Tag Archives: encyclopédiste

The math of Noah’s Ark

Over the course of last summer I read Philipp Blom‘s A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (2010), a book about the petite histoire of the D’Holbach’s Coterie.

One of its most memorable passages describes Abbé Mallet’s entry on Noah’s Ark which cites Bishop John Wilkins’s mathematical breakdown of the food needed on Noah’s Ark. Fascinating.

Also, Wicked Company notes more. It notes how the alphabetical order in the Encyclopédie was regarded as a heresy in itself (just as it had been in Bayle‘s Historical and Critical Dictionary), since according to contemporaries, God should be the measure of things, not something mundane as the alphabet. It also notes how in the diagram “Figurative system of human knowledge[1], also known as the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, theology is but a subclassification of both philosophy and reason, and not a source of knowledge in and of itself.

By the way, there is another fascinating diagram based on the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, called ‘Essai d’une distribution généalogique des Sciences et des Arts principaux[2], representing a more narrative genealogical distribution in the shape of a very large cactus-like plant of which the leaves are filled with text.

Image sourced at the wonderful Il Giornale Nuovo.

See also: Concerning the surface of God