Science History

Not particularly earth-shattering, this, but mildly bloggable nonetheless!

People wrote the bible, we all know that. But for the most part, we really don't know who. Many books have their origins in traditional verses, others the work of individuals, but in most cases it is so heavily edited that we have little chance of identifying the original source*.

Whilst we wouldn't want to go citing the bible as a reliable scientific source (it must be said that the bible makes a fair few unsubstantiated claims!) there is actually one - only one - clear reference to a scientific work that we can trace, found in the New Testament.
All At Sea With The Vikings

The Vikings had an expression - hafvilla - which indicates a state of being at sea and having no sense of direction.  There are two modern English phrases that cover this situation: 'all at sea', and 'without a clue'.



In order to more fully understand the Viking sagas we must learn, not what the Old Norse words mean as translated multiple times down the ages, but what the original words meant to a Viking.

North and South
George Best - An Elizabethan Climate Scientist

whosoeuer could finde out in what proportion the Angle of the Sunne beames heateth, and what encrease the Sunnes continuance doeth adde thereunto, it might expresly be set downe, what force of heat and cold is in all regions.
George Best, written between 1578 and 1584.



Image courtesy NASA: http://researchpark.arc.nasa.gov/...
Popular science writing today can be hit and miss. It can be truly awful; such as Brian Greene’s immensely dull Elegant Universe, Stephen Jay Gould’s idiosyncratically waffley Rocks of Ages, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's misguided and rushed Black Swan (in my humble opinion). But it can be utterly sublime, such as Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestors Tale (his magum opus, in my opinion), Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of time, and Carl Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection.

Good popular science books like these are engaging, unpretentious, and inspirational, but most  of all, clever, witty, and humorous. You could argue with me on this one, but simply saying that the science will speak for itself is not good enough. I could just as well go read a nice thick textbook.
Ibn al-Haytham can be called the father of modern optics.  His 11th-century Book of Optics, which was published 1000 years ago, is considered by some to be in the same league as Newton's Principia regarding its influence in physics, yet very little is known about the writer.
In the category of lesser-known holidays that could be celebrated on December 25th, the coronation of William of Normandy in 1066 A.D. as first King of what we know as modern England would have to be considered.    It was the last time a foreign nation would conquer the island nation and years later the Brits gave us all Shakespeare, Christmas Island and America.
... India, actually.

Today, Wikipedia flagged up a new article, Coffee production in India, with a interesting piece of history.  Quoting in full from the article:
A Waymark Called Hvitsark


The Vikings did not use charts and instruments to navigate the open seas.  Having developed skills in coastal navigation they extended those skills to pelagic navigation, or 'island-hopping'.  Using the sun as a reference to determine where south lies, the Vikings could sail a reasonably accurate course.  If the wind was steady, the wind itself could be used as an aid to direction if the sun was hidden by heavy cloud.  It was only when wind and sun both failed the navigator that he was likely to miss his mark.


A Viking ship sailing on a beam reach.
Screenshot from The Vikings, 1958.
At The Hazard Of His Ears

What has the hazard of a person's ears to do with science history?

The history of Arctic science, exploration and discovery is sprinkled with many as yet unsolved mysteries, many concerning the meanings of words in old documents.  In this, the first article in a short series, I present my thoughts on some of these mysteries for discussion.  By clarifying an obscure passage in an old document we may add to its credibility as a source of historical or scientific data.  Thus the solving of these mysteries will - I suggest - add to our knowledge of Arctic history, and hence of Arctic science.
Having read the biography of Oliver Heaviside, I remain aware that I am not really au fait with inductance as I am with resistance and capacitance.  Searching without much success for a textbook that would explain it in a way I could understand, I came upon A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism - Volume 2 by James Clerk Maxwell.  Turning to the relevant section, my eye fell upon this: