MGMT 1050 Lecture 3: CH 3 - Wheels Within Wheels

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20 Jul 2016
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Wheels within wheels
Pg 58
Greek diver Elias Stadiatos was in for the surprise of his life that day in October ( 1900. As he
dived 200 feet (60 m) deep for sponges, off the coast of the _ ~^1 island of Antikythera, he
spotted what was clearly a shipwreck. Swimming · closer, he saw intriguing shapes...and then
panic struck. · There's a heap of naked women down there,' Stadiatos babbled to his
crewmates · as he surfaced. He described rotting corpses of people and horses on the sea bed.
Fearing his colleague was suffering hallucinations from the compressed gas he was breathing,
the ship's captain dived down - and surfaced with the arm of a bronze statue. Over the next two
years, archaeologists recovered a rich trove of bronze an~ marble statues, wine and jewelry - and
one highly corroded lump of metal, about the size of shoe-box, that appeared to have gears
embedded in it.
Since its discovery, this unique artifact from the seabed - the Antikythera Mechanism - has
amazed scientists almost as much as the statues perturbed Elias Stadiatos. It has turned out to be
the first computer: a clockwork mechanism, a millennium older than any other known, which
was used to predict precisely the positions of the Sun and the Moon in the sky - along with
eclipses, the most momentous of celestial sights.
ABOVE & RIGHT As seen in this reconstruction, the front dial of the Antikythera Mechanism
indicated the position of the Sun and the Moon against both the Greek Zodia and the Egyptian
calendar. Within the world s oldest computer, an intricate system of gearwheels worked out the
phases of the Moon.
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The circular gear wheels of the Antikythera Mechanism reflect the ancient Greeks' preoccupation
with circles - and with the idea that everything in the sky moves around in circular paths, because
the heavens are the home of perfection, and a circle is the ideal shape.
While the Babylonians and the Egyptians believed that gods and goddesses were always busy
pushing the Sun, Moon and planets along, the Greeks took an extraordinary step. They removed
the supernatural beings from the frame. Instead, the celestial bodies moved because of something
in their own nature. And human beings could work that out.
In short, the ancient Greeks invented science.
The world's first scientist was Thales of Miletus. This pioneering Greek thinker lived not in
Greece itself, but in one of the Greek colonies near what's now the busy tourist resort of Bodrum
in the southwest of Turkey.
Today, Thales's home town is nothing but an archaeological site. Around 600 BC, it was the
most powerful city of the region, boasting four harbours where merchant fleets plied their trade
to a dozen cities under Miletus's control. But its river, the Meander, lived up to the reputation
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which would give its name to wandering watercourses worldwide. The Meander strayed from its
original bed, the harbours of Miletus filed with silt, and the town eventually died.
But in Thales's time, Miletus was buzzing with ideas. The astronomy of the Babylonians filtered
in from the east; while Thales was able to sail to Egypt and absorb their knowledge - in
particular, the geometry that the Egyptians used to stake their own claims after the Nile flooded
each year and covered the land with fresh life-giving mud.
L E F T Despite two millennia on the sea-bed, gearwheels are clearly visible in the largest
surviving fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism. X-rays reveal that this corroded lump of
bronze, about the size of a paperback book, contains 27 hand-cut gearwheels.
Pg 60
B E L O W A roaring /ion finks the entrance to the great amphitheatre in Miletus, now in Turkey
which - over two millennia ago - saw audiences of 15,000 people flocking to cultural and
sporting events in one of the most important cities of the ancient world.
Thales was inspired by their ideas, but not their superstitions. He was the first person to suggest
that natural forces are responsible for events in the world around us. Earthquakes, for instance.
Until then, people thought that earthquakes were the sign of an angry god shaking the ground.
But Thales suggested a 'scientific' explanation: that the Earth floats on water, and earthquakes are
caused by giant waves passing underneath.
Thales thought hard about the sky, too - so hard, in fact, that he was once so busy looking
heavenwards that he fell into a ditch. An old woman answered his cries for help. She pithily
asked how he could hope to know anything about the stars, when he didn't even know about the
Earth beneath his feet!
Drawing on the Babylonians' astronomy, Thales apparently made the first accurate prediction of
a total eclipse of the Sun, on May 28, 585 BC. At the time, two of the nations in the region - the
Medes and the Lydians - were in the midst of a pitched battle, at the climax of a fifteen-year war
for control of present-day Turkey.
The Greek historian Herodotus recorded: 'a battle took place in which it happened, when the
fight had begun, that suddenly the day became night. And this change of the day Thales the
Milesian had foretold. The Lydians however and the Medes, when they saw that it had become
night instead of day, ceased from their fighting and were much more eager both of them that
peace should be made between them.'
Thales wasn't just an early nerd. After making the first scientific prediction of a bumper crop of
olives, he bought up options on all the presses in the region and made a small fortune by
cornering the olive oil market.
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Following Thales, science blossomed along the coast and on the islands within a day's sail of
Miletus. This Scientific Revolution was an incredible leap for humankind, and it was
concentrated within a remarkably small part of the globe. In some ways, it
Pg 61
was like the industrial Revolution that would later bloom in the Midlands of England, and the
recent information Revolution in California's Silicon Valley. But why?
'I think the reason,' opines Allan Chapman, historian of astronomy at Oxford University, 'is to do
with the fact that the Greek world was utterly fragmented geographically.' The Egyptians were
based on the great river Nile, while the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations were founded in the
valleys of the Tgris and Euphrates. 'These were big river cultures,' Chapman continues, 'with
excellent control systems. The river could be a source of authority for armies, for moving goods
and keeping people under control.' Greece, on the other hand, was broken up into innumerable
valleys and islands. There could be no over-arching control system. Instead, each region
developed its small own city state, or polls - the Greek word that gives rise to 'politics'. And trade
between the city states was in the hands of independent merchants.
'So Greece developed what I call the world's first middle-class culture merchants, traders, trade
your own money, keep your own money, don't get it scythed
L E F T The world's first prominent scientist, Thales of Miletus (ca. 625-550 BC), founded the
traditions of mathematics and philosophy in the Greek Empire. He is reported to have estimated
the height of an Egyptian pyramid by measuring the length of his shadow, and to have predicted
an eclipse of the Sun.
Pg 63
L E F T From Alexandria, in Egypt, a Greek astronomer uses a cross-staff to measure the
positions of stars in the constellation of Orion. The astronomer in question is Hipparchus (ea.
190-125 BC), who compiled the wor/d's first accurate star map.
off,' Chapman enthuses. With fluid funds, the prosperous Greek middle class had time on their
hands - and freedom to do what they liked with it.
'When you're sitting around drinking your wine and your olive oil,' says Chapman, you want
entertaining. You patronize architecture, you patronize theatre, you patrons ize intellectual life.
That's why you have plays by Aristophanes, which are uproariously funny even to us today. And
I think that science is simply part of that incredible burgeoning of Greek intellectual life.'
Thales's reputation became a magnet for thinkers from the surrounding region. As he reached old
age, he received a visit from the son of a merchant based on the nearby island of Samos. The
lad's name was Pythagoras.
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