By James Bailey
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Extra resources for After Thought: The Computer Challenge To Human Intelligence
The sky is too big, and the stars do not stand still. The Greek achievement lay first in establishing reliable references-the meridians and parallels-in the immensity and then in creating a geometric vocabulary for describing how far and in what direction everything lay from these reference points. -still require extensive amounts of supercomputer time, even though our scientists start with accurate knowledge about the places of the fixed stars already in hand. The Greeks had a much harder problem: determining the places of the sun and moon without first knowing the places of the stars.
Was it harder, perchance, to conceptualize using one such ink marking to stand for the other as the techniques of algebra require? When numbers and letters became individual slugs of type, physically interchangeable in the hand, did it become mentally THE FIRST FICTION 49 easier to conceive of substituting one for the other in the sense of the modern algebraic variable? Such speculations are relevant today because the medium of scientific communications is changing again, for the first time since the Renaissance.
What makes this device so jarring to the modern sensibility is that such clocks were "only very incidentally time-telling devices .. . " 17 The time-telling devices that later came to be made in Niirnberg and Augsburg, and soon throughout Europe, were full-fledged versions with the focus increasingly on the hands and dials that "tell time" in the modern numerical sense. Using these new tools, scientists could access concepts like "velocity" for the first time. Mechanical suns and moons and planets, the tellers of geometric time in the original sense, gradually receded into a purely decorative role.