Physics as Behavior

This is a review of a book on Archimedes, the first Physicist.

This may seem like a bit of a stretch for a site about behavior, but, believe it or not, the study of physics is an aspect of behavior.  And, as disciplines go, physics has been extraordinarily successful.  In fact, it would be extremely difficult to find any aspect of our lives that has not been touched by our knowledge of physics.  As students of behavior, we need to understand this discipline as a part of our humanity.  And what better place to start than at the beginning?

Which brings us around to an excellent art exhibit that took place here in Cleveland, ending in January 2014.  The only other exhibition was in the Getty Villa.  Cleveland almost lost the opportunity, an exciting story in itself.

Of the many great treasures, one of which is reputedly the finest example of greek sculpture in the round (if I may say, this is one good looking dude.)  It’s so exemplary that he gets a room all to himself.

Tucked away in the corner of the last room, however, was a non-descript page of vellum oriented the way a lowly monk inked it in the early 13th century.  Prayers, instructions for blessing loaves at Easter, and many other religious details are easy to read.  Underneath, however, are the almost imperceptible letters of a 10th century scribe, who copied an earlier work.  The work he copied was those of Archimedes.

As awesome as it sounds, the page of the palimpsest gets short shrift from the docents.  “Archemides invented the screw” I heard one say.

I highly recommend the book sold in the gift shop.  “Eureka Man – the life and legacy of Archimedes” by Hirshfeld is excellent.  Some of the tidbits include learning about Aristochus, the first inventor of our heliocentric model of the universe, 12 centuries before Copernicus.  We also learn about big numbers.  The greeks only had a “myriad” that meant 10,000.  Archimedes needed something a little bigger in order to fill the universe with sand.  So he invented something quite similar to the exponent system we use today.

This book is extremely well-written and a fast read.  I did my best to savor it, but find it too exciting to go slow.  The fact that anything survived multiple empires, religious uprisings, and still make it to the light of day is quite an exciting story in its own right.  That it records the thoughts and findings of one of the greatest minds of all time makes it all the more remarkable.  Buy this book!  (Here’s a link to it on amazon)


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