SHOT GLASS (Vienna, 1887)


Two central Europeans are firing a gun into a bottle, breaking glass and making sparks as the bullet rips through a charged glass coil. A flash of light illuminates the projectile as it hurtles through space.

Ernst Mach is examining a photograph of a bullet in flight. His brow is furrowed. In the frame is a bunch of scrunched up air, gathering around the leading edge of a bullet.

He is exploring the notion of the vicious severity of war wounds as a function of compressed air pummeling the flesh, as opposed to the projectile itself. He is holding a visualization, empirical proof, of what would later determine to be a sound wave.

Using a kind of redundancy and “absolute proof” as his methodology, Ernst Mach figures out that the terrifying crack and echo from a gunshot is because the bullet is traveling faster than the speed of sound.

“Mach Numbers” enter the field of physics as a form of measure. The concept of “supersonic” enters the idiom of psychology. The sound of air is terrifying…

This shock wave became anthropomorphosized by fighter pilots in the 1940s, as they danced and died with the shock wave that forms at the Speed of Sound. The fighter pilots considered this waveform to be a Demon. (Read The Right Stuff for a 400-plus page explanation of this…)

Mach’s Demon is a very lithe contortionist. He is made of air molecules that can warp, tear, compress and fan out when pummeled by a body in motion passing through the transonic region.


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