Descartes and the Hyperbolic Quest: Lens Making Machines and Their Significance in the Seventeenth Century (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society)

Descartes and the Hyperbolic Quest by D. Graham Burnett
April, 2005
American Philosophical Society

In 1629, the natural philosopher René Descartes enticed a young artisan to undertake a secretive project, one that promised to revolutionize early modern astronomy. Descartes believed he had conceived a new kind of telescope lens, shaped by the light of reason itself, & surpassing anything ever to come from the hands of the glass-working craftsmen of the era. These novel lenses would never be touched by human hands -- they would be cut by an elaborate machine, a self-regulating & automatic device. This study traces the inception, development, & finally the collapse of this ambitious enterprise, which absorbed the energies & attentions of a broad range of 17th-century savants, including Huygens, Wren, Hevelius, Hooke, & even Newton.

Area of Interest: 
History of Technology
17th & 18th Centuries