If you could be invisible, what would you do? The chances are that it would have something to do with power, wealth or sex. Perhaps all three, given the opportunity. But there's no need to feel guilty. Because these impulses, and plenty more, have always been at the heart of our fascination with invisibility. Precisely because it points to realms beyond our senses, the notion of invisibility has long performed as a receptacle for fears and dreams, as something that hints at worlds where other rules apply; and as a mighty power and a terrible curse, a sexual promise, a spiritual condition. This is a history of invisibility in our culture. It takes in Plato, the occult in the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, Shakespearian ghosts, ether and cathode rays and nineteenth-century science, spiritualism, electromagnetism, H.G. Wells, the microscopic world, camouflage, prestidigitation and twenty-first century nanoscience. Here is everything you've ever wanted to know about the invisible - from the medieval to the cutting-edge, fairy tales to telecommunications, from beliefs about the supernatural to the discovery of dark energy.
In his preface, acclaimed polymathic science writer Phillip Ball quotes from a Japanese story that describes the effect two venerable kabuki actors had upon an audience. In miming his delight on beholding the moon, the first drew appreciative murmurs from the crowd for his elegant technique, but the second elicited something greater – silence – as the audience envisaged the moon and disregarded the actor. The same, he observes, applies to writers who can immerse the reader in the story without making them aware of their technique. Ball achieves this admirably in this survey of our fascination with invisibility and with unseen forces in science, nature and the esoteric arts. It covers such diverse examples as the Cottingley Fairies, Victorian spiritualism, and the adaptability of the chameleon, as well as optical camouflage technologies devised by the military, and the ‘magic’ of molecular energy. In doing so, he reveals that such myths enable us to explore what is achievable and to realise those dreams in the real world.
Publication date: 31/07/2014
Publisher: The Bodley Head Ltd an imprint of Vintage
|Publication date:||31st July 2014|
|Publisher:||The Bodley Head Ltd an imprint of Vintage|
Formerly on the staff of Nature, Philip Ball is now a full-time writer. He lives in London.More About Philip Ball