Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 4 (April 2001)

Modern Uses for Ancient Machines

Clearly from both an engineering and historical basis, this computer was an important development and I would like to "see" how the thing actually worked. Words just don't do it in this case.

You may also be interested to note that in recent years, Soviet patrol boats in the East German Navy were found to have sophisticated magnetic "stealth' equipment on board, as well as "mechanical computers" (perhaps not unlike the Antikythera mechanism) that would have been used to aim missiles. This technology was initially dismissed as obsolete. However, as those with calmer minds pointed out later, these mechanical computers would not suffer from power failures, as did the British Navy's in the Falklands War, and they would also be electromagnetic pulse (EMP) proof. So, this ancient invention may still have a place in modern times and is worthy of further investigation.

Joseph Clawson
McLean, Virginia

Adonis Kotsias's animation of the Anti kythera mechanism is available for viewing in the Community/Customer Story section of the Softimage Web site at Search on "Antikythera."

Your recent newsletter survey question about how computer graphics imagery has affected imagination reminded me of a quote I've had posted on the wall of my office for several years. The interesting idea in this quote, which follows, is that it helps explain why visualization (a nonverbal form of expression) is such a powerful tool for research, and why computer graphics in general is so effective at communicating.

Kent Eschenberg
(DoD supercomputer center)
Vicksburg, MS

From Robert Scott Root-Bernstein
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society
75(6):50-67, 1985

Most eminent scientists agree that nonverbal forms of thought are much more important in their work than verbal ones. This observation leads me to propound the following hypothesis. The most influential scientists have always nonverbally imagined a simple, new reality before they have proven its existence through complex logic or produced evidence through complicated experiments.

There is a simple reason for this phenomenon. Experiment can confirm or disconfirm the tentative reality that imagination invents, and experiments can suggest the need for the invention of a new reality to account for anomalies to the existing one. But experiment cannot, in and of itself, produce conceptual breakthroughs or be used to explain data. Logic is similarly limited.

Indeed, philosophizers of science are almost universally agreed that logic can be used to test the coherence of theories and to provide proofs of existing ideas, but logic does not produce the ideas to be tested. One must be able to imagine that which is to be tested and how to test it before one can even begin to employ logical, experimental, and verbal forms of thought. Furthermore, I suggest that this ability to imagine new realities is correlated with what are traditionally thought to be nonscientific skills-skills such as playing, modeling, abstracting, idealizing, harmonizing, analogizing, pattern forming, approximating, extrapolating, and imagining the as-yet-unseen-in short, skills usually associated with the arts, music, and literature.

Readers' replies to our survey question appear in the Editor's Note on pg. 6 of this issue and on our Web site at The question was as follows: "Do you feel that computer graphics has affected your imagination? If so, has it been expanded or atrophied? For example, as you're reading a novel, do you feel that your ability to imagine the scenes and actions being described-particularly those that might conjure up fantastical imagery-has been enhanced by the many computer graphics images and effects you have seen over the years?

On a separate note: Robert Root-Bernstein, a professor of physiology at Michigan State University, and his wife Michele Root-Bern stein have recently published a study called Sparks of Genius (Houghton Mifflin: 1999) demonstrating that "all creative people use a common mental toolkit of pre-verbal and pre-logical forms of imagination."

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