Antikythera Mechanism and Living in the Tension of Humanity’s Existence

Posted on August 11, 2008

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My wife pointed out this article from the NYTimes.com on the Antikythera Mechanism. A video production is available at the Nature.com site.

 Antikythera Mechanism Research Project  Fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient astronomical computer built by the Greeks around 80 B.C. It was found on a shipwreck by sponge divers in 1900, and its exact function still eludes scholars to this day.

Fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient astronomical computer built by the Greeks around 80 B.C. It was found on a shipwreck by sponge divers in 1900, and its exact function still eludes scholars to this day.

UPDATE: 2010-12-10, a reconstruction of this ancient mechanism, made out of Lego!

I offer this post as a testimony to the amazing ancient world.

We often believe, due in part to the Enlightenment, that our 21st century society is highly advanced, and that we have come a long way in technological development and innovation that the ancient world couldn’t even dream about. There is a strong sense of “generational chauvinism” in our psyches.

While our technological advancements are amazing on many levels, it is not true as a general sense that we’ve come so much further than our ancestors could have ever dreamed.  There are some who may suggest that much of what we have today, they were on the brink of inventing and discovering (e.g. the steam engine, electricity, etc.)

The question is then begged, What became of those nearing innovations, and what kept them from achieving what we are now able to? Also, what is it that truly allows a culture and a people to survive and thrive through the years? And, will we as “moderns” be willing to learn from our ancestors about the fullness of what life is and has to offer?

Some areas of tension for reflection:

Spiritual and Physical: Just because we advance the spacial world, does that mean compromise of the hidden, emotional, spiritual side of world? What relationships exist between the tangible and intangible aspects of our existence?

Innovation and Tradition: There is something that drives humanity to all things “new.” In every country I’ve ever been in, the advertisements are wrought with the words like “new,” “just in,” “fresh,” etc. But what about the string of meaning, practice, liturgy that keep a culture stable, not just moving? Do we idolize innovation at the detriment of tradition? Why is one better than the other?

Discovery and Certainty: I use these terms in lieu of “Science” and “Faith,” because in recent discourse, those terms are loaded with connotations that emote negativity from opposing sides. Regardless, and especially when it comes to the questions of origins, What causes (drives, really) a segment of our population to push the boundaries of knowledge, and what keeps another segment “certain” in their established framework of beliefs? Why can neither side see the values of the other, and recognize that they actually use each other and depend upon each other for a logical positioning and a fuller explanation of their respective positions? And if we value one over the other, do we not do damage to the two basic sides of our personhood that make up who we are?

Individualism and Community: This is a very difficult tension that is almost never in balance. For my theory is that every does what they do for self-perpetuating or self-preserving reasons. Yet, to deny the existence of yourself in a greater community, and concentric circles of communal influence outside of that is to ultimately do self-destruction. This theory needs a lot more working out, but suffice to say, to be self-aware and self-preserving is not necessarily antithetical to communal values and contributions.

Though my theories are being worked out still, I’m suggesting that the tensions are where we live. To value one side over the other, almost in disdain for the other, we actually cut off a part of ourselves which completes the fullness of our humanity. Perhaps I’ll write a book one day on these concepts, partner them with the writings of the faith and science communities, and see if we can come together to truly make humanity complete.

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