On Growth and Form

My review of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's classic, just as posted to a BBS a long time ago.

Date: 01-11-95 (00:21)             Number: 5093              P.& A. BBS
From: BRIAN CHANDLER               Refer#: NONE
  To: ANDREAS BRAEM                 Recvd: NO
Subj: More paper formats             Conf: (16) Q&A
I spent most of today on one train or another, in the pursuit of a rather
pointless meeting.  In the process, I finished "On Growth and Form", by
Wentworth D'Arcy Thompson (1860-1948), in the Canto reprint (=cost
reasonable) 1991 with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, of the 1961
edition abridged by John Tyler ("slime-mould") Bonner to 330 pages,
from the first edition of 793 pages in 1917 and second enlarged edition
of 1116 pages in 1942.


It is a bit hard in places, because D'AT was a classics scholar on the
side, so he leaves bits of Latin and Greek in, plus quite a few slabs of
French, and smidgens of German and Italian.  But like (SJ) Gould, he can
use difficult words yet basically make his meaning clear and simple.
(It's quite a relief though to see that he obviously can't read Russian.)

I read today about "spirals" (i.e. helical spirals) and gnomons.  How
a ram's horn is shaped, and why it is like umpteen molluscs and bits of
plant construction.  I bought a maku-no-uchi [box lunch] in 
Shiojiri, and there was a demonstration: the coiled-up shoot of a young 

[This is an error.  I meant Pteridophyte.]

A gnomon is a shape which, added to shape A makes shape A', where A' is
just an enlarged form of A.  So in a snail's shell, the last glump, or
last bit of growth, is a gnomon which, added to last year's shell makes
this year's shell, *and*both*shells*are*similar*figures*.  D'AT sadly did
not see the full glory of Churman-thinking-applied-to-the-world.  Here
he is...

   There are other gnomonic figures more curious still.  For example,
   if we make a rectangle (Fig. 77) such that the two sides are in the
   ratio of 1 : root(2), it is obvious that, on doubling it, we obtain a
   similar figure;  for 1 : root(2) :: root(2) : 2; and each half of the
   figure, accordingly, is now a gnomon to the other.  Were we [ah!!!]
   to make our paper of such a shape (say, roughly, 10 in. x 7 in.), we
   might fold and fold it, and the shape of folio, quarto and octavo
   pages would be all the same.

Three books lead me back to this one:  the biography of Turing, who
towards the very end of his life became very interested in embryonic
development, and the two engineering books (also wonderful reads) by J.E.
Gordon.  Authors can only be inspired by earlier authors, and I now find
myself wanting to know more about Oliver Wendell Holmes who, my Conc. Ox.
Comp. to Eng. Lit tells me, was an American writer and physician (1809-
94) and famous contributor to the Atlantic Monthly.

 * SLMR 1.05 * Do not fire used batteries from a cannon.

Abridged version: Amazon.com (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)

Second edition (Dover reprint): Amazon.com (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)


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