What should a Bayesian infer from the Antikythera Mechanism?

by on November 30, 2014 at 1:40 am in History, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

That is the early “computer,” remember?:

Who made the famed Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator that was raised from an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901?

The complex clocklike assembly of bronze gears and display dials predates other known examples of similar technology by more than 1,000 years. It accurately predicted lunar and solar eclipses, as well as solar, lunar and planetary positions.

For good measure, the mechanism also tracked the dates of the Olympic Games. Although it was not programmable in the modern sense, some have called it the first analog computer.

We now learn that the calendar of this mysterious device begins in 205 B.C.  The key point, in my view, is that we have discovered no other comparable machine from antiquity or any other era other than modern times.  It took us until 2006 to even understand what the device was supposed to do, using advanced tomography, and we had been holding it since 1901.

So what to infer?  The first option is that this device was a true outlier, standing sui generis above its time.  Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds “described the device as “just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind””.

As an artifact that is true, but is that so likely in terms of broader history?  It is pure luck that we fished this thing out of the Mediterranean in 1901.  (By the way, further dives are planned to search for more parts of it.)  The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us.  That would imply, essentially, that we don’t have a very good idea of what antiquity was like.  In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion.  It is more likely than thinking that we just lucked out to find this one unique, incredible device.  To put it another way, if you found some organic life on a traveling comet, you ought to conclude there is more of that life, or something related, somewhere else.

And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not sound like a “lone genius” kind of device: “The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm.” (Wikipedia)  That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process.  It also had some sophistications which modern Swiss watches do not.

Given this Bayesian conclusions, which other strange claims stand a decent chance of being true of antquity?  Which other surprises await us?

I find this an interesting passage: “the mysterious device was already pretty ancient by the time it went down some time around 85BC to 60BC with a ship carrying a bride and her dowry, io9 reports…”  You don’t find a lot of people carrying around a lot of ancient PCs today, so might there have been an Antikythera Great Stagnation way back when?  I think maybe so.

Here is a Lego model of the device.  Here is an introductory YouTube video.  Here is Wikipedia on the Antikythera Mechanism, a very good entry.

I owe thanks to Vic Sarjoo for pointers and Robin Hanson for a useful conversation on this topic.

1 Rahul November 30, 2014 at 1:44 am

Naive question: Is there zero probability of an intricate hoax?

2 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 1:47 am

Why are you first this is MY topic!

3 dan1111 November 30, 2014 at 2:43 am

In 1900 someone carefully constructed an elaborate astronomical computer, made it look old, “discovered” it, and then acted like they had no idea what it was for their entire life?

4 So Much for Subtlety November 30, 2014 at 4:21 am

A Piltdown computer!

5 Student December 1, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I dont think hoax is out of the question at all. If the device was pretty ancient at the time it went down, that seems to imply lack of mass production. Why keep some old device when it was mass produced? I am guessing this was the work of a lone genius out there.

6 Neil December 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Why should we assume the device’s construction date was coincident with the calendar start date? Actually, that seems unlikely. Wouldn’t the user want to see the stars on a given day in the past? Their date of birth, for example?

At the very least, there’s no particular reason to claim that the usage of Babylonian base-60 math has anything to do with the construction date. That’s like saying my laptop is obviously ancient because it uses the binary mathematics invented by Leibniz.

7 Amedeo November 30, 2014 at 2:03 am

Tyler, read The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn, by Lucio Russo (Springer, 2004). It proves you right.

8 Ray Lopez at TD November 30, 2014 at 2:33 am

+1 In the bowels of my hard drive I keep a list of “invented in Greece first” inventions that are sometimes speculative. From memory: Archimedes use of mirrors to blind enemy invaders, his “Claw” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claw_of_Archimedes), his weapon the architronito (http://exhibits.museogalileo.it/archimedes/object/Architronito.html) a form of steam powered cannon that inspired Leonardo da Vinci, a jet airplane (a toy by Hero, say most historians, but it used steam jet propulsion and at least one Greek historian of antiquity, says it may have even been used to power humans. I see it did not make Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria) BTW a human-carrying glider–not a kite–was recorded as carrying a prisoner in China for several kilometers through the air, which also dovetails with the ‘Greek mythology’ of Icarus (which may be based on fact, of an early glider), the fact that perhaps during the Hellenistic period the Greeks circumnavigated around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (somewhat speculative but a prow of a trireme only found in the west Mediterranean was found as flotsam near India by Alexander the Great, who speculated it went around Africa), and other such marvels too numerous to mention, like Greek fire, a water powered alarm clock (used by Socrates to wake up in the morning), and super athletes that could run a marathon or more in modern record time and do the triple jump in still unexplained fashion. Not to mention “The 300″ and their exploits, ‘based on a true story’ (LOL I’ve not seen that movie yet, though historical estimates say the Greeks achieved a 10:1 kill ratio in the Battle of Thermopylae, largely due to better armor, the terrain, and better conditioning). [and hat tip to Amedeo: The Hellenistic researchers have obtained some incredible results such as the inverse square law of gravitation – cited in Lucio Russo’s book]

Also consider that as a ceiling, not an average, some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today, see: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/24/what-percentage-of-ancient-literature-survives-some-data/

9 Scout December 1, 2014 at 1:16 am

I’m not convinced a lot of Greek ‘firsts’ weren’t just instances of ‘earliest record’. Advanced civilizations had already been around for 2-3000 years, and simultaneously in Egypt, Sumer, and the Indus Valley and Greece inherited most of its philosophers from Anatolia.

10 Lorenzo from Oz November 30, 2014 at 2:53 am

Yep, that’s the book to read.

11 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:18 am

“perhaps during the Hellenistic period the Greeks circumnavigated around the Cape of Good Hope”: thank you for provoking another jolly laugh. Though I’ll grant you that it’s perhaps less implausible than the claim (Herodotus, I believe) that Phoenicians had circumnavigated Africa.

12 dan1111 December 1, 2014 at 5:17 am

Why are either of these claims implausible? Surely this would be possible with either Egyptian or Greek maritime technology. The main problem would be negotiating with different local peoples for supplies along the way–risky, but not out of the question.

13 joeyo December 2, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Here’s why I believe Herodotus (from Histories 4.42):

“These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya, they had the sun on their right – to northward of them.”

So there you have 1) an accurate description of how the sun would appear from the southern hemisphere and 2) Herodotus himself says that he doesn’t believe it. The most parsimonious explanation is that the Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa.

14 Ram November 30, 2014 at 2:03 am

Not to be a pest, but the use of the term “Bayesian” adds nothing here as far as I can tell.

15 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 4:37 am

@Ram- yes it might. Since some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today, see: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/24/what-percentage-of-ancient-literature-survives-some-data/ – then what TC is saying is that if we found this device with such sparse data, unless–which is improbable–that this is a one-time chance discovery of the one and only copy of this device –then other such devices and other miraculous inventions lost to history must exist, according to Bayes probability theory. This is a consequence of statistics relating to sample size, see more at Chapter 7 here: http://www.measuringu.com/blog/practical-stats.php

16 Ram November 30, 2014 at 11:46 am

Thanks Ray. Note, however, that the marginal probability of finding something (0.035) is irrelevant–what is at issue is whether we should move the dial towards *many*, and away from *few*, and this depends only on the likelihood ratio. Regardless of the prior and the marginal, the answer to this question is yes, since the likelihood ratio exceeds 1 since P[finding | many] > P[finding | few]. If we wanted to actually compute some posterior probabilities, we would need to actually lay out some priors and compute the marginal, but Tyler only seems interested in whether we should move the dial. You can think of it in terms of a Bayes factor or likelihood ratio, but this is just a hyperformal gloss on the common sense observation that “it’s easier to find stuff if there’s more of it to find”. Thinking of this as a distinctively Bayesian mode of reasoning seems to both trivialize Bayesian methods and elevate the status of the reasoning in the post. That’s what I was getting at.

17 Ram November 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

Somewhat OT, but a more general point is that Bayesian models of reasoning succeed at least in part to the extent that they reproduce successful everyday reasoning like that exhibited in the post. It is to these models credit that they do so, but this doesn’t change the fact that people were capable of reasoning in this way long before anyone thought about how to quantitatively transition from one distribution to another given some data.

18 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Well, said. Bayesianism is about giving some value (not too much, but more than none) to your prejudices. That makes it a tough sell in the current ideological-religious climate in which the term “stereotype” serves as all-purpose dismissal of Bayesian thinking.

19 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:19 am

Oh come; it added affectation and pomposity.

20 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

He meant it in the Straussian way.

21 Rick Hull November 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

*snicker*

22 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:05 am

From Wikipedia:

Investigations by Freeth and Jones[33] reveal that their simulated mechanism is not particularly accurate, the Mars pointer being up to 38° off at times. This is not due to inaccuracies in gearing ratios or such in the mechanism, but rather to inadequacies in the Greek theory at that point in time. …

“In short, the Antikythera Mechanism was a machine designed to predict celestial phenomena according to the sophisticated astronomical theories current in its day, the sole witness to a lost history of brilliant engineering, a conception of pure genius, one of the great wonders of the ancient world—but it didn’t really work very well!”

In addition to theoretical accuracy, there is the matter of mechanical accuracy. Freeth and Jones note that the inevitable “looseness” in the mechanism due to the hand-built gears with their triangular teeth and the frictions between gears and in bearing surfaces would have probably swamped the finer solar and lunar correction mechanisms built into it:

“Though the engineering was remarkable for its era, recent research indicates that its design conception exceeded the engineering precision of its manufacture by a wide margin—with considerable accumulative inaccuracies in the gear trains, which would have cancelled out many of the subtle anomaly corrections built into its design.”

23 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:06 am

If this is accurate, I’m reminded of Babbage’s mid-19th Century computational engines that were too far ahead of their time.

24 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 2:22 am

Hmmm… my comment awaiting moderation says the blog engine…

But while I wait for my brilliancy to appear, I remind you that Babbage’s computational engine was recently (5 years or so) reconstructed by an outfit in Australia. They found that one variant of the engine had lots of mechanical slop in it (loose gears). Puzzled, thinking it was an error, they built the machine without the ‘slop’ and found it would not turn. Babbage’s engineers (he had a team) deliberately introduced slop so that the engine would work properly.

25 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 2:16 am

TC sez: The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don’t have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion. – YESYESYES!!!

Very true. If you talk to any Philhellene, you will come to the same conclusion as TC did. I’ve seen this over the decades (I know Greece more than most of you, but a cultural reference you can relate to might be the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who thought everything, including Windex, came from ancient Greece)

In the bowels of my hard drive I keep a list of “invented in Greece first” inventions that are sometimes speculative. From memory: Archimedes use of mirrors to blind enemy invaders, his “Claw” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claw_of_Archimedes), his weapon the architronito (http://exhibits.museogalileo.it/archimedes/object/Architronito.html) a form of steam powered cannon that inspired Leonardo da Vinci, a jet airplane (a toy by Hero, say most historians, but it used steam jet propulsion and at least one Greek historian of antiquity, says it may have even been used to power humans. I see it did not make Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria) BTW a human-carrying glider–not a kite–was recorded as carrying a prisoner in China for several kilometers through the air, which also dovetails with the ‘Greek mythology’ of Icarus (which may be based on fact, of an early glider), the fact that perhaps during the Hellenistic period the Greeks circumnavigated around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (somewhat speculative but a prow of a trireme only found in the west Mediterranean was found as flotsam near India by Alexander the Great, who speculated it went around Africa), and other such marvels too numerous to mention, like Greek fire, a water powered alarm clock (used by Socrates to wake up in the morning), and super athletes that could run a marathon or more in modern record time and do the triple jump in still unexplained fashion. Not to mention “The 300” and their exploits, ‘based on a true story’ (LOL I’ve not seen that movie yet, though historical estimates say the Greeks achieved a 10:1 kill ratio in the Battle of Thermopylae, largely due to better armor, the terrain, and better conditioning).

Also consider that as a ceiling, not an average, some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today, see: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/24/what-percentage-of-ancient-literature-survives-some-data/

Further, a lost text of Aristotle on mathematics was recently discovered, and, when showed to modern mathematicians, they were amazed at the depth and complexity of it, saying that only a professional mathematician could understand its meaning today. Further, in the Hellenistic period a form of geometric calculus (using geometry rather than Cartesian algebraic notation) was invented.

Still waters run deep, as Shakespeare would say, borrowing from the ancient Roman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_waters_run_deep)

26 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:18 am

The analog computer design work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace was largely forgotten by the first half of the 20th Century, even though they had every advantage of celebrity in their own day (e.g., Babbage was made into a character in Dickens novel, Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the most famous man in the world, etc.) So the idea that an ancient analog computer design could be forgotten isn’t implausible, especially if it didn’t really work.

27 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:23 am

I wonder if Tom Stoppard was thinking of the Antikythera Mechanism (which is sometimes thought to have something to do with Archimedes) in the famous speech in “Arcadia” in which the Babbage-like character tells the Lovelace-like character:

Septimus: “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”

28 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 5:48 pm

The Babbage machines were not analog computers. They were decimal digital machines, technology similar to the later mechanical calculators of Burroughs and Comptometer and the cash registers of NCR. They had 10-position wheels that would carry into the next digit on overflow.

29 JWatts November 30, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Yes, a good point. We are so used to thinking of mechanical computers as analog computers that it’s easy to mentally throw it in the wrong bucket.

30 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Right. The key was making computers binary, a counterintuitive idea that didn’t seem to come along until pretty late: Claude Shannon?

31 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 9:39 pm

The Harvard Mark I of 1944 and the ENIAC of 1946 were both decimal computers. The Mark I used electromechanical digit counters of the type used on IBM punched card equipment. ENIAC used 10-position vacuum-tube ring counters which were functionally similar to the electromechanical counters of the Mark I. It was while Eckert and Mauchly were working on ENIAC that they realized binary would be superior, which they used on their next design, EDVAC.

Many early computers including the first highly profitable one (IBM 650) used decimal. Binary is more efficient in its use of bits, but decimal avoids the cost of conversion between binary and decimal. IEEE floating-point arithmetic continues to support native decimal formats. The efficiency of binary is no longer significant. The cost of doing the conversions can increase power consumption, so pocket calculators are internally decimal.

I would hardly call the use of binary a “key” event in the evolution of computers. If we never had adopted binary, that would have had very little impact.

32 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:06 am

As far as I have understood, while Shannon was publishing his work about the use of binary architecture, Konrad Zuse was already building the Z3, but I wouldn’t really know which work could have been derivative. It was probably a populare idea at the time just waited to be engineered into reality.

33 Ray Lopez reposts November 30, 2014 at 2:27 am

I don’t think this is a double post…apologies if it is…
Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 2:16 am

TC sez: The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don’t have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion. – YES!!!

Very true. If you talk to any Philhellene, you will come to the same conclusion as TC did. I’ve seen this over the decades (I know Greece more than most of you, but a cultural reference you can relate to might be the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who thought everything, including Windex, came from ancient Greece)

In the bowels of my hard drive I keep a list of “invented in Greece first” inventions that are sometimes speculative. From memory: Archimedes use of mirrors to blind enemy invaders, his “Claw” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claw_of_Archimedes), his weapon the architronito (http://exhibits.museogalileo.it/archimedes/object/Architronito.html) a form of steam powered cannon that inspired Leonardo da Vinci, a jet airplane (a toy by Hero, say most historians, but it used steam jet propulsion and at least one Greek historian of antiquity, says it may have even been used to power humans. I see it did not make Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria) BTW a human-carrying glider–not a kite–was recorded as carrying a prisoner in China for several kilometers through the air, which also dovetails with the ‘Greek mythology’ of Icarus (which may be based on fact, of an early glider), the fact that perhaps during the Hellenistic period the Greeks circumnavigated around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (somewhat speculative but a prow of a trireme only found in the west Mediterranean was found as flotsam near India by Alexander the Great, who speculated it went around Africa), and other such marvels too numerous to mention, like Greek fire, a water powered alarm clock (used by Socrates to wake up in the morning), and super athletes that could run a marathon or more in modern record time and do the triple jump in still unexplained fashion. Not to mention “The 300″ and their exploits, ‘based on a true story’ (LOL I’ve not seen that movie yet, though historical estimates say the Greeks achieved a 10:1 kill ratio in the Battle of Thermopylae, largely due to better armor, the terrain, and better conditioning). [and hat tip to Amedeo: The Hellenistic researchers have obtained some incredible results such as the inverse square law of gravitation – cited in Lucio Russo’s book]

Also consider that as a ceiling, not an average, some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today, see: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/24/what-percentage-of-ancient-literature-survives-some-data/

Further, a lost text of Aristotle on mathematics was recently discovered, and, when showed to modern mathematicians, they were amazed at the depth and complexity of it, saying that only a professional mathematician could understand its meaning today. Further, in the Hellenistic period a form of geometric calculus (using geometry rather than Cartesian algebraic notation) was invented.

Still waters run deep, as Shakespeare would say, borrowing from the ancient Roman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_waters_run_deep)

34 TallDave November 30, 2014 at 2:28 am

That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process. Lots and lots of slaves.

And to me, the Antikythera Mechanism does not to me sound like a “lone genius” kind of device Probably more the concerted effort of a large team over a long time, for someone important.

Apparently despite being extremely advanced for its time, it didn’t work all that well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism#Accuracy

It’s kind of impressive most people on Earth can download an app on their phone that works better at predicting the movement of celestial objects than a device that was maybe the greatest technological artifact humanity had produced up to a couple thousand years ago.

But it doesn’t matter, none of us survived Sequestrageddon and we now exist only as someone’s higher-dimensional screensaver (thanks again to everyone who donated their idle processor time to simulating our universe after ours lost its funding).

35 Ray Lopez at TD November 30, 2014 at 2:31 am

@TD – Surely you jest–and I’m calling you Shirley–since Wikipeida informs us the Antikythera inaccuracy is “not due to inaccuracies in gearing ratios or such in the mechanism, but rather to inadequacies in the Greek theory at that point in time. This could not have been improved until first Ptolemy introduced the equant in about 150 AD, and then when Johannes Kepler changed orbits to ellipses and broke from the concept of uniform motion and circular orbits in 1609 AD.” You can’t expect the device to anticipate Kepler can you?

36 TallDave November 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm

The end user only cares if the application works. Also:

In addition to theoretical accuracy, there is the matter of mechanical accuracy. Freeth and Jones note that the inevitable “looseness” in the mechanism due to the hand-built gears with their triangular teeth and the frictions between gears and in bearing surfaces would have probably swamped the finer solar and lunar correction mechanisms built into it:

Though the engineering was remarkable for its era, recent research indicates that its design conception exceeded the engineering precision of its manufacture by a wide margin—with considerable accumulative inaccuracies in the gear trains, which would have cancelled out many of the subtle anomaly corrections built into its design.

37 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:11 am

Seeing examples of ancient jewelry and miniature work, I find quite hard to believe that sloppy workmanship would have been applied to such a complex device. I find easier to believe that the workmanship of modern university researchers is worse than that of a master artisan, modern or ancient.
And about the fact that “The end user only cares if the application works. ” Since it worked far better than any other available prediction method during the time it was in use, I’d think it satisfies your requirements.

38 JWatts November 30, 2014 at 7:26 pm

“It’s kind of impressive most people on Earth can download an app on their phone that works better at predicting the movement of celestial objects than a device that was maybe the greatest technological artifact humanity had produced up to a couple thousand years ago.”

My smart phone probably exceeds the encyclopedic capabilities that Isaac Asimov wrote about for his futuristic super computers in the 1940’s. On the other hand, Siri has yet to throw anyone out the airlock of a space ship on the way to Jupiter (or Saturn depending on the version). So we haven’t quite made it the 1960’s version of the future.

39 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:36 am

Another way of thinking about how common were these devices 2000 years ago is to ask if they have been worth more whole or disassembled. Were there other uses for the parts? Lots of ancient things are missing because they were reused for something else. For example, it was discovered only in the 20th Century that Archimedes had gotten started on calculus. The one manuscript we have of this had been erased by a monk and reused by a monk for something else.

The more fungible things are, the less likely they are to survive. For example, we only have a few works left after less than 500 years by Cellini, the most famous goldsmith of all time, because goldsmithery is easy to melt down.

So, were the parts of this device reusable in other things?

40 Ray Lopez agrees with SS November 30, 2014 at 2:48 am

Good points SS. Also consider that as a ceiling, not an average, some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today, see: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/24/what-percentage-of-ancient-literature-survives-some-data/ Further, there are other instances of societies losing tech then relearning it later. Two that come to mind: the early Thais (like 2000+ BC) invented casting using bronze metal which was lost, and, a super strong form of pottery was invented in Korea but lost (even today), and, Roman concrete (which is found in natural volcanic form in Italy) was lost then re-invented in the medieval ages. So trade secrets of the kind implicitly favored by AlexT and others is not always so good for society.

41 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 3:15 am

20th Century computer pioneer Howard Aiken told a funny story about how around 1937 when he was trying to get the Harvard physics department to give him space for the immense mechanical computer he was planning, a technician told him they already had one stored away up in the attic. It turned out to be parts of Babbage’s unfinished machine.

42 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

“some classicists estimate only 3.5% of ancient literature survives today”: my “prior” (why shouldn’t I be affected too?) says that’s far, far too high, unless “literature” is being used in some very restricted sense.

43 kiwi dave December 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

dearieme:

My thoughts too. The 3.5% figure must relate to “serious” literature (scientific/philosophical treatises, historical works, religious texts, poetry etc.). If you were to include all the mundane literature (government records, tax receipts, commercial records, storehouse inventories, personal correspondence) the number must surely be far, far lower.

44 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:12 am

The number specifically refers to Ancient Athens tragedies and satyr plays, specific genres in a specific time at a specific place.

45 JonFraz December 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Add Greek Fire to that. No one really knows what it was or how it made.

46 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:47 am

How long could we expect one of these devices to keep working before it would get jammed? And how easy would it be to find a reliable Antikythera Mechanism repairman when your unit broke down? Would somebody local in Rome or Alexandria be able to fix it? Or would you have to ship it back to Greece for factory maintenance?

47 Lorenzo from Oz November 30, 2014 at 2:54 am

Actually, it is more likely that it is Alexandria where you could get it fixed.

48 g November 30, 2014 at 3:07 am

“’The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm.’ That suggests it was made by some kind of regular industrial process.”

How do you conclude that? If the differences between teeth were small then you might guess that some specialized tool or jig was used to shape them, but the averages tell you nothing about the variances.

49 RoyL November 30, 2014 at 7:21 am

The variance would have to be toght for a multiple geared instrument to work, but if you think this is magical you have never looked at Hellenistic jewelry, or Chinese Jewelry, or even early modern gold pieces. Remember Too that very little gold and silver jewelry survives because it is usually melted down to either sell or remake into new jewelry as fashions change.

50 Anon. November 30, 2014 at 9:15 am

Isn’t gold significantly easier to work with though?

51 The New Guy November 30, 2014 at 3:10 am

Are there any Greek legends about the Antikythera mechanism? Could be a pointer to the wider knowledge of its existence at the time.

52 The New Guy November 30, 2014 at 3:11 am

Does it even get a passing mention?

53 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 3:19 am

Charles Babbage inspired the character of Daniel Doyce in Dickens’ “Little Dorrit,” but this wouldn’t be obvious if all you had inherited from the 19th Century was one copy of the complete works of Charles Dickens.

54 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 3:25 am

Almost everything we know about the Ancient Greeks from their writings are from copies of copies made over the centuries. Some monks had to have a good reason to copy it out by hand.

If the device was missing, would you copy out the owner’s manual?

Howard Aiken was close enough to Charles Babbage in time that he was able to find a couple of dusty books about Babbage in the immense Harvard library. But if mechanical printing had been disinvented in 1900, books about Babbage would likely have been low on the priority list to copy by hand.

55 Anonym November 30, 2014 at 5:39 am

Cicero mentions a mechanism like this. Greek technology was sophisticated enough that the Antikythera mechanism doesn’t appear alien on that background. “The forgotten revolution” (mentioned above) has plenty of details about this.

56 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 5:38 pm

So this mention survives due to Cicero’s personal prestige.

A less prestigious writer writing about a no longer existent device sounds like a low priority for a Dark Ages monk to copy by hand.

57 Graham Asher December 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

I don’t know about Greek references, but a device like an orrery or indeed an Antikythera mechanism seems to be the answer to Damoetas’s riddle in Virgil’s Eclogues. See http://www.loebclassics.com/view/virgil-eclogues/1916/pb_LCL063.47.xml.

Damoetas asks “Dic, quibus in terris (et eris mihi magnus Apollo) tris pateat caeli spatium non amplius ulnas.”, i.e., “Tell me in what lands—and to me be great Apollo—heaven’s vault is but three ells wide.”

58 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 3:48 am

A lot of old mechanical stuff has been forgotten. Scorsese’s 2011 film “Hugo” featured the restoration of an old automaton. These days we’re familiar with the Napoleonic-era Mechanical Turk chess-playing pseudo-automaton with the little man inside, but there were a fair number of real automatons that did simpler things.

59 bjk November 30, 2014 at 6:19 am

Maybe the Anti-K device is part of an elaborate scam, ancient astrologists who would lug the device around and pretend to predict stuff for a fee. That makes more sense if the device was not accurate.

60 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Or maybe these kind of devices started out genuine, but later broke down and were repaired ineffectually and tended to wind up in the possession of dubious fortunetellers who would use them as props. It would still be a great prop even if you didn’t know how to use it for its original purposes. Just crank the gears and tell your client that the device shows that the stars are predicting whatever it his he wants to hear.

61 Jonas November 30, 2014 at 5:02 am

This is a thought provoking hypothesis, but on second thought, I think it’s not as consequential as you might think.

The modern computer revolution started primarily because computers are general purpose machines. It’s of course just economics, but being general purpose, the cost of development and the cost of that whole industry to make intricate components can be spread among a lot of uses and over a lot of users. After an initial period of enthusiasm, for the technology as whole, it’s scale or stagnate, just due to the magnitude of the costs. That what makes the modern version so consequential, because this time around, we scaled.

Even today, smaller groups try to make special/single purpose machines, like quantum computers (or going back), neural network chips, database machines, word processors, differentiation/integration machines. Almost none of the special purpose computers or projects succeed, whether it’s a large or small technological leap. And these projects do develop special techniques which are lost over time.

Primitive automatons have been invented time and again. The wikipedia article has lots of examples.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaton

The Greeks, Jews, Chinese all wrote about them, and we consider them all mostly fanciful, but they could have easily been grounded in fact. However, if you see them as examples of special purpose/single purpose computing devices, and it’s not that surprising that they died off and never left any progeny.

Even now, when I look back at articles describing early mechanical televisions, they have the feel of a mythological artifact.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_television

Mechanical televisions, although performing a function similar to modern ones, don’t really operate based on any of the technologies that are used today. If we never had electronic TVs to follow on quickly, mechanical TVs could easily been forgotten for hundreds of years, with all of the tricks lost and having to be rediscovered.

62 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 6:05 am

Excellent points.

Consider the fax machine, which barely existed in American offices in 1982 but was ubiquitous by 1987.

Yet, even though the fax machine seems very 1980s, fax machines go back well into the 19th Century:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fax#History

63 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 8:16 am

The fax machine is very now… in Japan. And do we want to raise an argument about semaphores as an early type of telegraph, and/or African talking drums?

64 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 5:43 pm

James Gleick’s 2011 book “The Information” starts off with African talking drums. The secret is lots of redundancy.

65 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 6:41 am

Astronomical displays like this were often built into European cathedral clocks from the late medieval period onward. The Chinese and Muslim civilizations had examples even earlier, although they seem more like a tour de force more than an evolution. It’s been theorized that medieval European clocks were technological descendants of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Astronomical clocks were popular in the 14th century in part because they were clocks and clocks told the time. The invention or arrival from Asia of the escapement mechanism made mechanical clocks feasible and astronomical calculators could piggyback off timekeeping. Perhaps if the ancient Greeks had the escapement mechanism, they would have kept up with this kind of astronomical calculator.

One question I haven’t seen asked is whether building a hardwired mechanical computer was more efficient than doing the calculations on papyrus or on an abacus or whatever. If Greek astronomical theory didn’t mature until the 2nd Century AD, then maybe it turned out not to be a good idea to build a super expensive calculating device a couple of centuries earlier only to have it rendered obsolete when theoreticians added a few epicycles to the model?

66 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Or did Hellenistic science get about as good as it was going to get by about 150 BC and then decline as the bumptious Romans took over? Dearieme can no doubt draw an analogy to the dominance of the United States today over cultures with more sophisticated intellectual traditions.

67 JonFraz December 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm

It wasn’t the Romans (who were very good engineers): Greek science hit the limits of Greek technology. Modern science had to wait until there were reliable time-keeping devices and good magnifying lenses to advance.

We may have reached a similar limit today– lots and lots of far out theories in physics, but no way to test any of them.

68 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:28 am

“The modern computer revolution started primarily because computers are general purpose machines.” That depends on what you mean by “revolution” and “primarily”. Wasn’t the first electrical stored-program computer built at Bletchley Park for de-coding work?

69 Graham Asher December 4, 2014 at 9:00 am

I don’t think Colossus had a stored program in the normal sense of a program stored using the same memory mechanism that’s used to store the data, did it, but just a plug-board? I believe the first true stored-program computer was the Manchester Mark 1 of (from memory) 1948.

70 ummm November 30, 2014 at 5:42 am

Not sure how they can extrapolate an entire analog computer from some rusty parts, of which only seven are mechanically significant. It’s like being given a doorknob, a brick, a piece of wood and calling it a house

71 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 8:20 am

@ummm – but in science they do this all the time; in archeology, in medicine, in astrophysics. I think it was once calculated that all the signals that come from outer space and are collected in radio telescopes all over the world would only power a very dim light bulb. A jawbone is enough for a archeologist to construct the entire ass. A few drops of blood is enough to do a battery of tests.

72 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:30 am

A few drops of blood contain far more information than some ancient tissue-free jawbone. You should remember that much of archaeology is just fantasy and speculation, driven by fashion. And I speak as an enthusiast for it.

73 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

I would be like finding a tank and extrapolating the size of an army, that’s preposterous!
*sarcasm*

74 The Devil's Dictionary November 30, 2014 at 7:05 am

Some 2000 years from now, our civilisation will have been lost and forgotten. People would occasionaly find rare fragments of electronic circuitry and ask questions such as ‘Is it really possible the Ancients were so advanced?’

Because all of the present-day technology will be have been deliberately destroyed during the religious wars in the 22nd century together with the civilisation that has originated it.

75 informatimago November 30, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Or more probably all our artifacts will have been recycled, or biodegraded.

76 Marcos December 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

Electronic chips are both built from the cheapest materials around, so that’s no sense in recycling, and amost completely not degradable – as centuries go by, metal layers may corrode, and the chip stops working, but the original structure is still easily readable.

77 James Drogan November 30, 2014 at 7:38 am

The Antikythera Mechanism causes me to think of the Pyramids, the Nazca Lines, and Stonehenge. And to wonder about other things from the past. I seem to recall once having a book called Ancient Mysteries. Is there a pattern, a connection that we fail to notice when we look at the points in the pattern?

78 TerriW November 30, 2014 at 8:00 am

David Macauley’s _Motel of Mysteries_ is a fun take on this front.

79 Ray Lopez November 30, 2014 at 8:24 am

I think primitive man was smarter than you think. Around 20k bce he paddled on a log from Asia Minor to Cyprus for example, a distance of over 50 miles. Considering that the ocean ‘horizon’ is only 4 miles or so at sea level (what you can see if you are swimming), that’s quite a leap of faith to travel that far out in the open ocean. My personal theory is that primitive man more or less traveled and communicated all over the world, indirectly, via trade, so arguably the pyramids of Egypt inspired the New World pyramids as well as of course China.

80 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 9:38 am

You surely aren’t seriously arguing that someone paddled tens of miles out to sea without any obvious means of return if he should tire, carrying food and water enough for survival, on the off-chance of spotting an island? How about some primitive craft was blown out to sea, the crew spotted mountain tops on Cyprus, managed to return home, and then a plan was set for an exploratory expedition, timed (they hoped) so that a southerly wind would help them get back home?

81 Dude November 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

You should read more about the motivations of adventurers. They do (have done) all sorts of things a “normal” person would think of as crazy.

82 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 11:17 am

Adventurers who do crazy things don’t generally live to tell the tale.

83 TallDave November 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I expect quite a few of them did not. We only hear about the ones who survived.

84 Raylopez agrees with Dude November 30, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Yes, my favorite crazy adventure story is the couple that got drunk in a Denny’s or similar place, saw that Bermuda islands looked close to Florida on a napkin or menu (in fact it’s about 600 miles away), and took off on their Chris-Craft type boat and tried to go there. Go rescued by the US Coast Guard. Maybe some caveman drinking grog did the same thing and succeeded?

85 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Early mariners followed the paths of migrating birds.

86 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 3:09 pm

What, all of them? And they still have to eat, drink, and get back home.

87 albatross December 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Disclaimer: This may just be my ignorance of history/prehistory/sailing/etc coming through.

It seems plausible to me that people occasionally managed to travel between the continents thanks to some combination of getting lost at sea and having immense good luck in getting back to land before they died of thirst or sank or whatever. But I can’t see any way for this to have amounted to a regular sort of interaction, or networks of trade or communications. So you might have gotten (say) a survivor from the Mediterranean arriving in Central America, maybe even surviving long enough to learn the local language and marry into the society and tell people about the giant pyramids he’d seen once in Egypt as a boy. But I don’t think you’d get very much impact from that kind of thing–people tell a lot of oddball stories about faraway things, and mostly you don’t try to build them.

More likely, you’d see the impact of this on some knowledge the outsider had that the locals didn’t, and that the outsider could actually teach, assuming he could get anyone to listen to him. Though I think it’s pretty likely he wouldn’t have any impact even if he had valuable skills–he’d get killed for being a stranger with valuable-looking stuff, or for violating some taboo he didn’t know about, or for making eyes at the bossman’s daughter. Or he’d survive and be adopted in some tribe that couldn’t benefit from his technical knowledge because it didn’t have the requisite resources or technology or opportunities. (Suppose he’s a blacksmith, and he gets adopted into an Indian tribe on some Carribean Island with stone tools and not the slightest idea about where you’d find metal ores.)

88 JonFraz December 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

In 20K BCE sea levels were a lot lower due to the Ice Age locking up a lot of liquid water. I’m not sure how close the shores of Cyprus and Asia were at the time, but they would have been closer than now. Britain was part of the European mainland, and Japan and much of Indonesia were connected to Asia.

89 Art Deco November 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Ancient Mysteries was one of the many works of Rupert Furneaux. It was first published in 1977 or thereabouts (Amazon is trading in an edition from a decade later). That sort of literature was wildly popular at the time (recall Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of…). IIRC, the author was explicit in his introduction that it was written in counter-point to Erich von Daniken’s load and meant to draw on scholarship then known. Not sure what Furneaux’s background is. My pop used to devour this stuff and passed on his copy to me.

90 TallDave November 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

No.

91 Chris November 30, 2014 at 8:33 am

I’ve always suspected that the real recent revolutions in technology have been down to communication and health improvements. When your ideas are passed to apprentices, or your school, they can be built upon, but are much more vulnerable to disease or war than when you have a printing press or the internet to communicate them. Fewer ideas lost means faster progress. I’m sure countless things have been invented and later lost.

Sadly internet 2.0 with it’s focus on now, and browsers dropping support for older formats already, puts that potential at risk. The way things are going in a few years we’ll be turning back to books for knowledge.

92 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I think some of the older PDF formats will remain readable on nearly everything. I have noticed some of the newer versions of PDF will not open on my 10-year-old Mac iBook.

93 informatimago November 30, 2014 at 8:15 pm

What about postscript files?! A lot of scientific papers are under that format (along with perhaps TeX sources).

94 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Doing a Google search on “Alzheimer’s Disease” filtered for .ps files gets 374 hits. Filtered for .pdf files gets 1,120,000 hits. I don’t think I’ll bother searching for .ps files.

95 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I should also mention I’ve been doing a lot of research on Alzheimer’s Disease over the past 3 years. It’s been very helpful to restrict my Google searches to PDF files. That weeds out most of the crap. If I search on technical terms and filter for PDF files, I mostly get genuine published research papers.

I was a great fan of paper, and I still have large files of articles I xeroxed in Stanford’s libraries. But that’s mostly older stuff now. The field is changing fast, so there isn’t much older stuff that’s still important. There are very few important papers I haven’t been able to find as PDF files on the net. I will admit I drove up to Stanford a couple weeks ago to xerox two papers in Science that seemed important.

96 dirk November 30, 2014 at 11:18 am

My theory is that there were plenty of smart dinosaurs who created advanced technologies and art and literature which have been lost in time. Is there any reason for believing that is unlikely?

97 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:19 am

If you find at least one dinosaur artifact, you can, as there would be no specific reason not to think there were more.

98 Ben November 30, 2014 at 11:25 am

Fascinating. But it’s a bit of a stretch to call this device a computer. A calculator maybe, but definitely not a computer.

99 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

They called it an “analogue computer” which seems near enough right to me.

100 Mark Thorson November 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm

It’s perfectly proper in the older meaning of the word “computer” which included analog electronic computers, electronic and mechanical differential analyzers, and mechanical computers in devices such as computing gunsights used in World War 2.

101 Edward Burke November 30, 2014 at 11:54 am

Not seeing it cited here otherwise, I’ll cite: Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant (Windmill Books/Random House, 2008), which already is a bit dated given the further decoding of the inscriptions on the available pieces.
A new expedition has begun retrieving other objects from the Antikythera site, with hopes to salvage the handful of pieces still missing from the Mechanism’s assembly.

102 John November 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Check out ‘Ancient Inventions’ by Peter James and Nick Thorpe for an overview of ancient ‘surprising’ (NOT!) technology. Written before the Antokythera device was fully understood.

103 JC November 30, 2014 at 1:15 pm

It seems the scientists decided it was made in 200 BC because it “predicted” eclipses from 200 BC forward. Anyone who wanted to create such a device in 100 BC may well have wanted to have it be able to “predict” eclipses of the (for them) recent past as proof of its accuracy.

You have a fragile mechanism made from a valuable material (bronze) that can be easily recycled. There would not have been many of these made in the first place. Prototypes would have been recycled. Defective devices would have been recycled. Worn out devices would have been recycled.

104 albatross December 1, 2014 at 12:57 pm

The story that I can imagine is like this: There’s a guy in Alexandria who has figured out how to make this one really cool gadget. It’s months of painstaking work for several skilled craftsmen slaves who belong to the guy who figured it out, and there are maybe a couple dozen people he’d like to give it to as a gift. When he dies, maybe his clever nephew continues, even refines the design and works out some of the bugs, and manages to make a couple dozen more. Each one is done as a one-off, painstakingly, with skilled craftsmen working right at the edge of their abilities. Then, the family falls on hard times. The valuable skilled slaves are sold off to someone making jewelry. The nephew writes up a monograph on mechanical calculation, and manages to give copies to a few influential people. Several read it and think “wow, what a clever fellow he is,” but don’t have the resources or expertise or inclination to try to reproduce that cool brass toy that kinda doesn’t work anymore because the gears came loose.

A hundred years later, a few surviving copies of the monograph are gathering dust in various peoples’ libraries, and will be meaningless to essentially anyone who reads them. Most of the brass gadgets have long since stopped working, and have been recycled. The last working device is sitting on a shelf in a house in Athens. The current owner doesn’t know what it is, but he does know that his old, brilliant, rather frightening grandfather (the one who used to berate him for his dull wit in one of his half a dozen languages, when he failed to follow some subtle argument or appreciate some bit of poetry) always claimed it was the greatest treasure he’d ever owned, and that it contained a secret that could change the world if only understood.

105 Robert November 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

It would have been possible with this level of technology to build mechanical Edison-style phonographs in 50BC, too. Imagine the possibilities: the sermon on the mount, etc.

106 dearieme November 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

But what if Jesus turned out to have a reedy, unimpressive voice? Or a lisp? Still, it would add to the rather modest amount of evidence that he existed.

107 msgkings November 30, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Apparently Abe Lincoln had a high pitched, fairly unpleasant voice. I wonder if we’d be so enamored of his oratory/rhetoric if we heard the man.

108 MotorBoatingSOB December 1, 2014 at 4:26 pm

I am not really a fan of Lincoln’s, so I was hoping to do some google searching and find that he sounded like Gilbert Gottfried. However, I found that while his voice was somewhat high pitched, it was not unpleasant and his oratory captured his audiences.

Source:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ask-an-expert-what-did-abraham-lincolns-voice-sound-like-13446201/

109 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

Churchill speeches are barely comprehensible. Still, people followed him to hell and back.

110 Steve Sailer November 30, 2014 at 9:28 pm

To get some sense of how rare this device might have been, has anybody estimated how much it cost?

The ancient world had a fairly large amount of money to spend on things like sports stadia, but I have no idea how to translate between the cost of large marble structures and intricate bronze mechanisms.

111 Scout December 1, 2014 at 1:22 am

“The alternative possibility is that antiquity had many more such exotic devices, which have remained unreported, at least in the manuscripts which have come down to us. That would imply, essentially, that we don’t have a very good idea of what antiquity was like. In my view that is the more rational Bayesian conclusion.”

Absolutely. The fact that advanced civilization had been around for 3000 years, and simultaneously in Egypt, Sumer, Indus, and now possibly the new world (Caral) points to a more advanced ‘prehistory’ than previously thought. And given that major population centers tend to be near the coastline, who knows how many lost sites existed before sea-level rise.

112 John Mansfield December 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

The oil was still in the ground when we got around to drilling for it 160 years ago. Or maybe it wasn’t, and that’s why oil wells were first developed in Pennsylvania: all the shallow stuff was already sucked up in the Old World millennia ago. Is there any missing oil that geologists expected but couldn’t tap a hundred years ago?

At any rate, lack of ancient oil drilling looks like an indicator of limited ancient technological abilities.

113 JonFraz December 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Ditto, coal, which was treated as a curiosity (a rock that burns!) by the ancients.

114 Ronald Brak December 2, 2014 at 1:27 am

About two thousand years ago in China during the Han dynasty, natural gas was extracted from underground and transported via pipes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_of_the_Han_dynasty#Boreholes_and_mining_shafts

115 albatross December 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

There’s a huge difference between technology that was in widespread use, and technology that was available at the very high end, held by a few researchers in big cities/centers of learning. I’m no historian, but I can’t really see how this technology could have been in widespread use without our noticing it, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been a pretty well-developed 2nd or 3rd generation version of a very specialized device that only a few people used or knew about.

If our civilization somehow collapsed back to the stone age, people two thousand years in the future would have a very easy time knowing we’d had electric power–our whole urban infrastructure is built around them, and ruins of generators and power substations and power lines would exist despite the inevitable looting of the copper and aluminum and such inside them. Electrical devices permeate our civilization. But they might be very surprised to discover that we had a few people working on primitive quantum computers. My guess is that this mechanism is more like an experimental quantum computer than like a ppwer drill or even a generator.

If Greek culture had somehow remained stable and successful for another few centuries, I don’t think it’s implausible that they might have ended up with something derived from this mechanism becoming widespread technology. Or for that matter, with some variant of an industrial revolution.

116 Peldrigal December 6, 2014 at 11:25 am

In high school I learned that greek leatherworkers sold shoes, purses, and other clothing articles, amor, and dildos. There is ONE short poem from a sicilian poet about two women that go shopping for dildos becouse their husbands are at war. It is frequently excluded from anthologies, and my teacher had to distribute photocopies of it since it wasn’t on our book. The fact that you don’t know about something past might be selection bias or your own ignorance.

117 ohwilleke December 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

There are a few reasons that this device does not materially alter our sense of ancient history:

1. The time period during which it was made and used is well attested by multiple reliable non-fiction historical sources. These give us an order of magnitude estimate of how many were made.
2. The devices were neither particularly precisely made nor particularly accurate in an absolute sense.
3. Greco-Roman engineering and metalworking was reasonably advanced anyway. They built chariots, bridges, cathedrals, siege engines, fine swords, engravings and etchings, aquaducts, and hot tubs.
4. This device did not have a power source which is what distinguishes devices of the clockwork era from earlier devices. It was a closer cousin to the cardboard wheels used today to calculate court deadlines, than to a Swiss watch or grandfather clock or dark satanic mill.
5. Each one was clearly handmade (due to non-uniformity). Inability to have the precision to make interchangable parts (an early 19th century development) was a key flaw and limited how many could be made.

118 J. Ott December 2, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Is there a device or technology today that will be of equal interest to people 2000 years in the future?

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