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On the Origin of Clockwork, Perpetual Motion Devices, and the Compass   By: (1922-1983)

On the Origin of Clockwork, Perpetual Motion Devices, and the Compass by Derek J. de Solla (Derek John de Solla) Price

First Page:

Trancriber's note: Letters enclosed in square brackets represent: [=x] any letter with a macron (straight line above) [x.] any letter with a dot below [.x] any letter with a dot above

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM

THE MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND TECHNOLOGY:

PAPER 6

ON THE ORIGIN OF CLOCKWORK,

PERPETUAL MOTION DEVICES AND THE COMPASS

Derek J. de Solla Price

POWER AND MOTION GEARING 83

MECHANICAL CLOCKS 84

MECHANIZED ASTRONOMICAL MODELS 88

PERPETUAL MOTION AND THE CLOCK BEFORE DE DONDI 108

THE MAGNETIC COMPASS AS A FELLOW TRAVELER FROM CHINA 110

ON THE ORIGIN OF CLOCKWORK,

PERPETUAL MOTION DEVICES

AND THE COMPASS

By Derek J. de Solla Price

Ancestor of the mechanical clock has been thought by some to be the sundial. Actually these devices represent two different approaches to the problem of time keeping. True ancestor of the clock is to be found among the highly complex astronomical machines which man has been building since Hellenic times to illustrate the relative motions of the heavenly bodies.

This study its findings will be used in preparing the Museum's new hall on the history of time keeping traces this ancestry back through 2,000 years of history on three continents.

THE AUTHOR: Derek J. de Solla Price wrote this paper while serving as consultant to the Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institution's United States National Museum.

In each successive age this construction, having become lost, is, by the Sun's favour, again revealed to some one or other at his pleasure. ( S[=u]rya Siddh[=a]nta , ed. Burgess, xiii, 18 19.)

THE HISTORIES of the mechanical clock and the magnetic compass must be accounted amongst the most tortured of all our efforts to understand the origins of man's important inventions. Ignorance has too often been replaced by conjecture, and conjecture by misquotation and the false authority of "common knowledge" engendered by the repetition of legendary histories from one generation of textbooks to the next. In what follows, I can only hope that the adding of a strong new trail and the eradication of several false and weaker ones will lead us nearer to a balanced and integrated understanding of medieval invention and the intercultural transmission of ideas.

For the mechanical clock, perhaps the greatest hindrance has been its treatment within a self contained "history of time measurement" in which sundials, water clocks and similar devices assume the natural role of ancestors to the weight driven escapement clock in the early 14th century.[1] This view must presume that a generally sophisticated knowledge of gearing antedates the invention of the clock and extends back to the Classical period of Hero and Vitruvius and such authors well known for their mechanical ingenuities.

Furthermore, even if one admits the use of clocklike gearing before the existence of the clock, it is still necessary to look for the independent inventions of the weight drive and of the mechanical escapement. The first of these may seem comparatively trivial; anyone familiar with the raising of heavy loads by means of ropes and pulley could surely recognize the possibility of using such an arrangement in reverse as a source of steady power. Nevertheless, the use of this device is not recorded before its association with hydraulic and perpetual motion machines in the manuscripts of Ri[d.]w[=a]n, ca. 1200, and its use in a clock using such a perpetual motion wheel (mercury filled) as a clock escapement, in the astronomical codices of Alfonso the Wise, King of Castile, ca... Continue reading book >>




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