Philosophy 167: Class 11 - Part 8 - Hooke's Micrographia: Microscopic Observations of Small Entities, and a Brief Biography.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Robert Hooke made important discoveries with a microscope.

    Opening line: "So picture yourself in France now. They've got this society forming, and they have their own journal, etcetra."

    Duration: 4:59 minutes.

    Segment: Class 11, Part 8.
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So picture yourself in France now. They've got this society forming, and they have their own journal, etcetra. Now a journal was started in France called the Journal des Savant, Journal of the Wise People, and had been around, but not focused primarily on science. But, oh, I didn't show you this.
This is a good thing to break on. I'd forgotten this was next. I'll get to France in a moment. So Hook had to provide something of serious value as well as entertainment at every meeting of the royal society. One of the things he discovered early on is you can do wonderful things in the directions with a microscope, which virtually just meant invent it.
So in 16, I think it's 1666, notice Bronkherd and FRS is the person who's president at the time and licensing this book. Micrographia or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, etcetera. Now this is a book of reports of what he saw through a microscope, and I'll give you one of his drawings from the book, which is a hair lice drawn in immaculate detail by Robert Hook from looking at it in a microscope.
This is another one showing you relative to a human hair, going across. It's page after page like this. Hooke had complained that Huygens had stolen the pendulum clock from him. Hooke spent a lifetime complaining that everybody stole things from him including Newton's Principia, stealing gravity. And the end of the night you'll see he had a little bit of a case for that, not much, but little bit of a case for that.
And Huygens took offense because, of course, he had clocks working and Hook was fooling around saying that he could make one but had not produced any. When he gets this book, he's in France, Huygens is, and he writes a letter to his father. I mentioned it last week, but I now can say it with great forcefulness.
In which he says, and I'm now, of course, paraphrasing, this man may be a total jerk, but anyone who publishes a book with these beautiful drawings, you can't hold anything against them. And you know, he expresses real admiration for the quality in this. It's in this book, by the way, that Newton learns of the notion of an experimentum crusis.
It's buried very deep inside Bacon's rating, but not so deep in Hook at all, Hook being very much an experimentalist. So this is one of the many ways Hook became famous. I'll end for the break, but a couple of remarks about Hook. Hook had a lot of work to do, and whether it was because of his personality or because the demands on his time were so excessive, he had wonderful idea after wonderful idea that was never brought to fruition.
But that time and again somebody else would bring to fruition, and he would express maximum displeasure over, saying that it had been stolen from him. Was not a terribly attractive person as a personality, he was physically not terribly attractive, he was hunchback. There are two nice biographies out of him now.
One of them, and I'm drawing a blank on her name, Lisa Jardine. Remember Nicholas Jardine and the book on Kepler's Apologia? Lisa was married to Nicholas at one time, she's long since been on her own. She wrote a beautiful, loving Biography of Hooke, the main thrust of which was Newton was the jerk, Hooke was a perfectly good person.
You can make a case for that given Hooke's life, but the thing I wanna stress is he's a very, very important figure running through all of this. Yet when you ask the question, what did he actually produce, it's not entirely clear rather than of course Hooke's law, which is the fundamental law of elasticity, but not much else is named after Hooke.
From the time the Royal Society is formed until he dies in 1783, he's probably the most important person week after week at the meetings.