Tag Archives: #technology

Thank the Greeks for technology

Did you know that the word technology has its origins in the Ancient Greek word, techne?

Over 2000 years ago the Ancient Greek natural philosopher Aristotle (384–322BC) used the term techne in his teachings to describe the crafts and sciences, most notably through mathematics.

The concept of science in this ancient world view focused on the causes of change, such as the reason that metal turns red when heated or why heavy objects fall towards the Earth.

Aristotle’s science was more of a philosophy as it could not be easily measured and was based on theories made from general observations of nature. Aristotle, who was a student of Plato, had nothing against practical knowledge. He simply placed more importance on theorising than experimentation.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212BC), who many consider to be the father of science, applied techne to machines and inventions with a focus on experiments. Italian scientist, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galileo (1564-1642) was greatly influenced by the practical applications of Archimedes’ work and once said of him:

One could flow through life with ease if they could just remember the teachings of Archimedes”.

The School of Athens fresco painted by Raphael between 1509 and 1511 depicts a who’s who of the greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists from classical antiquity, shown gathering to share their ideas and learning. 

Perpetual motion: a long history

Since the dawn of technology, humans have sought ways of using machines and inventions to make work easier. Even though we can use machines to create mechanical advantage, it is sadly not possible for any machine to produce more energy than is put into it. As Albert Einstein put it, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”.

Galileo Galilei never explicitly expressed his thoughts on perpetual motion machines, however, we can see from several of his lecture notes, made while a professor at the University of Padua in Venice, that he clearly understood that perpetual motion machines are indeed not possible. As he eloquently put it, “Nature cannot be deceived”.

When discussing this principle, Galileo used the analogy of drawing water from a well by hand with a bucket. He conjectured, “whoever believes they are able to draw a greater amount of water from a well, in the same time, with the same force is in grave error”.

Leonardo da Vinci sketched a hypothetical perpetual motion machine (pictured here). Hundreds of years before theories of thermodynamics were developed, he understood that despite its allure, such a machine was impossible. He wrote; “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”