Ancestors: Tracing the History of the Scientific Method

Written by Dr Jerry L Krause

Editor of Principia Scientific International (PSI), John O’Sullivan and I converse with each other by email.  And I wrote to him about the alchemists whom I consider to be my ancestors as a chemist. stonehenge And he replied:  “Yes, am familiar with the alchemists, especially Isaac Newton and appreciate you making the connection with PSI insofar as many of our founder members have great respect for the traditions and evolution of the (English) scientific method.”  And he concluded:  “We certainly would welcome more articles giving readers insight into the history and importance of empiricism, experiment and not merely confined to theoretical discourse.”

To which I replied:  “Would you want me to start here:  “This is the account of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.  “The Japhethites:  the sons of Japheth:  Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, … The sons of Javan:  …..   (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)”  Genesis 10: 1-5. (NIV)

And after an extended reference to Stonehenge, I concluded:  “Would you be interested in such articles?  They would start with Newton’s preface as related to Stonehenge.”   To which John replied:  “Am very happy to run with this kind of thing. It fits the objectives of PSI in promoting actual empirical inquiry. Of course, keep in mind what we have determined is the antithesis of the traditional scientific method, which is post normal science.”  Even though John provided a reference to what post normal science is and I read it, I still do not claim to fully understand what post normal science is.  However, it does not matter.  For John determines if what I write gets published on the PSI site.

Another title of this article could be:  Science is simple!  Even Prehistoric People Practiced It!!

In his preface to The Principia Newton began (as translated by Andrew Motte):  “Since the ancients (as we are told by Pappus), made great account of the science of mechanics in the investigation of natural things; and the moderns, laying aside substantial forms and occult qualities, have endeavoured to subject the phenomena of nature to the laws of mathematics, I have in this treatise cultivated mathematics so far as it regards philosophy.  The ancients considered mechanics in a twofold respect; as rational, which proceeds accurately by demonstration; and practical.

To practical mechanics all the manual arts belong, from which mechanics took its name.  But as artificers do not work with perfect accuracy, it comes to pass that mechanics is so distinguished from geometry, that is what is perfectly accurate is called geometrical; what is less so, is called mechanical.  But the errors are not in the art, but in the artificers.  He that works with less accuracy is an imperfect mechanic; and if any could work with perfect accuracy, he would be the most perfect mechanic of all; for the description of right lines and circles, upon which geometry is founded, belongs to mechanics.

Geometry does not teach us to draw these lines, but requires them to be drawn; for it requires that the learner should first be taught to describe these accurately, before he enters upon geometry; then it shows how by these operations problems may be solved.  To describe right lines and circles are problems, but not geometrical problems.  The solution of these problems is required from mechanics; and by geometry the use of them, when so solved, is shown; and it is the glory of geometry that from those few principles, brought from without, it is able to produce so many things.  Therefore geometry is founded in mechanical practice, and is nothing but that part of universal mechanics which accurately proposes and demonstrates the art of measuring.”

As a scientist, I am a mechanic.  Therefore, I do not claim to fully understand what Newton wrote any more than I understand what post normal science is.  Several years ago, in an effort to learn about prehistoric astronomy I ended up at Stonehenge. stonehenge diagram

And because of my previous experiences I nearly immediately saw what it seems few have seen.  While most tourists do not notice the evidence of the 56 uniformly spaced holes (Aubrey Holes) somewhat precisely arranged in a circle, their existence is common knowledge.  And it is generally accepted that the digging of these holes preceded the erection of any stones, except for perhaps the Heel Stone.

An obvious question seems:  What was the purpose of these holes?  To which, I have read few answers.  The significance of the uniform spacing is seldom considered.  What is this uniform spacing?  16.5 feet.  Do you know that 16.5 feet is the English rod by which land in the British Isles and the USA is measured (surveyed).  Why not 16ft or 17ft?  Because the length of the King’s foot was such that 16 or 17 lengths would not fit the long established English rod with sufficient precision.  Do you know that 16.5 ft is 5.03 meters and that 1 inch is exactly 2.54 cm?  Coincidence??

Most plans of Stonehenge are not drawn with north being at the top of the plan.  Hence, I seldom have found it written that Aubrey holes 48 and 20 define, with good precision, the earth’s north-south cardinal directions and that holes 6 and 34 define, with good precision, the earth’s east-west cardinal directions. Of course, 56 holes so narrowly divide a circle that the maximum difference is less than little more than 3 degrees. But good precision is less than a degree error.

Another question seldom addressed is:  Why 56 holes?  For an immediate mechanical problem is:  How does one divide a circle into sevenths by drawing circles and right lines?  For once this is done it is simple to begin to bisect the angle or arc formed into eighths.  I will leave this mechanical problem with a reader for a while.

Why 56 holes? is more of a scientific problem.  And it is the reason I quoted a portion of Genesis, which is an ancient book of history that no one can deny.  One is always free to question if its history is accurate.  But I believe we can generally agree that the prehistorical people who settled the British Isles and dug the 56 Aubrey holes came from somewhere.  And the east end of the Mediterranean Sea seems as reasonable possible possibility, based upon other histories, as any other.  Now, the Mediterranean Sea is important because its tides are barely discernible.  According what one can read in the Holy Bible (old testament and new testament), the descendants of these maritime people, whose ancestor was Japheth, are not clearly mentioned again.

I almost made a mistake by writing that the prehistoric people who settled the British Isles got there by boat.  For it seems they also found wild land animals there and animals are not known to build boats.  Of course, they could have swam from the continent.  But it has been proposed that the British Isles were about 10,000 years ago covered by glacier.  So, it has been proposed that any animals or humans could have gotten there by walking over solid water when the glaciers began to melt.

However, we have the history that England became a maritime nation upon whose lands the sun never set.  Because I wrote—the Mediterranean Sea is important because its tides are barely discernible—I suspect that is obvious that the 56 holes have something to do with tides.  Now because several members of PSI now live on the British Isles you must be aware that at the Port of Bristol the difference between a semi-diurnal high and low tide can be as great as 40 feet.  And you might know that Bristol is only a couple of days hike from Stonehenge, as is Southampton in the opposite direction.  And you might know there are often 56 high tides during a tidal cycle which can be seen to be clearly related to the lunar phase cycle.  But sometimes there are 58 high tides which somewhat would complicate things a bit if I were to propose the 56 holes was a prehistoric tide table for those prehistoric people living inland.

And certainly you can tell me that just because I have not read about this in my studies of Stonehenge, it is common knowledge to the moderns who now live there.  And you might be able to tell me it is common knowledge how prehistoric people could have determined the earth’s cardinal directions.  For I remember now how I got to Stonehenge.  I had read an article in the Chemical and Engineering News about a scientist who had proposed how the Egyptians had precisely aligned the edge of some pyramid (or pyramids) along a precise north-south cardinal direction by sighting on a star.  And I had questioned why they had not used observations of the shadows cast by a monolith, such as the Heel Stone, which seems to also have been a common construction of ancient people, including the Egyptians and the Chaldeans.

In conclusion, I consider the people who settled the British Isles left evidences that they were natural scientist who observed things.  So it is not surprising the result of such genetics was Isaac Newton and the other British alchemists who practiced the (English) scientific method.

And I hope to see which reader of this can be the first to describe how to divide a circle into sevenths by drawing circles and right lines.

Comments (1)

  • Avatar

    Jerry L Krause


    Hi John,

    Thank you for the plan of Stonehenge. I guess you told me how I could find what you probably found on the internet and I probably could have and somehow attached a plan such as yours to be part of the article. But this way is so much better because it cannot be claimed that I cherry picked the data which makes my point.

    In this plans many apparent astronomical alignments are identified. However, there is no apparent astronomical alignments of the earth’s cardinal directions and there is not even an orientation of the plan to the earth’s cardinal directions as is usually done. And there is no numbering of the Aubrey Holes which is also commonly done. And there is only one right line which passes through two symmetrically opposed Aubrey Holes. That points toward where the summer solstice sun rises. However, the Aubrey hole nearest the entrance through which this right line passes has been numbered hole 0 or 56. And the other holes are numbered in clockwise fashion form this reference hole. So I suggest a reader print this plan, number the holes so a right line can be drawn through hole pairs (6, 34) and (20-48) to which I had referred in the article.

    Now, before I review the specifics which I will address, I review what Newton wrote about the artificers who could not work with absolute accuracy. As we inspect a plan such as this, we must acknowledge the people who dug holes, or raised the stones, could not have positioned these features with absolute accuracy. We must acknowledge the surveyors, who surveyed these many features of Stonehenge, could not have measured with absolute accuracy. And finally we must acknowledge that the drafts person, who drew the plan from the surveyor’s measurements, could not have dawn them with absolute accuracy. So, we must acknowledge that when we, as scientists, make empirical observations, we cannot expect our imperfect observations to be those absolutely predicted by some absolute reasoned theory. For too rigid an expectation might be used to falsify a valid theory. And I believe that was Newton’s purpose in comparing geometry with mechanics was to draw attention to this fact.

    For very near the end of The Principia he wrote: “In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction. Thus it was the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of the bodies and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies and of our sea.” It is the last phrase—of our sea—upon which one should not overlook. For we know (observe) that the motions of the sea (tides) come in different shapes and forms at Bristol and Southampton.

    Now, back to the specifics. If you have copied the plan and drawn the right lines as suggested, I ask: How closely do these three lines intersect each other? If the circle defined by the Aubrey Holes were absolutely accurate and if the 56 holes were spaced uniformly with absolute accuracy, any line drawn through opposing symmetrical pairs of holes should be a diameter and pass through the center of the circle. So with these three intersecting right lines we should begin to be able to see the possible precision of these artificers.

    Now I wonder: Do you see the one right line of the plan which does define the east-west cardinal direct? Again, I will give a reader a couple of days to reply to this question. I do this because of you have been quite critical of what I write. So, while I do not question your intelligence, I do question your ability to see. Previously, none of you critics answered my previous challenge as Geoff Wood did. Of course, some of you probably consider is just as wrong as I am. But, a fact is you critics did not even offer a possible answer to my challenge. So, please step up to the plate (you have to be familiar with the USA game of baseball to understand this) and take a swing.

    And John, while you certainly not one of my critics, I am curious what your swing might look like. One does not need to be embarrassed because even the mighty Casey struck out. But there is always the chance that you might hit the ball out of the park.

    Have a good day, Jerry

Comments are closed