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When Pirates Studied Euclid (aeon.co)
138 points by Thevet 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments



A wonderfully written article, very instructive and enjoyable to read. It's fun to see how a lot of things never really changes, like the teachers trying to sell their own textbooks, teaching for the exams for the students they know are only there for the diploma anyway and not the curriculum...


It is interesting to see is knowledge, skills based teaching methodology soon becoming examination oriented, when the onus is on clearing it for greater benefits.

Centuries later, it hasn't changed much.


Fed Hoyle write astro books for kids and mine starts "you are marooned on an island with a piece of string..." and leads through simple trig to astronomical trig, the equinoxes, time, distance..


My dad stated that one of the key influence to him seeking an engineering career was The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne, where a bunch of people, including an engineer, get stranded on an island after escaping a situation on a balloon and caught in a storm.

The engineers, thanks to one of the character's on-time watch, and some solar observations, which are described in the book, calculates their latitude and longitude so that they can send messages and guess at their chances if they build a boat (one of the character was a navigator).

Many characters have useful skills, but the engineer really shines. At one moment he leads the people into a geological expedition to find interesting chemicals and ends up doing explosives so that they can dig a good stone shelter.

That was written in the 19th century with the specific purpose of getting kids interested into acquiring knowledge and it was a blast.

A bit sad it states wrong things that were considered true at the time (namely, that land masses form from the accretion of coral) but that's actually an excellent lesson in the process through which science states hypothesis that are sometimes wrong in order to find the truth.


One of my favorite books, and had a major impact on my life. It taught me a lot about resilience and ingenuity, and gave me a love for learning how to do things on my own--in case I ever find myself stranded on a remote island, of course.


Sounds fascinating.

Could you please tell me what the title of the book is ? Despite checking Hoyle's bibliography, I am not able to determine which one it is.


Astronomy: A History of Man's Investigation of the Universe 1962 Rathbone books, London And it's chapter 2, and you're marooned on a desert island with a stick, not string. The Amazon pages are actually a pretty good summary of the nature of the book: it's a backwards looking review of the emergence of astronomy and fascinating as a history of science and introduction to astronomy but it's dated regarding modern cosmology.


Just look at maps of this time, the use different projections, different techniques, gather incomplete testimonies, often from a single expedition.

If you were an explorer, it was essential at the time to understand how the maps were made and what their weaknesses were. And instruments failures and bad weather could combine to prevent you from knowing your position for days. You needed to hack a measurements from 4 stars visible in a hole in the clouds.

If you were military, it was possibly even more crucial. Being able to quickly move from one point to the other, to avoid critical reefs or better: navigate through them, guess where a given ship will end up at which time, etc... were crucial skills.


Wow this is quite fascinating, are there other such articles that go in-depth into medieval or renaissance time education with this level of novel facts?


The reference to log and trig tables is significant. At the time these tables were compiled by hand, and accurate tables were considered as necessary as accurate charts. Babbage's work on the Differential Engine was initially prompted by the need to compile better tables.


did they do it in R :)?

    ```{r}
    # Naive Euclid algorithm by msuzen

    gcd <- function(a, b)
    {
      rk_1 <- a;
      rk_2 <- b;
      # Recurrence Formula:  r_k =  r_k-1 modulo r_k-2
      # Increment k until r_k-2 == 0 
      while(rk_2 != 0) {
      rk      <- rk_1%%rk_2; # remainder
      rk_1    <- rk_2;       # proceed in recurrence
      rk_2    <- rk;
     }
     return(rk_1)
    }```


Although the REPL was a bit slow, going through all the mechanical widgets.


Oh hey, this is essentially a plot point in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books.

Well, getting away from pirates, that is, but same idea.




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