Friday, September 25, 2015

Environment & War Technology


Before we can come to terms with today's environmental crisis, we need to understand how it came about. 

I believe that much of it happened for a very simple reason. Technology developed faster than our ability to understand the consequences. And this happened because of three world wars (I include the Cold War) that gave the development of superior technology an urgency it would not have had otherwise -- along with a need to mass produce. 

This US poster from WWII egged companies and employees 
to produce more of everything for the war effort.

Many people have pointed out that war speeds up the development of technology. This is almost an obvious point, since each side wants to get an edge. During wartime the full resources of a country are committed to getting the upper hand, such as: cracking the enemy's code, for example, with computers, as the British did with the German Enigma code. Or building massive weapons such as the atomic bomb. Or adding wireless radio communication between tanks to allow coordinated attacks such as the Nazis did with their Blitzkrieg tactic. Or the development of the jet plane and the development of rockets with warheads, as Germany did in World War II.

Beginning with World War I in 1914, the conflicts that followed can be seen primarily as conflicts of technology -- as it was the development of superior technology rather than manpower that gave each military the upper hand. Technology allowed a military to leverage its manpower -- so that a few soldiers operating a machine gun emplacement or a pillbox, for example, had the same fire power as a hundred soldiers in the past. Relatively few sailors in submarines could sink vital supply ships and starve an entire country into submission -- something the German's came close to achieving with Great Britain in WWII.

So the research, development, improvement and manufacturing were often seen as more important than the number of soldiers and the size of the military. For example, Germany with a smaller army was certain it could defeat a much larger Russian military because of Germany's superior technology. And when Russia finally did defeat Germany, it was due in large part to the superior Russian technology, the T-34 tanks which the Russians could produce in vast numbers along with the Soviet Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, for example.

This 'battle of technology' was a mindset for about 80 years until the collapse of the Soviet Empire around 1991. 

Yet the battle was not only about technology but about production. Massive production became the goal. In WWII, for example, the US greatly out produced Germany and Japan which gave the US a decided advantage. But when the war ended, a production system was in place that could then mass produce consumer goods, a system which continues to this day.


The following is only a partial list of the technologies that were rapidly developed due to the demands of war. Today these technologies form the core of our modern world and are also responsible for many of the environmental problems we now face.

Quantity has a quality all its own.
Joseph Stalin

In WWII the manufacturing of goods
was as important as soldiers firing their rifles.

The war was a battle about production as much as military might. The US proved, for example, that it could build ships faster than Germany could sink them.

Mass Production
Perhaps the most important and least understood technological development due to a century of war was the huge infrastructure and methodology that developed for the creation of planes, tanks, boats, guns, clothes, bombs, bullets, K-rations, fuel, Jeeps, etc. While the basis for this type of production already existed with, for example, Sears and the Sears catalog -- the war created a mammoth system unlike any that had existed before.

This colossal network relied on thousands of subcontractors who themselves relied on suppliers and who were spread out across the country. The technology required that all contractors could do precision manufacturing. When the parts from various subcontractors were assembled at a central plant, everything needed to go together properly -- such as the building of the B-29 Superfortress bomber. 

Once completed mass produced products had to be transported to the right military operation which usually involved crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific. Then clothes, bullets, rifles, K-rations etc. had to be distributed to individual units and individual soldiers. 

This system set into motion the infrastructure and systematizing of our modern day world -- where, for example, products made in China are shipped to the US and then put in thousands of Walmart stores in the right quantities and on time. And it is this massive manufacturing and distribution system that has contributed to our environmental problems today.

In 1903 the first Wright Brothers' plane flew (left). A later early design (right).

The Wright Brothers' first airplane few in 1903. Because of the pressures of war and the military, less than forty years later the highly advanced B-29 Superfortress bomber was tested and soon after thousands of these planes were flying in the Pacific. The pressures of war caused airplanes to be developed much faster than they would have developed in peace time. Planes, of course, have now become the main means of long distance transportation.
In 1939, total aircraft production for the US military was less than 3,000 planes. By the end of the war, America produced 300,000 planes. No war was more industrialized than World War II. It was a war won as much by machine shops as by machine guns. 

State-of-the-art B-29 Superfortress only 40 years after the first Wright Brothers' flight (left). Assembly plant for the B-29s which were produced in large numbers (right).

The development of sophisticated radar in Britain created an early warning system for attacking Nazi airplanes which was a major factor in the defeat of German airplanes during the Battle of Britain. Today radar is a critical component of air traffic control along with weather monitoring and prediction.

Computers were a key factor in the British effort to break the Nazi Enigma code. Without computers this code could not have been broken. Later during the American program to land a man on the moon -- which was really a "Space Race," a Cold War battle between the Russia and the US -- computers were also key. Today, of course, we now live in a world dominated by computers

Manufacturing the first antibiotic, penicillin, on a massive scale was a major war effort by the Americans. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, huge quantities were available. Today it is hard to imagine modern life without antibiotics. Just about everyone at some point has had an infection that required an antibiotic. Without this treatment they would have died or suffered from that untreated ailment for the rest of their lives.

Wireless Communication 
A key element of the very successful German Blitzkrieg -- lightning war that overran Poland and France -- was the new wireless radio communication between the tanks on the field and also with the tank commanders. Radio became another crucial component of war, as effective communication was often the difference between victory and defeat. Today wireless technology such as satellite communication, the Internet and wireless phones are an everyday part of our lives and the modern world.

Recreation of a Nazi V-2 rocket.
A crash Nazi rocket program succeeded in developing the V-2 rocket by the end of the war. The rocket was then perfected during the Cold War with ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles). Today, this technology is essential for the placement of satellites which modern phone, weather, GPS, television, computers and communication depend on.

The US Interstate Highway System was built in part 
so that Atlas nuclear missiles could be transported rapidly and efficiently.

Hitler built the Autobahn in Germany which was the first superhighway. President Eisenhower copied this idea and inaugurated the Interstate Highway System. These superhighways in the US have been a major benefit to trucking, shipping and to a nationwide distribution system. These highways were also designed with a Cold War military purpose: the high bridges and extensive network of roads were and still are used to transport nuclear weapons.

Synthetic & Other Materials
Because some countries did not have access to certain key materials such as rubber, a major war effort was made to develop synthetic materials that were as good as the natural material. For example, because the Axis Powers controlled almost all of the natural rubber, the US embarked on a major effort to develop synthetic rubber. By the end of the war, the US was producing more than twice as much synthetic rubber as the world production of natural rubber at the beginning of the war. This success led to a number of substitute synthetic materials being developed -- which are today a major part of the modern manufacturing ability. From the massive production of plywood, deemed an "essential war material" in the US, to the creation of synthetic gasoline and oil by the Germans, the war accelerated the development and manufacture of hundreds of everyday materials.

More than 100 million K-rations were produced in 1944. 
Some believe this was the beginning of modern fast food.

Landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The Wizard War
The success of the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day was due as much to an electronic arsenal as it was to the ships, planes and men who landed. Using sophisticated all weather radar navigation systems, the ability to jam German communications and even an early GPS type of technology, the victory was achieved in part with state-of-the-art electronic and wireless technology that Churchill dubbed "The Wizard War." This sophisticated understanding of electronics led to the electronic world of today.
See the list of about 40 different ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS USED BY THE ALLIES ON D-DAY: 

For an overview of the use and development of technology
in WWII, see this page on Wikipedia: 

Virtually all of these military technologies listed above helped build our modern world. But because they were built with such urgency, attention was focused on their successful development with little thought about the consequences -- the by-products.
The environmental impact of the new war technology and a large manufacturing base was far reaching but I'll save a more detailed discussion for another blog.
However, the following is a brief overview. 

The environmentally-friendly consumer practices of WWII such as sharing rides, extensive recycling and home gardens known as "Victory Gardens" went by the wayside after the war. With a now established large manufacturing capability, company demands for higher profits  and huge demand from soldiers who were returning to civilian life, the austerity of the war years was gladly forgotten. For example, the practice of returning soda-pop bottles for a deposit gave way to convenience with a "use once and throw away" culture that has today created severe environmental problems. Ever increasing electronics has led to the construction of a large number of generating plants that are today principle contributors to greenhouse gases. And over the last century the average number of people in a household was halved yet the average home size more than doubled.
Yet occasionally the environmental consequences became so serious, they were dealt with -- such as the problem of atmospheric testing of atom bombs which was causing radiation to be spread around the world. This led to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 under President Kennedy, for example.

But the subtler aspects such as the effects of mass production were not recognized. And today we are paying the price. For example, it was recently reported in 2015 that nearly every seabird, about 90%, has eaten plastic.

While I will need to do further research on this, I believe that during the war years a successful product was the most important consideration -- with little thought about by-products, pollution, toxic wastes, environmental consequences, etc. Winning the war was the overriding consideration, understandably. But once the war was over, these side effects needed to be studied and taken into consideration, which I do not believe they were.

Understanding the history of how we arrived at this environmental crisis may help us find a way out. And the problem in a way is quite simple: we are now playing catch-up.

If there had been no wars in the last hundred years, it might have taken two hundred years for our modern technology to develop. With that slower development -- with more time to focus on the production methods as well as the product, for example -- we might have had time to adjust our technology to be more in tune with the Earth's environment.

Today our system of technology and manufacturing -- a result of the technology wars of the last century -- is entrenched. It has been allowed to grow and flourish without much control or awareness, in part due to the urgency of war. And because it is now entrenched there is substantial opposition to changing the status quo. 

However, it is now becoming obvious that we have no choice. We must create a technology which is Earth friendly, rather than Earth disrupting. But perhaps there is hope. It seems likely that the next generation, born in the 21st Century, understands the environmental urgency and will do something. But it will be decades before they are in charge and in the mean time, we, the older generation, may have done irreparable harm.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Note to students and scholars: I believe a number of books could be written on this subject, perhaps targeting each industry or innovation. This might help us understand not only how we got into this situation but also how to tame the beast we have unleashed -- using the lessons of history.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Time-Flow Photography:Free eBook

Free Educational eBook:
Time-Flow Digital Photography
by Rick Doble
detailed illustrated 100 page eBook

Download this eBook at the educational website
For students, teachers, educators, arts organizations and non-profits 
Teachers may use this in their course work
Students might use this for a project
Arts teachers might use this to show the relation between art and photography

Non-commercial eBook; no ads or commercial messages - no strings attached

Download now in either 
or view online at the website

Example of Time-Flow digital photography: 
Hand-held 8 second exposure of highway lights taken from a moving car.

The top photograph of a violinist in motion by Time-Flow eBook author, Rick Doble, was the featured photograph for the poster for this exhibit of contemporary art in Bucharest Romania at the Bucharest National University of Arts in 2010.

Over 100 years ago a photographer, Anton Bragaglia who was associated with the Italian Futurist movement, took photographs using long shutter speeds in his studio (left, above). Rick Doble, author of the Time-Flow eBook, took a similar but candid picture -- in color hand-held -- of a violinist with the added capabilities of digital photography (right, above).

Time-Flow photography uses long shutter speeds to record the passage of time as it flows. Since this photography often involves the use of blur, some people have criticized it claiming that it is purely accidental, but this is wrong. As this eBook explains there are quite a few techniques and methods available to the Time-Flow photographer that require learning and the development of skills. This eBook goes into detail about those techniques and also offers a number of examples of how those techniques can be used and also combined.

Time-Flow photography also draws on the imagery that was developed in painting in modern art, such as that of the Impressionists, the Futurists and the Cubists which is explained in detail in this free eBook.

Here are the full links and also
how these eBooks are listed at

Self-portrait with a TV --
the various pictures on a TV screen combine to make an abstract pattern with Time-Flow photography.

This shot combines camera movement and subject movement with a long shutter speed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

You Are Unique, A Miracle -- Get Used To It

Today, I turn 71 years old -- my 71st yearly trip around the sun. On my birthday, I like to think about how I got here.

I know that for everyone there are some days when you just can't win. But when you feel insignificant in a world of 7 billion people (as of 2013) who live on a small planet that orbits an average star that is only one of a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy that is only one of a hundred billion galaxies in the Universe -- consider this:

The odds against your existence are much much greater than the number of atoms in the Universe. In fact, probably greater than all the subatomic particles in the Universe.

How could that be? Well consider how unlikely it was that your mother met your father. And then consider the chances of their particular combination of sperm (out of the many millions your father produced) and egg (out of the hundreds your mother produced) that created you. Now take that same unlikely event back in time to your four grandparents, your eight great-grandparents, your sixteen great-great-grandparents etc. etc. to primal beings billions of years ago that started this chain of events.

Still don't believe me -- well, do the math:

Here is a link to a detailed explanation of the calculation: 

Dr. Ali Binazir -- on the above web page -- computed the numbers.
"The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080 " [ED: 10 followed by only :) 80 zeros.]
"The probability of you existing at all comes out to 1 in 102,685,000  — yes, that's a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes!"  

Now I know we are often told told how insignificant we are. For example,  consider Carl Sagan's famous statement about the Earth as a tiny pale blue dot in space:
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 

 "This is the "Pale Blue Dot" photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on July 6, 1990. The Earth is the relatively bright speck of light about halfway across the uppermost sunbeam."  (
Quoted from:
The original NASA caption reads as follows:
"This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager's great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun."

 Carl Sagan's famous Blue Dot quote emphasizes the smallness and the delicateness of our existence -- which is also true.  Yet this does not take away from the miracle of your existence.

As we all know, people walking along the sidewalks of New York City look like ants when viewed from the top of the Empire State building, but that does not diminish or change their value as people. And when we are back down walking along the street, we see these people quite differently.

Where we live is fragile, isolated and alone in the Universe as far as we know. Which is all the more reason to value it, hold it dear, celebrate it - protect it. And all the more reason to realize that we are unique. 

The Blue Dot and its fragility, "underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Carl Sagan added.

So take a break. Look at the sunset. Enjoy the moment. Build a better life for your children and grandchildren in the future. 

You and those who follow you are unusual and quite unlikely.
I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  [ED: Please note the word "immortal"]
William Faulkner
Nobel Prize Speech
Stockholm, Sweden
December 10, 1950 

Not only is each person unique but so is our species along with its wonderful curiosity. 
Just a few days ago the NASA New Horizons spacecraft did a flyby of the planet Pluto -- which completed a full exploration of all the major planets by human spacecraft -- a quest that began about 50 years ago. This marks a milestone in human achievement.
While Pluto has been technically downgraded to a dwarf planet, Pluto is extremely important because its discovery opened the door to an entirely different view of the solar system. The discovery of Pluto in 1930 led, 60 years later, to a major new understanding about our solar system. Pluto is the largest -- as far as we know -- and first known object of the Kuiper Belt. This large unexplored region, only discovered in 1990, contains perhaps 100,000 objects on the edge of our solar system. 

So as we learn more and more, we realize we have just begun to learn. And we also become more aware that we as a species are remarkable and unique because we can ask these questions, explore, and build devices that take us even further.

Until the New Horizons flyby, this view of Pluto and
its largest moon, Charon was all we had from the hi-tech Hubble space telescope. (

The New Horizons spacecraft shot this view of Pluto
- showing us a world we never imagined.

This is a photograph of Pluto's moon, Charon -- never seen before. (

This closeup of Pluto's surface will probably be studied for decades
and yield new ideas about our solar system and our life on Earth.

But wait there's more!

The voyage of the New Horizons spacecraft is far from over. It is now headed into the heart of the Kuiper Belt which may give us new information about this huge and virtually unknown region.

Images of the Kuiper Belt and caption from:

Friday, June 19, 2015

TV Crime Dramas: Morality Plays and Modern Myths

The number of crime, detective, serial killer shows on TV is mind boggling. In the last 60 years there have been about 650 different crime series on TV worldwide. Many ran for a number of years.  And it does not stop with television. There are also movies, video games, popular novels, documentaries, and true crime dramas. Even older stories and novels are being downloaded in huge numbers such as the original Sherlock Holmes stories. This phenomena is global from North America to Europe, South America, Asia, Australia etc., etc. So I have to ask: Just what is going on here?

A picture of a crime scene from 1905 in France, 
showing the public's long time fascination with crime stories. (

While I would like to blame the media for pushing this steady diet of murder and mayhem on us -- that simply is not true. These stories are popular because this is what people want to see. Law & Order ran for twenty years because it was popular and the same can be said for CSI. Since the year 2000, Criminal Minds has been running continuously and the show was just renewed for another season.
 As of May 13, 2015, 777 episodes of the CSI franchise have aired.
"CSI's worldwide audience was estimated to be over 73.8 million viewers in 2009. In 2011, CSI is the most watched drama series in the world, again.”
I have already suggested part of the answer in another of my blogs on Patterns and MemoryIn this blog I state that as humans we are driven to look for patterns and to create order. So even in our leisure hours, we enjoy looking for patterns -- crime being one of the difficult puzzles to solve.

But there is much more going on in these dramas.


I believe these shows are morality plays that assure us good will triumph over evil.
Crime dramas are morality plays which feature struggles between good and evil, between heroes who stand for moral authority and villains who challenge that authority (Rafter, 2006). 
Gray Cavender and Sarah K. Deutsch 
CSI and moral authority: The police and science 
But even more than the eternal struggle between good and evil, we are told a story that civilization itself will triumph. These shows are designed to reassure us that civilized values prevail -- that civilized society works -- that civilized society will catch people who break the law and try to live outside the rules. These shows offer us a modern mythology.
According to one well-known formulation, culture consists of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves (Geertz, 1973). The stories provide an interpretative framework through which we are encouraged to understand various aspects of culture (McCullagh, 2002)...Today, these stories are told on television. Television circulates the cultural images through which we understand aspects of our social world ranging from our own identities to our concepts of right and wrong (Wilson, 2000; Wittebols, 2004; Wykes and Gunter, 2005). 
Gray Cavender and Sarah K. Deutsch
CSI and moral authority: The police and science 

This 1945 comic book cover has many of the elements of a morality play. 
While being told that the comic contains "TRUE stories of COLD-BLOODED KILLERS!" 
we are also assured that "CRIME NEVER PAYS." (

For example, the basic plot of virtually every 'police procedural' drama, as the police investigative stories are called, is almost always the same. In the opening minutes we find that a serious crime has been committed. This means that the normal order of civilized society has been upset. Then in one hour we go from cataloging and recording  this mysterious crime -- which is almost always a murder -- to gathering evidence that could point to hundreds of people. This investigative process often involves the full force and resources of the police whose powerful tools and skills are then brought into play. Through a process of elimination investigators zero in on the most likely suspects, until finally, bingo we know which one it is and we have got our man. Then we cut to the chase, locate where the criminal might be, track him down and, more often than not, get him or her to blurt out their guilt -- relieved that they can unburden themselves of this awful deed. At the end, usually at  night after a hard day's work, the investigators can put their feet up, relax a bit, sip a drink, watch TV and eat a pizza because civilized order has been restored. All is right with the world.

In the broadest terms, these shows are about a threat to order and the reestablishment of order. The message is clear. Civilization must maintain order or our primitive savage instincts might get the upper hand.  The longest running crime show even had the word "order", i.e. the show Law & Order, as one of its main themes. These shows reassure us that civilization can handle these threats quite nicely -- especially given the powerful tools of science and forensics and the money that civilization has allocated for police and other authorities -- but of course, it does take work, vigilance and determination.

Photograph of an episode of Law & Order SVU being shot. (

Serial killers are a special case -- and have taken center stage in a number of crime dramas. Generally serial killers have no guilt, they have no remorse, and more often than not they are proud of the victims they have killed, even keeping trophies from each episode. These people are a particular threat to civilization because they not only break the rules, they don't care about the rules. These killers are like 'mad dogs' who must be locked up or "put down". Here the pattern-finding aspect of these shows goes through a bit of a change, as investigators must learn to think like serial killers in order to find them. And they will be found by following their own twisted logic.

In TV programs such as The F.B.I. of 1965, 
we are reassured that the authorities will do their work 
and keep the criminal forces in check. 
"Photo of Stephen Brooks as agent Jim Rhodes from 
the television program The F.B.I." (

I started thinking about writing this particular blog because of my concern about time. Time is a key element in any investigation. A reliable timeline of events leading up to the crime must be established. Yet we are reassured that with today's cell phone records, cell phone tower locations, receipts with time stamps, credit card purchases, GPS, and the ability to access an electronic paper trail of a person's spending, police can easily reconstruct the past with a high degree of accuracy. We are led to believe a criminal cannot hide his or her actions in the fog of the past. And we are also led to believe that more often than not, clever perpetrators, who think they have covered their tracks, have made or will make a small mistake which will expose them and reveal their guilt.

These shows make good drama -- as death, murder, evil people and action will get our attention. But the reality presented is generally false. I call it 'TV reality' because what you see on TV and also in court room scenes has almost no relation to the real world.


Most crimes that come to trial, for example, are circumstantial and have little or no direct evidence and little hi-tech scientific evidence. The size and resources of the police force are much smaller than generally depicted on TV. Virtually no criminal with a lawyer present will confess to a crime. Many crimes are not solved or they go undetected until it is too late to investigate them properly. A huge amount of evidence has never been entered into databases, meaning it cannot be searched or connected with other evidence or crimes. Reconstructing what happened in the past is particularly difficult. Video surveillance is often nonexistent or poor quality or useless -- such as not showing a person's face. And BTW it is almost impossible to get usable fingerprints off of a gun.
Forensic scientist Thomas Mauriello estimated that 40 percent of the scientific techniques depicted on CSI do not exist.  
Cole, Simon; Dioso, Rachel (13 May 2005). "Law and the Lab". The Wall Street Journal.

An actual crime scene footprint. (

A friend of mine, who had been a judge for over 30 years, told me that he had to turn off the courtroom scenes in crime dramas as they had no basis in fact -- and misrepresented the courtroom process.
People who watch forensic and crime dramas on TV are more likely than non-viewers to have a distorted perception of America's criminal justice system, according to new research from Purdue University....Viewers of crime shows also misjudged the number of law enforcement officers and attorneys in the total work force. Lawyers and police officers each make up less than 1 percent of the work force, but those surveyed estimated it at more than 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively......The reality is that few crimes have hard, scientific evidence such as ballistics, gunshot residue or DNA evidence. 
Researchers rest their case:
TV consumption predicts opinions about criminal justice system

Here is a list of some of the things in TV crime dramas which are not true -- from an experienced prosecutor: 
For more background about this see these links: 

Yet the popularity of these crime dramas has created its own reality. Known as the 'CSI effect' jurors often need to be educated to the realities of crime and put away their assumptions that they have gleaned from TV programs.
There’s actually a phenomenon created by these shows called the CSI Effect. Jurors today want to see some kind of high-tech crime-fighting science, because they’ve seen it on TV: DNA off an eyelash left at the scene, or a magical fingerprint detecting camera. As a prosecutor, a large part of my job was bringing the jury’s expectations into line with reality, despite these TV shows. 
Allison Leotta


The modern ability to obtain DNA evidence has both helped bring about more convictions and also provided a greater likelihood that the person accused is the offender. DNA is so important that law enforcement officers talk about the pre-DNA era and the post-DNA era. And most types of crimes are significantly down in the United States over the last 20 years.

Crime statistics from the FBI, USA:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How the Discredited Geocentric Cosmos Was a Critical Component of the Scientific Revolution

How Ptolemy's Geocentric Astronomy
Helped Build the Modern World

(all images are from

If you took the standard required western history course in college as I did, you learned that about 400 years ago astronomers Copernicus,  Galileo and Kepler along with Isaac Newton were key players in the scientific revolution that overturned the cumbersome system of geocentric astronomy. In this outdated system the Sun, moon and stars went around the stationary Earth. Instead these early scientists proved that the Earth and the planets went around the Sun. Known as the Copernican Revolution, it is considered the beginning of the scientific revolution, a new way of thinking which continues to this day and has created our modern world and our modern hi-tech marvels.

Well, that story is sort of true, but in hindsight it greatly simplifies the complex path that the scientific revolution took, the path that ultimately led to today's scientific and technological wonders. Specifically it leaves out the fact that the geometry of a geocentric universe and its foremost astronomer, Ptolemy, who perfected the geocentric system, were key players in this new scientific outlook. In fact the discredited geocentric theory was, oddly, essential for building our new scientific/technological world.


Over hundreds of years the early ancient Greeks put together a concept of the Solar System as a coherent system of concentric circles -- which was a major advance for Western thought. Later in the 4th century BCE, Plato and then Aristotle decided that the Earth was stationary and at the center of the universe, while the Sun, moon, planets and stars moved in perfect circles -- thought of as concentric spheres -- around the Earth. In the ancient Greek view of the cosmos, the orbits had to be perfect circles since all things in Heaven were considered 'perfect'. Each heavenly object moved with its own uniform motion.

However, "the geocentric model of Plato could not explain the retrograde motion of the planets. Around 140 A.D. Ptolemy proposed his refined geocentric model. In the Ptolemaic universe, a planet moves in a small circle called an epicycle, and the center of the epicycle moves along a larger circle around the Earth."

"A simple illustration showing the basic elements of Ptolemaic astronomy.
It shows a planet rotating on an epicycle which is itself rotating around
a deferent inside a crystalline sphere." Quoted from:

Claudius Ptolemy in his book the Almagest (published around 150 CE) laid out his refined geometry for the movement of the heavenly bodies, based on earlier Greek science and the work of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. His revised system was quite accurate and this view of the universe lasted for almost 1500 years.

Ptolemaic Model Of The Solar System
From NASA's Cosmos: By selecting suitable radii and speeds of motion, Ptolemy could use this system of uniform motion around two [ED: perfect] circles to reproduce the apparent motions of the planets with remarkable accuracy. He succeeded so well that his model was still being used to predict the locations of the planets in the sky more than a thousand years after his death.
The problem people had with Ptolemy's cosmology was that it was complicated:The resultant system...seems unwieldy to modern astronomers; each planet required an epicycle revolving on a deferent, offset by an equant which was different for each planet.
Eventually the new heliocentric science advanced by Copernicus, observed by Galileo, perfected by Kepler and then explained by Newton was easier to calculate. It was accepted in part because it was a more elegant and simpler mathematical solution and once refined was more accurate than the predictions of Ptolemy's system.

So what is my argument with all of this you might ask?


Ptolemy's system had a large but hidden benefit. The perfect circles that were the key component of his system meant that man-made machines -- first clocks and later engines -- could be easily constructed with circular gears.

Ptolemy's system mapped out how mechanical models could be made of the solar system and these machines eventually led to the building of clocks. Yet even before the first astronomical clock was made, the idea of a mechanical universe based on Ptolemy's ideas was widely known.

Page from De sphaera mundi
The Sphere of the Cosmos (De sphaera mundi) is a medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written by Johannes de Sacrobosco (John of Holywood) [ED: publication date] c. 1230. Based heavily on Ptolemy's Almagest, and drawing additional ideas from Islamic astronomy, it was one of the most influential works of pre-Copernican astronomy in Europe. Sacrobosco's De sphaera mundi was the most successful of several competing thirteenth-century textbooks on this topic. It was used in universities for hundreds of years. Sacrobosco spoke of the universe as the machina mundi, the machine of the world... This concept is similar to the clockwork universe analogy that became very popular centuries later, during the Enlightenment. [ED: my emphasis]
Around 1264 Campanus of Novara, an Italian astronomer, "wrote a Theorica Planetarum [which] ... included instructions on building a planetary equatorium as well as its geometrical description. The data on planets are drawn from the Almagest [by Ptolemy] and the Toledan Tables of the Arab astronomer Arzachel. Campanus gave precise instructions on using the tables, and made detailed calculations of the distances to the planets and their sizes."
The Theorica Planetarum has been called "the first detailed account of the Ptolemaic astronomical system... to be written in the Latin-speaking West."
Benjamin, Francis Seymour; Toomer, G. J. (1971). Campanus of Novara and medieval planetary theory: Theorica planetarum. 
Thus, the ancestors of Western clocks were early planetaria, and forerunners of what later became known as astronomical clocks.
Fraser, J.T. (1978). Time as Conflict: A Scientific and Humanistic Study.
In the middle ages starting in 1364 CE, many astronomical clocks were made throughout Europe. They were both timekeeping instruments and devices that showed the movement of the Sun, moon, planets and the zodiac.
See a list here:
Most of the first clocks were not so much chronometers as exhibitions of the pattern of the cosmos ... Clearly the origins of the mechanical clock lie in a complex realm of monumental planetariums...   
White, Lynn Jr. (1966). Medieval Technology and Social Change.
The first documented astrarium clock was completed in 1364 by Giovanni de' Dondi (1318–1388)... The original clock, consisting of 107 wheels and pinions, was lost..., but de' Dondi left detailed descriptions which have survived, enabling the reconstruction of the clock. It displays the mean time, sidereal, or star, time and the motions of the Sun, moon and the five then known planets Venus, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, and Jupiter. It was conceived according to a Ptolemaic conception of the solar system.[ED: my emphasis]

"The Prague astronomical clock [above] was installed in 1410...and is the oldest functioning Astronomical clock in the world." Quoted from:

The Prague clock was built more than 130 years before Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543. The publication of Copernicus' book is considered by some to be the beginning of the modern age, yet was preceded by astronomical clocks starting in 1364 (see above) -- almost 180 years earlier.

Explanation of the information on the Prague astronomical clock.

The design of these mechanical clocks, a huge technological advance for the age, was largely based on Ptolemy's geometry. Clocks eventually became the symbol for the Newtonian age -- the age of the scientific revolution. They helped spawn the idea that God was the great watchmaker.
In the history of science, the clockwork universe compares the universe to a mechanical clock. It continues ticking along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics, making every aspect of the machine predictable.
RenĂ© Descartes saw "the cosmos as a great time machine operating according to fixed laws, a watch created and wound up by the great watchmaker."

Gears in a pocket watch.

So the idea of a mechanical universe -- a central idea to this new scientific revolution -- was derived from the discredited geocentric astronomy. In addition the building of geared clockwork machines was also due to the geocentric model, showing the importance of this system to the manufacture of practical technological devices.
Clocks were the "key machine of the modern industrial age."
Strandh, Sigvard (1979). A History of the Machine.
This was the ultimate irony: The central image for the new scientific mechanical age was a watch which was created with the discredited geometry and physics that the scientific revolution had overturned.


Yet the story does not end here -- it continues today. In fact you probably use geocentric physics everyday. For example, much of the gearing in automatic transmissions in cars and other vehicles is based on a geocentric design. Let me explain.

What Ptolemy achieved with his circles within circles was an advanced design of gears and gearing -- gearing that worked well and was quite reliable -- as had been shown in the creation of clocks. The ability to create such gears was not only critical to the construction of clocks but later to the design of engines and machines such as the early Watt steam engine -- the mechanical device that kick started the industrial age and the Industrial Revolution.

About the Watt steam engine in 1785:
"The firm's [ED: Watt's company] fourth innovation [was] Sun and planet gearing...
As Boulton and Watt engines were prime movers in the Industrial Revolution, this very significant engine represents not just invention and entrepreneurship, but also wealth creation, mass consumerism, great changes in working life, a massive shift in the use of resources, and consequent damage to the natural environment."
While it was called a Sun and planet gear with the Sun in the middle, in fact the gearing was based on the geocentric geometry of Ptolemy with his understanding of perfect circles, epicycles and uniform motion.

Sun and planet gearing. "This particular [Watt steam] engine was installed in
Whitbread's brewery in 1785, 
and clocked up 102 years' work." Quoted from:

Early locomotive gearing due in part to the geocentric system of interrelated circles.

Today epicycle gears, also known as planetary gears, are used in a wide range of machines including automatic transmissions for automobiles and bicycle gearing.

About modern epicycle gears from Wikipedia:
Epicyclic gears get their name from their earliest application, which was the modeling of the movements of the planets in the heavens. Believing the planets, as everything in the heavens, to be perfect, they could only travel in perfect circles, but their motions as viewed from Earth could not be reconciled with circular motion. At around 500 BC, the Greeks invented the idea of epicycles, of circles traveling on the circular orbits.With this theory Claudius Ptolemy in the Almagest in 148 AD was able to predict planetary orbital paths.

 A modern epicycle gear train or planetary gear train.


One of the reasons Ptolemy's science has gotten such bad press and even been labeled bad astronomy was due to the trial of Galileo by the Catholic Church which prevented him from criticizing this geocentric system. This was seen later as a huge impediment to the advance of science, when the new ideas of Copernicus, Kepler and Newton won out. As a result the Ptolemaic system itself took part of the blame for standing in the way of scientific investigation. Yet it is important to note that the cosmology of Copernicus was initially not as accurate as that of Ptolemy and even more complicated -- although it did solve a number of nagging problems.
However, Copernicus, like Ptolemy, also used circular orbits and had to resort to epicycles and deferents to explain retrograde motions. In fact, Copernicus was forced to use more epicycles than Ptolemy, i.e. a more complicated system of circles on circles. Thus, Copernicus' model would have failed our modern criteria that a scientific model be as simple as possible.
Yet, as we know, history is written by the victors and in this case, the science of Newton et al was the victor, so the previous science was discredited.

Stephan Jay Gould in his book Time's Arrow And Time's Cycle pointed out that something of a similar nature occurred in the science of geology. It would seem that this attitude of denigrating and distorting past thinkers is also true in just about every branch of science.
Gould, Stephan Jay (1987). Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time.

Perhaps Albert Einstein understood the process of theorizing better than anyone and understood how one theory builds on another -- which does not mean that the earlier theory was in error, but rather that it was a necessary step in the process.
Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism...But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions.
Albert Einstein