Falling Felines Photo Fundraiser

$3,143 of $3,500 goal

Raised by 49 people in 12 days

Hi All! You may know that I've been working on a popular science book on the history and physics of how cats land on their feet when they fall. The book will be coming out from Yale University Press hopefully in early 2018, and it will feature lots of wild photographs and illustrations of falling cats, such as this classic sequence from 1922.

The history of falling cat research runs from literally the dawn of physics up to the present day, a remarkable 300+ years of investigation of a seemingly mundane problem.  Unfortunately, it's in talking about the more recent research that I run into problems. Once I started looking at images from the 20th century, I found that a lot of key copyrighted photographic sequences are  really, really, expensive to license, even though I feel that they are essential to the book's success. My publisher is a non-profit university press which doesn't have funds to cover the costs of such licenses, which is why I'm here.

I'm looking to raise about $3500 to cover the costs of key remaining images for my book. These images will include:

Important images from a paper by Rademaker and ter Braak from 1935, which first explained the most important cat-turning mechanism: $400
Iconic images of a twisting cat next to a twisting astronaut that appeared in LIFE Magazine in 1969: $2400
A photograph of a cat receiving a skydiving certificate thanks to an unexpected fall: $50
A technical image from the 1969 work, illustrating exactly how the cat flips over: $150
An illustration from the 1960s showing a professional high-diver mimicking the cat's motion: $300

Most of this cost is in the Getty images from LIFE Magazine, and they are the most important to me.  I will include/exclude images based on how much funding I end up with in the end.  Any additional funds which end up not being necessary will be sent to local cat rescue groups.

I hate asking for funds for such things, but I've had a heck of a year in terms of finances, including cancer treatment for my late beloved kitty Sabrina, a replacement of my air conditioning system, and storm damage from Hurricane Florence (on the second floor; go figure).  But I would like to offer the following in return for folk's donations:

$20: a shoutout and thank you on twitter!
$40: an acknowledgement of you and/or the pet of your choice, cat or otherwise, in the end credits of the book. (Nothing profane, obviously.)
$100: the aforementioned acknowledgement as well as a signed copy of the finished book sent to you. (I'll cover US domestic shipping costs, but will ask for help with international costs.)

Possibly more incentives as we go along!  I'm aiming to have the funds in place and finish all the figure purchases by the end of this month.

I thank you and my cats, who also make appearances in the book, also thank you!


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(Here's part 2 of the "lost passage" from the book!)

By 1852, Bouillard's son-in-law Ernest Auburtin (1825-1893) had publicly joined the argument on Bouillard's side. He was even able to present a living patient who demonstrated the effect: a man who had attempted to commit suicide, but had only been successful in shooting away the front part of his skull, leaving the frontal lobes exposed. For the few hours he remained living, he was used as an opportune test case for frontal lobe brain function. Incredibly, a physician actually used a spatula to apply gentle pressure to the patient's frontal lobes. While pressure was present, the patient lost the ability to speak, even though he was able to communicate normally in its absence. This experiment provided direct evidence of the role of the frontal lobes in the higher function of speech, but Auburtin's work was basically neglected for years.

On April 4, 1861, however, Aubertin defended his thesis on the localization of brain function at a meeting of the Anthropology Society in Paris against one Louis Pierre Gratiolet. In attendance at the meeting was the French physician, anatomist and anthropologist Paul Broca (1824-1880), also coincidentally the founder of the Anthropology Society in 1859. By an incredible stroke of luck or fate for science, only 7 days after the meeting, a patient was admitted to the Hopital St. Louis named Louis Victor Leborgne to undergo surgery for gangrene. But the gangrene, however, was only the final stage of a physical and cognitive decline that had begun for Leborgne some 20 years earlier with the loss of his ability to speak: since age 30, the only word he had been able to say, with various inflections and tones to imply meaning, was ``tan.''

Broca heard of Leborgne's case and, probably with Aubertin's thesis still in mind, he went to visit and study the case of the man who became known as ``Tan.'' Communicating with Leborgne was difficult, due to his lack of proper speech and paralysis of his right arm, which was his writing arm, but Broca confirmed that Leborgne was able to understand what was being said to him, but not to communicate back. Conditions in which damage to the brain results in a loss of the ability to speak or comprehend speech would become known as aphasia, from the Greek a-,``without'', and phasis, ``speech.'' The specific condition that Leborgne suffered would become known as Broca's aphasia, and the part of the brain associated with speaking would become known as Broca's area.

Leborgne died several days after being admitted to the hospital; Broca performed an autopsy on him and confirmed, just as Bouillard had predicted, that he had a lesion of the left frontal lobe. Over the next few years, Broca found some two dozen additional cases of Broca's aphasia, and confirmed that they all had the same sort of lesion. In 1865, Broca presented his results, confirming the hypothesis of Bouillard and Aubertin -- speech, and presumably other higher functions, do possess some localization in the brain.

Broca's research caught the attention of the German physician and anatomist Carl Wernicke (1848-1905), who began his own studies into aphasia. In 1874, he published what is now a classic study in the field, ``The Symptom Complex of Aphasia: A Psychological Study on an Anatomical Basis,'' (English translation), in which he identified a new type of aphasia: the inability to understand language, even though one is still able to speak it. Through autopsies, Wernicke found that this form of aphasia was connected to damage in a different part of the brain from Broca's area: lesions in the posterior part of the temporal lobe. This area would, unsurprisingly, become known as Wernicke's area, and the condition known as Wernicke's aphasia.

Wernicke's work demonstrated that the process of speech, though localized, is in fact associated with several distinct areas and may be said to have its operations distributed throughout the brain. Broca's area handles the motor functions associated with speaking words, while Wernicke's area handles the sensory inputs associated with understanding words. So, in a sense, the people that argued in favor of functional localization and those who argued against were both partially correct: basic perception and motor activities are localized to a single brain area, but complex activities are distributed amongst several localized areas. From this, Wernicke was able to predict a third type of aphasia, in which Broca's area and Wernicke's area are both intact but the connections between them are damaged. Patients with such emph{conduction aphasia} can understand words but cannot repeat even simple phrases, and though they can speak fluently their pronunciation of words is flawed, often including incorrect or omitted sounds. This conduction aphasia was later confirmed.

By the late 1800s, then, it was well appreciated that different functions of the brain are localized to different regions, and that complex functions may involve the coordination of multiple areas. But coordination does not involve the brain alone, and also involves input and response from parts of the spinal cord, particularly in the initiation of reflex actions, the study of which would also see rapid progress over the latter part of the 19th century.

(Read the history of reflex action research in my actual book!)
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Hi all!

In today's update I thought I'd share some of the text that didn't make it into the book. The falling cat problem has a remarkably diverse history, stretching from physics to robotics to mathematics to neuroscience, and it was quite a challenge to figure out how much introductory information needed to be included in each topic! A number of sections I wrote ended up not being needed.

What follows is some introductory history to the concept of brain localization, the idea that particular functions of living creatures are tied up in specific regions of the brain. The text is rough, and I include the disclaimer that I did not hone the details as well as I am for the finished book. Nevertheless, I thought you all might enjoy some "lost words." This is "part 1" of the discussion of brain localization, because posts can only be 7500 characters, total!

The fundraising seems to have stalled after the initial burst of contributions! Fortunately, I already have enough funds to get a satisfactory set of photos for the book, but please keep sharing and signal boosting!

The passage:

The central nervous system of a living creature -- which includes the brain, spinal cord, and all the attached nerves -- is an incredibly complicated system with many different aspects that can be studied. Two aspects of this work would lead into the investigation of cat-righting in the 20th century, and we focus on these: the concept of brain localization, and the neuroscience of reflex actions.

In order to properly understand the research to be described, a basic understanding of the structure of the brain will be helpful. The brain may be considered to have three major sections: the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brainstem. The cerebrum is further divided into left and right hemispheres, connected to each other by nerve fibers called the corpus callosum, and each hemisphere has four lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. The exterior of the cerebrum is called the cortex, and it contains all the nerve cells, or neurons, involved with higher brain activity. There are also deep structures that lie within the cerebrum that help coordinate between other brain and spinal components. The pyramidal tracts are nerve fibers that send messages from the cortex to the brainstem and spinal cord, and the thalamus relays information from the sensory organs to the cortex.

The cerebellum, which lies underneath and behind the cerebrum, is involved in the coordination of muscle movements and specific behaviors such as posture and balance. The brainstem, which may be further divided into the midbrain, pons, and medulla, is responsible for automatic functions of the body such as breathing and heart function. It is at the very bottom of the brain and connects to the spinal cord.

At the beginning of the 19th century, none of these functional associations were known, and in fact the very idea of functional localization -- that different aspects of the brain could be connected with different personality traits or actions of a living body -- was not under serious consideration. The anatomy of the brain had been studied extensively, and the major sections identified and named, but none of them had been identified with particular functions.

Ironically, this changed thanks to the ideas of a researcher whose work is now considered infamously wrong, the German physiologist and anatomist Franz Josef Gall (1758-1828). From a very young age, Gall became convinced that certain facial and skull features of people he knew could be correlated with aspects of their personalities and intelligence -- for example, one classmate had an odd-shaped skull but was also exceedingly skilled in language. When Gall entered medical school at the University of Strasbourg, he made similar observations of his classmates and eventually developed this into a hypothesis about brain function, which later became known as phrenology. In phrenology, Gall speculated that different brain functions, behaviors, and personality traits are localized to different locations in the brain. Those areas that are overdeveloped can produce pressure on the skull, leaving a telltale bump that can be measured by trained phrenologists. An illustration of a phrenology chart is included below.

Gall's views were met with opposition from almost all quarters. The idea of localization of function was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, as it seemed to support a purely mechanical view of the human brain, leaving no room for the soul. Gall was not a very rigorous researcher, and scientists opposed his views largely due to their lack of scientific backing -- rightly so, as Gall's particular hypothesis of brain function and its effects on the skull has been definitively proven wrong.

The idea of localization in general, however, intrigued other researchers. Among the first of these was Jean Pierre Flourens (1794-1867), a French physiologist who received a degree of doctor of medicine in Montpelier in 1813. Aware of Gall's now well-publicized views, Flourens decided to put localization to series experimental tests, and in 1815 he produced localized lesions in the brains of rabbits and pigeons to see how it effected their function. His experiments demonstrated convincingly that different parts of the brain were broadly involved in different mechanical functions of a living body. The removal of the cerebellum, for example, caused a loss of equilibrium and motor coordination in animals. Exceedingly relevant for later cat researches, he determined the role of the semicircular canals of the ears in balance; in particular, he found that damage to the horizontal portion of these canals did not effect circular horizontal flight in pigeons.

What Flourens did not find, however, was any evidence that higher brain functions, such as memory and cognition, are localized to particular parts of the brain. This is not surprising, in hindsight, as it is rather difficult to test these functions in the relatively primitive animals he was working with. Flourens acknowledged that the cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla had separate roles but did not believe any more specific localization existed. Many scientists and religious figures alike seemed rather fine with this vague delineation, perhaps because it left open room for a ``soul'' lurking somewhere in the human condition.

One researcher who pushed against this conventional view was the French physician Jean-Baptiste Bouillard (1824-1880), who earned his medical doctorate in Paris in 1823 and worked as a professor there. By 1825, he had made enough clinical observations to not only conclude that brain function is localized, but that the two hemispheres of the brain do not have symmetric function. In particular, he argued that the left frontal lobe of the brain is associated with speech, and that any damage to that lobe will result in speech impairment. His arguments met with little support at the time: by 1848, he even offered 500 Francs to anyone who could provide an example of someone who had suffered a speech impairment and had not had a corresponding left frontal lobe injury. This challenge apparently went unanswered.

(Part 2 of this passage tomorrow!)
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Another figure purchased! This is a pretty important one in the history of falling cat physics, as it represents the realization of the most accurate model of cat-turning that exists. The photo sequence shows the computer modeled solution superimposed over an actual falling cat, and it is from the work of Kane and Scher in 1969, who were funded by NASA to understand the cat-turning phenomenon.

There's a lot going on in this image (which is a poor quality copy I have; going to track down a good copy in the near future), and a proper explanation of what is going on here will have to be deferred to the book itself!

Thank you again to everyone who has contributed so far, and please keep spreading the word!
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Hi All!

The campaign is at roughly 2/3rd funded right now! Thank you all again for helping out.

Today I wanted to share one of the pieces of art that my friend Sarah Addy is doing for the book. There are lots of illustrations needed of physics principles that are not original photos, and Sarah agreed to help me out and make them more cat-like.

One thing that comes up in the book, somewhat unexpectedly, is a discussion of relativity -- the idea that the laws of physics look the same to all observers, regardless of their motion. I start the explanation by going all the way back to Galileo's classic description of how to visualize this by imagining that one is below decks in a ship:

"Shut yourself up with some friend in the main cabin below decks on some large ship, and have with you there some flies, butterflies, and other small flying animals. Have a large bowl of water with some fish in it; hang up a bottle that empties drop by drop into a wide vessel beneath it. With the ship standing still, observe carefully how the little animals fly with equal speed to all sides of the cabin. The fish swim indifferently in all directions; the drops fall into the vessel beneath; and, in throwing something to your friend, you need throw it no more strongly in one direction than another, the distances being equal; jumping with your feet together, you pass equal spaces in every direction. When you have observed all these things carefully (though doubtless when the ship is standing still everything must happen in this way), have the ship proceed with any speed you like, so long as the motion is uniform and not fluctuating this way and that. You will discover not the least change in all the effects named, nor could you tell from any of them whether the ship was moving or standing still. In jumping, you will pass on the floor the same spaces as before, nor will you make larger jumps toward the stern than toward the prow even though the ship is moving quite rapidly, despite the fact that during the time that you are in the air the floor under you will be going in a direction opposite to your jump. In throwing something to your companion, you will need no more force to get it to him whether he is in the direction of the bow or the stern, with yourself situated opposite. The droplets will fall as before into the vessel beneath without dropping toward the stern, although while the drops are in the air the ship runs many spans. The fish in their water will swim toward the front of their bowl with no more effort than toward the back, and will go with equal ease to bait placed anywhere around the edges of the bowl. Finally the butterflies and flies will continue their flights indifferently toward every side, nor will it ever happen that they are concentrated toward the stern, as if tired out from keeping up with the course of the ship, from which they will have been separated during long intervals by keeping themselves in the air. And if smoke is made by burning some incense, it will be seen going up in the form of a little cloud, remaining still and moving no more toward one side than the other. The cause of all these correspondences of effects is the fact that the ship's motion is common to all the things contained in it, and to the air also."

In an old blog post, I once simplified this explanation to imagine people playing tennis below decks. Sarah drew a version of the ship, with cats playing ping-pong instead, to help the reader imagine the scenario!

(Sarah, BTW, is being reimbursed separately for her work on this project by me outside of this GoFundMe.)

Please keep spreading the word -- I actually think we might hit the goal!
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Raised by 49 people in 12 days
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