Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Horse before cart - or cart before horse - does it matter?

The advice, 'to put the horse before the cart' has cropped up time and time again in reference to Bessler's wheel - and mainly because Bessler uses the phrase himself in one of his 'Maschinen Tractate' drawings. It has been self-evident to me that often when discussing the translation of Bessler's words we can make substantial errors of understanding when confronted with eighteenth century German. I recall one phrase from Bessler's 'Poetica Apologia', whose meaning my translator interpreted as 'a land flowing with milk and honey', but which he said was literally, 'a land where roast pigeons fly into your mouth'. The meaning is clear despite the unusual metaphor and it is strange to think that the translator's 'improved' rendering stems from the Hebrew bible.

Although German sometimes follows the same word order as English, it doesn't always. That can lead to confusion and as if that wasn't bad enough there is the problem of interpretation, as illustrated in the following German to English examples:

A sign in a hotel catering to skiers read "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension".

Another reads, "In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter."

Also there is, "Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up."

And finally in Germany's Black Forest: "It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose." You can see that translating modern German into English is fraught with problems.

Into the recipe for a translation disaster we should throw two more ingredients; one, the original text was written three hundred years ago and was certainly a lot less erudite than say, Samuel Johnson, who lived at roughly the same time. An example of his incomparable style should suffice:

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Yes I know - not really the same at all, but I just liked the quote! A better example would be this:

"The place, which the wisdom or policy of antiquity had destined for the residence of the Abissinian princes, was a spacious valley in the kingdom of Amhara, surrounded on every side by mountains, of which the summits overhang the middle part. The only passage, by which it could be entered, was a cavern that passed under a rock, of which it has long been disputed whether it was the work of nature or of human industry. The outlet of the cavern was concealed by a thick wood, and the mouth which opened into the valley was closed with gates of iron, forged by the artificers of ancient days, so massy that no man could, without the help of engines, open or shut them."

Imagine translating that into modern German!

And lastly, the writing of that particular quote about horses and carts was written not only in eighteenth century German, but in the most attrocious handwriting to such an extent that it is barely legible. Despite this considerable handicap there are people who have managed to extract what they believe to be the correct meaning. Given that and the other considerations I have outlined above,a small dash of scepticism is in order.

In any case, in my opinion the advice to put the horse before the cart merely refers to MT 20, the design of which, was ascribed to an aquaintance, and should not necessarily apply to all designs. I don't mean that it is wrong so much as we might have over emphasised its importance.

In fact you could put the horse before the cart and let it push it, but there is a reason why this method was never generally adopted. The harness most commonly used, compressed the poor old horse's windpipe when it pushed, causing potential harm or death. But it is another matter when using mechanical leverage. Levers can push and pull and twist and turn about a pivot so don't rule out putting the cart before the horse.

JC

14 comments:

  1. So what was the purpose of this post?? It sounds defensive, but I suppose you'll turn that around too. Everyone sees it.
    You've been counting your chickens before they hatch too.

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  2. It says what it says. My point, which seemed clear to me because it is in the title, is that in my prototype it is not necessary to put the horse before the cart. I never give useful clues in case I give something away, but seeing as this phrase has cropped up, I thought I'd give a hint. I admit it may not be helpful unless you are at a critical point - then it may do so.

    JC

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  3. Doesn't that contradict your comments on 11/9/2009? I thought they were a clue at the time, but now I'm even more confused! I'll be so pleased when you finally reveal all, so to speak.
    Keep up the good work, facinating stuff.
    - RM

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  4. Yes, I thought that I could separate the pieces of the mechanism sufficiently to allow them to pass over each other without hindrance. What happened was the weights on the ends still caused too much lateral sway resulting in them locking with each other.

    In the mean time I have found another way of arriving at the same desirable point without having to separate the pieces at all. The phrase at the end of my latest post 'don't rule out putting the cart before the horse' relates to this solution.

    I'll be please to when I can reveal all!

    JC

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  5. Any estimate possible here, John? Not in time, perhaps, but, say, a percentage of completeness in terms of a final design? I'd say that you are pretty close to completion now that you are finishing up on the principal mechamisms?

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  6. I photographed the mechanisms today so I can convert them to drawings for publication, but I'm still awaiting help in finishing the whole thing as it is proving too difficult for me. I think I shall publish very soon, because I cannot find anyone who is prepared to build according to my design.

    The most frustrating thing is that I know without a doubt that when you all see the principle explained with drawings etc, you will agree with me that this is the solution.

    But - unless I hear from someone very, very soon, then I am publishing and I'll take my chances. I just want to show the world how Bessler did it.

    JC

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  7. This is worse than waiting to find out who shot JR!
    - RM

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  8. I am more than anxious to see that mechanism !!!

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  9. John, when you publish you will be a legend in my book. I'd be happy to put your name up in lights.

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  10. I am convinced you have the real McCoy. I'm willing to finance a professional build, under full NDA protection.

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  11. Thanks guys! I won't disappoint.

    JC

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  12. You have solution but you do not have working wheel ??

    "I thought I'd give a hint" but your wheel dont work :)

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  13. I think JC is running quite a scam, claiming to know how to do what most of you already know how to do--build a non-runner!!!!!

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  14. "I photographed the mechanisms today so I can convert them to drawings for publication, but I'm still awaiting help in finishing the whole thing as it is proving too difficult for me. I think I shall publish very soon, because I cannot find anyone who is prepared to build according to my design."

    Karl said "It is so simple a carpenter's boy could built it". What do you mean - you cannot find anyone who is prepared to build according to your design? Since it is so simple that a carpenter's boy could build it, any engineering company could knock it up in hours.

    "The most frustrating thing is that I know without a doubt that when you all see the principle explained with drawings etc, you will agree with me that this is the solution."

    When, probably meaning 'never'.

    "But - unless I hear from someone very, very soon, then I am publishing and I'll take my chances. I just want to show the world how Bessler did it."


    You have nothing to lose by publishing now - if somebody else builds it, and it works, you will be the one who revealed the secret to the world, and everybody will know it. The fact that you can't build it speaks volumes though. How difficult can it be? It can't be that difficult, because one glance at the inside of Bessler's wheel would have revealed the secret to anybody. If it was complicated, that would not have been the case. Therefore, why is it so difficult to build? You have computers nowadays, Bessler had nothing except pen and paper.

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