The tidal nature of humanity

Some time in the last one hundred years of the time we call ‘Before Christ’ – or, in our more multicultural times, ‘Before Common Era’ – a Roman ship loaded with looted Grecian treasure foundered in a storm and sank off the island of Antikythera.

There it rested, undisturbed. Until, almost two thousand years later, another ship, this one loaded more prosaically with sponge divers, almost foundered in a similar storm at the same location. Being by the nature of their trade opportunist – and one segment of sea being pretty much like another in that region – they settled down to dive and found the ancient cache and, in it, a mystery which endures to this day: the Mechanism of Antikythera.

Even by the standards of the Swiss Grand Complications, it is a complex device – gears within gears, driven by an unknown method and appearing to mark the passage of time by the positions of celestial bodies – in fact, an orrery but one created 1800 years out of time.

This mystery – which still challenges some of our brightest and best minds – gives lie to the idea that our development is linear, and shows the tidal nature of our whimsy and brilliance as a species as well as hinting at the tragedy of what we must have lost down the centuries.

In a time in which science is being legislated out of the school rooms of the most powerful country in the world, I think it’s comforting to know that, although clouds cover the sun from time to time, it does continue to shine.

Where the tide of human endeavor ebbs, it shall rise again, higher and stronger than before.


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Posted by on April 25, 2011. Filed under Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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13 Responses to The tidal nature of humanity

  1. A Michael J. Scott

    April 25, 2011 at 11:24 am

    An excellent read indeed. Thanks.

  2. Holte Ender

    April 25, 2011 at 11:27 am

    A short and sweet observation Hrothgir. It would take me an hour to say what you said in two minutes. A very optimistic outlook.

  3. Krell

    April 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Excellent post on a great mystery.

    I have always had an interest in the Antikythera mechanism, following the latest developments as they continue with x-ray and magnetic resonance surveying this peculiar object.

    It’s sophistication seems to defy the time that it was constructed, with the intricate gear mechanism and complicated ratio interaction. It’s design really is an amazing accomplishment and was probably a gift for someone very important. Great read, Hrothgir.

  4. dp1053

    April 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I am constantly amazed by people equating ancient with stupid. Where is it written that we are smarter than any age before us? Do not equate technology with smart, that is a mistake. People forget that the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Romans and many other civilizations had technology. Some ancient tech we are still trying to figure out.

    Also, do not under-estimate 2 factors-the loss of the library in Alexandria and the Dark Ages. We have very scant information about science and technology in ancient times because a great part of human knowledge was lost when the library burned, many of the books of the time were single copy, so their loss was very catastrophic. Again do not under-estimate the damage done to human learning and advancement by the Dark Ages when anything and everything was viewed heretical or Satanic. Days when people reveled in their ignorance and wanted to keep it that way.

    One has to wonder where our intelligence and development would be today without those 2 setbacks.

    • Hrothgir OD

      April 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

      I’m pretty well aware of the OOPArts out there.
      Impossible glassware in Greece and Rome. Something that looks a lot like a battery from Persia. Megalithic buildings that we’d not be able to easily match over the globe. Impossible vases in Egypt. The clear knowledge of planoconvex optical effects in antiquity (specifically used in Egyptian statues). Evidence of steel forging in India…
      The list is endless, and stands a mute testament to the ingenuity of our antecedents.
      The Antikythera Mechanism is simply an easily appreciated, clearly human, artefact, that was made when my ancestors were painting their arses blue and killing people from the next valley on a rain soaked rock in the Atlantic.

  5. Peter Lake

    April 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I do appreciate an optimistic outlook! Extraordinary read.

  6. Krell

    April 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Here is a link to a guy that made an Antikythera mechanism out of Lego blocks. Also gives an excellent animation of the mechanism in operation.

    • Hrothgir OD

      April 26, 2011 at 9:27 am

      If they sold that, I certainly buy one…
      My wife would never forgive me, but what the hey?

  7. lazersedge

    April 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Really interesting Hrothgir. If we keep digging perhaps we will find that everything we are now developing has already be completed before.

    • Hrothgir OD

      April 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

      We actually live in what is probably a unique time – an age where mathematics has been solidly applied to try to model and predict reality. There is scant evidence that the mathmatics of any age or culture was applied to more than astronomy and the timing of seasonal food production.
      One of the most sopisitcated, old world, mathematical systems, that of the (East)Indian peoples, not only predicted that the earth wasn’t at the centre of the solar system and that the sun was not only in orbit around a galactic centre, but that it spiralled as it orbited.
      This wasn’t predicted again until the early 20th Century with Hubble et al at the forefront. It is now known to be correct.
      The only other use Vedic mathematics was put to was the science of large numbers and primes.
      Our era is the first one to try to look into the quantum strangeness of the very small, and from that, built the technology so that one can pose with a tablet computer in a place that serves frothy coffee… (NAND memory utilises quantum tunnelling to switch and it’s non volatile.)

  8. Four Dinners

    April 25, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I am immensely impressed by this post…I read it again and again and…for some possibly bizarre reason…I emerged with a smile…

    History is the future in so many ways…

    I will make no attempt what so ever to pronounce your name which is clearly unpronouncable but…for what it is worth…I like you…

    (This may be a worry on MMA but don’t listen to them…you’re a dude…as they say)

  9. Melysa

    May 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Come back please! We all miss you uber mucho grande!

  10. James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    May 16, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Despite it’s apparent age, it is always possible that this device was from a later age and just happened to land in the remains of a more ancient wreck. Has anyone considered this possibility? Has anything been done to prove or disprove this hypothesis?