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A man who knew Thomas Jefferson

Gene Expression
By Razib Khan
Feb 6, 2013 1:36 PMNov 19, 2019 10:57 PM


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I find the photo above of John Quincy Adams striking because it is of a man who was born in 1767. The era of the Revolutionary War is one of paintings (albeit, not contemporary ones). And yet here we look upon the face of an old man who was alive and self-aware during that period, and who grew into adult when the Founders still flourished. The photograph is of poor quality and lacking in color. Arguably it transmits less precise detail of the features of John Quincy Adams than a painted portrait, but photographs capture something ineffable (or more accurately they replicate physical details which we are unable to elucidate verbally, but which are recognized by our innate cognitive system). John Quincy Adams is long dead, but the verisimilitude of the image brings him back to life in some way due to the reflexes awakened in my brain. I see the man, so the man must be. The power of photographic technology should make us wary of those claims that science and technology drain the wonder from the world by making the mysterious comprehensible, and the numinous prosaic. Our lives are magical, we simply don't know it.

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