Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer

By Michael White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Astronomy and Mathematics Before Newton

In every piece there is a number -- maybe several numbers, but if so there is also a base-number, and that is the true one. That is something that affects us all, and links us all together.

ARVO PÄRT (composer)1

Number and pattern have always held a fascination, and the true origins of mathematics and astronomy are certainly ancient. The earliest form of organised mathematics, in which numbers were meaningfully manipulated and patterns recorded, is credited to the Babylonians of around 4000 BC, who recorded star patterns and named constellations. They had also developed a surprisingly advanced set of mathematical rules, including a sophisticated method of counting -- a skill employed by the record-keeper, the farmer and the architect. It is thought that the last of these professions may also have employed simple forms of algebra and geometry.

Modern research, such as John North's work on ancient stone circles, has demonstrated that the ancient Britons must also have possessed some knowledge of geometry in order to build such structures as Stonehenge, started about 3500 BC,2 and the ancient Egyptians had highly developed mathematical and engineering skills which they employed in the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza some 1,000 years later. In these ancient civilisations, mathematics and astronomy were blended together intimately and had rich associations with mysticism and the occult. Astronomy and astrology were viewed as one and the same, and mathematics gained an almost spiritual status as a tool for the astrologer/astronomer. It was not until Greek times that mathematics and, to a lesser extent, astronomy were separ-

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Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - Truth Revealed 1
  • 1: Desertion 6
  • 2 - The Changing View Of Matter and Energy 29
  • 3 - Academia 43
  • 4 - Astronomy and Mathematics Before Newton 66
  • 5 - A Toe in the Water 82
  • 6 - The Search for The Philosophers' Stone 104
  • 7 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice 131
  • 9 - To the Principia 190
  • 10 - Breakdown 222
  • 11 - Metamorphosis 255
  • 12 - Old Men's Battles 294
  • 13 - A Question of Priority 325
  • 14 - Joining the Ancients 343
  • References 363
  • Index 387
  • Picture Credits 403
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