Jun

27

 Long before laboratories had HPLC, GC-Mass Specs, spectrophotometry, computers, even chemicals and glassware for that matter, there were still inquisitive people who wanted to learn and study about the earth and the universe around us.

The first laboratories equipment probably consisted of a couple of straight sticks, after which they added a rock, and a string. A timepiece would have been nice, but since timepieces weren't invented yet, they probably needed the stick to tell time. The first scientists pounded a stick into the ground and noticed a few things.

First, they probably tracked the stick's shadow from when the sun rose until the sun set. The scientists noticed that the shadow was longest when the sun rose and set, and the shadow was shortest when the sun was at the highest point of the day, They also noticed that when the shadow was shortest, that was the exact middle of the period of daylight and they were able to determine the local noon(midway between sunset and sunrise). The first scientists had inadvertently created the first timepiece, the sundial, from a simple stick.

This sundial was also the first compass as at the exact moment of local noon, the shadow pointed either due north or due south depending which side of the equator they were on. They also noticed that in the northern hemisphere that the shadow revolved around the base of the stick in a what is called a "clockwise" pattern.

Since it's safe to assume that those early scientists had plenty of time on their hands (no worries about publish or perish or tenure), it's not a stretch to think that that they made observations of the stick for a very long time. First, they would have noticed a big pattern of shadows in a 365 day repeating period. Had they observed the stick for any 365 day period in a row, and recorded what they saw, they would have noticed that the sun doesn't rise on the exact same spot on the horizon. They would have also recorded the fact that on two days a year, the shadow at sunset points exactly opposite the shadow at sunrise. When this happens, the sun rises due east and sets due west and the daylight lasts as long as the night. These two days were found out to be the spring and fall equinoxes. Any and all other days, the sun sets somewhere else on the horizon, not due east or west.

The scientists also noticed that while the sun was rising and setting on different points of the horizon, it's trajectory was also changing. They recorded the two days of the 365 where the shadow at noon where the shadow was either the longest or shortest. The day the noon shadow was the longest, it was the winter solstice, and when it was the shortest, it was the summer solstice. It's amazing that with a simple stick, those first scientists were able to record the four points on the compass, and were also able to identify the four days of the year that mark the change of seasons.

Those scientists weren't finished with the stick, they had more observations. At night, they lined up their stick with a familiar star in the sky. Using their hourglass, they would have noticed that the star took 23 hours, 56 minutes, for the star to align it with the stick from the previous alignment. From this they would be able to deduce the length of a day and determine that it was uniform throughout the year.

The scientists weren't finished with the single stick, as the scientists that recorded the tip of the shadow of the high noon noticed that the shadow fell to a different spot each day and over the course of 365 days, those marks traced a figure 8. The figure 8 happens because the Earth tilts on its axis by 23.5 degrees from the plane of the solar system. The tilt gives rise to the seasons and the apparent wide ranging path of the sun across the skies.

The figure 8 is the result of the sun migrating back and forth across the celestial equator during the year. Due to many other things, the earth's orbit is not a perfect circle and according to Kepler's Planetary laws, the orbital speed must vary, increasing as we move toward the sun and decreasing as we move away. Because the Earth's rotation is constant, but the orbital speed isn't, high noon does not always correlate with "Clock noon." The variance can be as much as 16 minutes early or late depending on the time of year. Interestingly, the clock noon equals high noon only four days a year, Dec 25, April 15, June 14, and Sep 2.

But I digress, the first scientists had much more on their plate, and they had science to do. Those scientists probably sent their assistants due south way beyond the horizon (more than 6 degrees would be ideal) with a stick the same length. At a predetermined time (high noon?), on the same day in the future, they measured the length of the shadow, and were able to use those lengths to calculate the Earth's circumference using simple geometry.

 From the circumference, they could determine the radius, diameter, volume and much more. From this, one could have probably made a few more simple measurements and arrived at a mass of the earth. Eratosthenes of Cyrene measured the length of the two shadows with a partner in 222BC and got an answer that was within 15% of the true circumference. As an aside, the word geometry is derived from the ancient Greek word, "Earth measurement."

The first scientists were also able to pound a stick into the ground at an angle other than vertical, attach a string and a rock to the end, creating a pendulum. If they counted the number of times the rock swings in 60 seconds, they deduced that the mass of the rock and the width of the arc had very little to do with the number of swings. The only thing that matters is the length of the string and what planet you are on. Using very simple equations, one can, from a pendulum,. determine the acceleration of gravity on the Earth. If you went to the moon, you would find the pendulum moving much more slowly and you could calculate that the gravity is 1/6 of that of Earth.

 There's more experimentation that could be done. If one got a large stick, or tree around 33 Meters long and tied a long string to it with a very heavy stone at the end and set this pendulum in motion, the bob would swing for hours on end. If the early scientists tracked the direction of the pendulum swings, they would have noticed the plane of the swing rotates. Ideally, if one set up the pendulum at either of the Earth's poles, the swing would make one full rotation every 23 hours, 56 minutes, but the rotation would go slower as you went towards the equator where the pendulum's plane would not move at all. This not only proved that the Earth rotates, but using a little trig, and a timer, one could determine one's latitude. For what it's worth, Focault, the French Physicist did this in 1851, which was one of the last truly elegant experiments. That big pendulum was named after him and they can be found in almost every science museum in the world.

It's very interesting that from a couple of sticks, a string, and a rock, one can determine the four points of the compass, the four days of the year that mark the change of seasons, the exact length of the day, the circumference of the Earth, it's diameter, radius, volume, your own latitude, and the acceleration due to gravity.

A modern common complaint is that a lack of tools keeps us from doing proper science, and that is a very intellectually lazy complaint. The basic axioms of science were proven, long ago with a stick, a string, and a rock. In fact, the first computer was invented in 150 BC in Greece and was called the Astrolabe. I wonder if traders approached their study of the markets using the same ingenuity and out of the box thinking as Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Focault, Euclid, or Newton, what differences in understanding would be? For what it was worth, Newton was an investor who lost the equivalent of $2.75 million in the market, and this author will let the reader draw their own conclusions.

Pitt T. Maner III adds:

The use of sticks and stones to produce metal must have been a wondrous experiment. 35,000 BC by the Khormusans is an early date for the advance, and the power of a simple magnetized needle to give direction.

The story is that when Einstein was a young boy he was fascinated by a compass:

When he was 5 years old and sick in bed, Hermann Einstein brought Albert a device that did stir his intellect. It was the first time he had seen a magnetic compass. He lay there shaking and twisting the odd contraption, certain he could fool it into pointing off in a new direction. But try as he might, the compass needle would always find its way back to pointing in the direction of magnetic north. "A wonder," he thought. The invisible force that guided the compass needle was evidence to Albert that there was more to our world that meets the eye. There was "something behind things, something deeply hidden."

So began Albert Einstein's journey down a road of exploration that he would follow the rest of his life. "I have no special gift," he would say, "I am only passionately curious."'


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