Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Reply to the Minx

Candy Minx picked up on something I wrote about the Antikythera mechanism. Here are a few comments to what she wrote.
"A question arises, if we had manufactured this device, surely there must have been more of them, and why haven't we found others? [...] These mechanisms weren't needed by the masses because we already had timepieces and complex astronomical devices. [...] I see the similarities in world Mythologies and religions and realize...these stories are CLOCKS."
I agree that nobody in the ancient world really needed accurate clocks. But that doesn't explain why the Ancient Greek clockwork devices didn't become more popular -- for two reasons.
  1. The Greek devices used clockwork, but they weren't clocks: they were astronomical simulators cranked by hand.
  2. People in the High Middle Ages didn't need clocks for any practical purpose: they became popular because of an irrational monastic culture where monks had to pray at certain hours every day.
As for the idea that mythological texts could function as a "mechanism for memory and celestial events", I don't believe that at all. How would that work?
"People already knew the movement of the stars and their sense of time was much more profound and integrated in their lives than the universe is in most of our lives. [...] They knew more about the movements of the heavens and it's importance to everyday life than a grad student in astronomy does today."
I don't know why Candy Minx thinks so. The historical and archaeological record rather suggests that detailed astronomical knowledge was cultivated only within the educated castes of certain highly differentiated civilisations, such as those of Mesopotamia or Greece. Nobody else was very interested since the knowledge wasn't of much practical use and education was a rare luxury. The Greek philosophers prided themselves on performing investigations for their own sake: they certainly didn't want to be seen as engineers.

So the basic difference between Candy's view of the past and mine seems to be that while she feels that there was an almost forgotten order and meaning to much of what happened, I believe that human history has largely been a haphazard, bumbling and meaningless process where nobody really understood much of what was going on.

Finally, two small corrections. Latin did not grow out of Sanskrit: both descended from a lost Indo-European root language. The names Christ and Krishna are not cognates: christós means "anointed" in Greek and krishna means "black" in Sanskrit.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Candy Minx said...

Yea! Hi Martin, I'll be back, I just noticed this wonderful post of yours...and I am running out the door to a rap concert...but I'll be back!


:)

06 December, 2006 22:22  
Blogger Henrik said...

Funny that you should post apic of a swiss cuckoo-clock. It's a standing joke that the swiss themselves believe they invented everything. If you'd ever want to impress a swiss sales rep just sneak in the sentence "Oh, and in fact you invented that thingadybob in Switzerland, didn't you?" - He'll be weak in his knees with admiration for your great knowledge of swiss inventions!

They'd probably claim that Antikhytera gadget too, if they could!

Concerning the written/oral memory discussion I would like to point to the 'ars memoria' or art of memory practised by the greeks (and the romans and the swiss, of course!).
That way of storing information as non-written memory might be as, if not more, precise than written information.

"They knew more about the movements of the heavens and it's importance to everyday life than a grad student in astronomy does today" said missy minx and I agree completely. I have done some (not very profound) research on sundials (sun clocks) and I now know far more about the movements of celestial bodies than a grad student in astronomy.

I asked a friend of mine who holds a 2-year MA in astronomy how the moon moves in relation to the sun when seen from the earth. He had no idea. 'I just do advanced math' was all he could say.

07 December, 2006 00:04  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Hi Martin,

Sorry it took so long for me to respond to some of your questions, and good questions they were.

I just made a quick post, as with most interesting and important questions, they can not be answered by short time, but often deserve attention reflecting the history behind the questions. I suppose really I just tried to point you in the right direction. Showed you the water.

The history of astronomy in preliterate cultures deserves more than my quick post responding to your questions, but I pointed to some of the places where you can dig further.

Henrik, I quoted part of your comment over at my place too. You were apt to bring up the art of memory, something I have been studying for most of my life. I am a big fan of Giordano Bruno, what a mind, what a thinker! His world on alternate universes is invaluable as his study of the history of the art of memory.

http://gnosticminx.blogspot.com/2006/12/reply-to-martin-replying-to-minx_8486.html

Cheers,
Candy

08 December, 2006 21:42  

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