Farruq ibn Abd al-Latif - The face of a water clock with Zodiac signs. Folio from Kitab fi ma'arifat al-hiyal al-handisaya (The book of knowledge of ingenious mechanical devices) Automata by al-Jazari. 1206
The sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir were bright and bold and if they hadn’t been Muslims would have probably gone on to be the patron saints of techno-geeks. They’re famous for their ninth-century Baghdad bestseller, a compendium of ingenious mechanical devices that they imaginatively titled Kitab al-Hiyal—The Book of Ingenious Devices. In it they describe what is possibly the first practical device for measuring differential pressure, and that’s where the problem really starts. In 1593 Galileo Galilei took time off from astronomy and promulgating heresy to invent a thermoscope for measuring heat. In 1833 Carl Friedrich Gauss invented a device to measure the strength of a magnetic field, and in 1908 Hans Geiger made a detector for ionizing radiation. At this very moment astronomers are detecting planets around distant stars by measuring how much their orbits wobble and the clever people at CERN are smashing particles together in the hope that Doctor Who will turn up and tell them to stop. The story of how we measure the physical universe is the history of science itself.
And what do Nightingale and I have to measure vestigia with? Sod all, and it’s not even as if we know what we’re trying to measure in the first place. No wonder the heirs of Isaac Newton kept magic safely under their periwigs.
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The Elephant Clock: Leaf from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by al–Jazari, 1315. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website:
This page is from a dispersed copy of a manuscript, dated 1315, of al-Jazari's Kitab fi macrifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, also known as The Automata). The various elements that compose this clock move and make a sound every half hour. This device is reminiscent of the elaborate clocks found on medieval town halls in Europe, which made the passage of time more entertaining with the performance of the moving figures.
“ When you live at a time when people are pleased with words more than actions; and with knowledge more than acting (with the knowledge), know you then that you are in the worst of generations and amidst the worst set of people. ”
بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري [Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-‘Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī]; early 14th century treatise on automata; Kitab fi ma'ari-fat al-hiyal al-handasiya (1206 C.E.).
Early 14th century (1315); copied in Egypt; c.1354.
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