroine for leading French troops to victory during the Hundred Years' War, and canonised as a Roman Catholic saint… 

Women were a major part of the great intellectualism of the Enlightenment. Most of the “salons” in France were run by women… We’ve already explored Louise Florence Pétronille Tardieu d'Esclavelles d’Épinay and JJ Rousseau...

So we'll explore more of the prominent French characters of the Enlightenment, though not as well-known as Voltaire or JJ Rousseau.  Some women like Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse (1732 – 1776) were "born out of wedlock” like many people had been, including one of her lover, Jean le Rond d’Alembert. De Lespinasse held the most prominent salon in Paris during the Enlightenment. Her letters, posthumously published in 1809, gave compelling accounts of her tragic love affairs, though written to fictitious people. Even her real identity was secret, as she had been baptised as the daughter of two fictitious persons, Claude Lespinasse and his wife Julie Navarre...

Born in Paris, in 1717, Jean le Rond d'Alembert was the bastard son of the writer Claudine Guérin de Tencin and the chevalier Louis-Camus Destouches, an artillery officer. Destouches was abroad at the time of d'Alembert's birth. A few Days after his birth, his mother left him on the steps of the Saint-Jean-le-Rond de Paris church. According to tradition, he was named after the patron saint of the church. D'Alembert was then placed in an orphanage, but his father found him and placed him with the wife of a glazier, Madame Rousseau. She gave him no encouragement whatsoever. When Jean told her of some discovery he had made or something he had written she (always?) replied:

You will never be anything but a philosopher - and what is that but an ass who plagues himself all his life, that he may be talked about after he is dead.

Destouches secretly paid for the education of Jean le Rond, but did not want his paternity officially recognised.

Aged 12, d'Alembert entered the Jansenist Collège des Quatre-Nations (the "Collège Mazarin”). where he studied philosophy, law, and the arts, graduating with a baccalauréat in arts in 1735.

The Jansenists had tried to steer d'Alembert toward an ecclesiastical career, but he dumped the Cartesian principles he had been taught by them (physical promotion, innate ideas and the vortices). Theology was "rather unsubstantial fodder" for d'Alembert. He entered law school for two years, and was accepted as a barrister in 1738.

Interested in medicine and mathematics, he was registered under the name "Daremberg", but changed it to “d'Alembert”, a name proposed by Frederick the Great of Prussia for a possible (but non-existent) moon of Venus.

In 1739, D’Alembert pointed out to the Académie des Sciences, errors he had spotted in Analyse Démontrée (published 1708 by Charles-René Reynaud). At the time L'Analyse Démontrée was a standard reference, which d'Alembert himself had used to study mathematics. 

In 1741, d'Alembert was elected to the Académie des Sciences. He was later elected to the Berlin Academy in 1746 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1748.

In 1743, he published his most famous work, Traité de dynamique, in which he developed his own laws of motion.

When the Encyclopédie was organised in the late 1740s, d'Alembert was engaged as co-editor for mathematics and science, with Diderot, and served until some crisis temporarily interrupted the publication in 1757. He authored over a thousand articles for it, including the famous Preliminary Discourse. D'Alembert agreed with the Idealist Berkeley and anticipated the transcendental idealism of Kant. D'Alembert was also a Latin scholar of some note and worked in the latter part of his life on a superb translation of Tacitus.

In 1752, he wrote the D'Alembert's paradox that the drag on a body immersed in a negligible viscosity, incompressible fluid is zero.

In 1754, d'Alembert was elected a member of the Académie des sciences, of which he became Permanent Secretary on 9 April 1772.

In 1757, the non-believer d’Alembert, in the seventh volume of the Encyclopaedia, suggested that Calvinism had moved to pure Socinianism — a view famous for its non-trinitarian christology and a number of other weirdo beliefs — based on information fed to him by Voltaire. Here we have to also remind ourselves that Newton was a non-trinitarian (see on this site). The Calvinist Pastors of Geneva were outraged and organised a committee to fight these charges. Under pressure from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, d'Alembert eventually apologised that he considered anyone who did not accept the Church of Rome was a Socinianist, and that was all he meant. He did not do any more work on the encyclopaedia following his response to the critique.

D'Alembert participated in several Parisian salons, particularly that of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, that of the marquise du Deffand and of course, that of Julie de Lespinasse. D'Alembert became infatuated with de Lespinasse, and eventually took up residence with her. Diderot made her a protagonist of his controversial philosophical in D'Alembert's Dream. 

Although she had neither wealth nor rank and was not an outstanding beauty, Mlle de Lespinasse had intellect, charm, and ability as a hostess, qualities that made her salon gatherings the most popular in Paris. Her long-lasting notability is due to her great literary talent that remained a secret during her lifetime, even from her closest friends, as she wrote about her two sad major love affairs.

De Lespinasse met the Marquis de Mora two years after establishing her own salon. Encountering him two years later, they fell in love. But he suffered symptoms of tuberculosis and returned to Spain for his health. Her letters reveal the pain of the separation and her anxiety over Mora's poor health. On the way back to Paris in 1774 to fulfil promises made with de Lespinasse, the marquis died in Bordeaux at the age of 30.

But, love is a weirdo thing… Soon after the Marquis de Mora had gone back to Spain, de Lespinasse met the man who would become the real passion of her life, the Comte de Guibert, then a colonel. Her letters to him began in 1773 and she became “torn between two lovers” (despite having her bit on the side with d'Alembert). Later letters describe her disenchantment occasioned by Guibert's marriage to another woman in 1775 and her increasing despair.

By early 1776, Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse was in a bad mental state and physical ill-health, possibly caused by the misery of her relationship with Guibert — and having a dependence on opium from earlier depressive tendencies. On her deathbed, she refused to receive Guibert and instead, was watched over by her friend d'Alembert. She died on 22 May 1776 in Paris at the age of 43. Her last words apparently were "Am I still alive?

D'alembert suffered bad health for many years and his death in 1783 was as the result of a urinary bladder illness. As a known unbeliever, D'Alembert was buried in a common unmarked grave.


In South Australia, a small island in south-western Spencer Gulf was named Ile d'Alembert by the French explorer, Nicolas Baudin during his expedition to New Holland. The island is better known by the alternative English name of Lipson Island. So, the name d’Alembert, a prominent figure of the Enlightenment was erased from the English/Australian misunderstanding of that important philosophical period, which in England was replaced by the industrial revolution… and in Australia, by sheep and digging holes.


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Note: The very existence of an English Enlightenment has been hotly debated by scholars. The majority of textbooks on British history make little or no mention of an English Enlightenment. Some surveys of the entire Enlightenment include England and others ignore it, although they do include coverage of such major intellectuals as Joseph Addison, Edward Gibbon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope, Joshua Reynolds and Jonathan Swift. Roy Porter argues that the reasons for this neglect were the assumptions that the movement was primarily French-inspired, that it was largely a-religious or anti-clerical, and that it stood in outspoken defiance to the established order. ...

England rejected the collectivism of the continent and emphasized the improvement of individuals as the main goal of enlightenment...

BREXIT! Now you know...