Almagest: Vol. V, Issue 1

Table of contents and abstracts, Almagest, 5-1, May 2014

Noël Golvers
Ferdinand Verbiest’s 1668 observation of an unidentified celestial phenomenon in Peking, its lost Chinese description and some parallel observations, especially in Korea.
DOI: 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.102472

I present here a description of a celestial phenomenon (and annex “prognostication”), observed by Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ, in Peking, in March 1668, from his letter to Adrien Greslon, SJ, in Canton. With this letter he expected to get some more information from local observers, but instead it was forwarded to Jesuit astronomers in Europe, remaining without further echoes. After an explanation of the circumstances of the observation, the Chinese treatise and the Latin letter, I present the text of the autograph with a tentative translation. In a last paragraph I adduce a series of parallel observations, all situated in March 1668, taken from Chinese (Peking) and Western sources, and a striking observation in a Korean source; while the former seem rather connected to a comet, this seems not the case for the Korean report, nor for Verbiest’s phenomenon.

Stany Mazurkiewicz
Dialectical thinking of nature according to Hegel, Engels and Schelling.
DOI: 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.102469

In my paper I would like to show that Friedrich Engels’ way of thinking in "Dialectics of Nature" was heavily influenced by Hegel. Indeed, Engels was not only very knowlegdable with regard to sciences and techniques of his time; he was also akeen to a theoretical framework in which to think about them: Hegel's own dialectic of nature. Engels was constantly addressing Hegel (either commenting for or against him) and in this manner he wrote a new dialectic of nature (although not completed), as is evident from his letters. In addition, it can also be said that history of science is the real dynamic behind Engels’ refusal or acceptance of Hegel’s theories (the most controversial issue being of course Darwinism; for Hegel, nature clearly has no history). Therefore, those who would like to comprehend in depth today’s sciences should refer to the origins of Engels’ thought and put it into perspective.

Dominique Meeùs
Friedrich Engels and the unveiling of the historical dimension of the physical world: science and dialectics.
DOI: 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.102470

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels ([1848] 1969) showed that the history of the human world is not static, nor even cyclic, but is a forward movement that can be explained and - to a certain extent- predicted. This history cannot be understood without considering the necessity for the human animal to provide the means of existence for itself by work (production) with in the context of particular social relations. Marx untangled an unsolved problem of classical political economy, namely the origin of wealth under capitalism, by attaching it to the difference (surplus value) between the work done by a worker and the work necessary to provide his or her means of existence. Engels may be associated with this breakthrough.
As far as the physical world is concerned, Newtonian mechanics had proved extremely fruitful but its very success could induce a mechanistic, static view of the world. Engels is remarkable for having seen in some of the advances of science during his time the sign that the physical world too has a history. Already with in the Newtonian heritage, there were hints alluding to that direction, like the origin of celestial bodies or the deceleration of Earth's rotation due to the tides (Laplace, Kant…). Engels understood the importance of the conservation and transformation of energy, of biological evolution (geology, Lamarck, Darwin…), of the unity of the biological world based on the cell. Observing the advances of organic chemistry, he stressed the unity of the whole, along with its evolutionary character from inanimate matter to life, to mind and to society.
The relation between dialectics and science has far-reaching consequences for dialectics. Dialectics does not prove anything and, thus, one should not rely on dialectics to decide what is true or not.

Eirini Viltanioti
Plato on Iron Reduction Technique (Ti. 60 d 2 – 5).
DOI: 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.102471

Recent scholars have drawn attention to the fact that Timaeus 60d2-5 seems to make no satisfactory sense. In this paper, I shall propose a new interpretation of 60d2-5, which respects the genuine reading of Plato’s manuscript A, is supported by the Greek and is relevant to the context in which the passage occurs. According to my interpretation, the said passage is a concise allusion to the special technique used for the decoration of fine painted Greek vases, namely three-phase firing or iron reduction technique.

Vangelis Koutalis
Making discoveries for a better life vs. bringing fruits to the national treasury: Davy, Babbage, Brewster and the (ongoing) struggle for the soul of science.
DOI: 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.102473

In 1830, a heated debate over the “decline of science in England” erupted, in which Charles Babbage and David Brewster had the leading role. Humphry Davy was one of the prime targets of this criticism against the “backwardness” of British science, representing in the eyes of the reformers an outdated research tradition excessively concentrated on the complexities of electricity, at the expense of more pragmatic concerns, and less liable to formalization and precision than the continental analytical mechanics and the analytical chemistry. The contradiction here is between two significations of science. Davy’s version of scientific discourse, producing fertile questions instead of profitable answers, retained a philosophical dimension which accentuated the creative, self-valorizing aspect of living labour. The possibility of interaction with other expressions of human creativity, such as poetry, was inherent in his project, while science education was defined principally as self-education, a process which fulfills the Enlightenment ideal of autonomy. On their part, the declinists implicitly introduced new standards, such as the degree of professionalization and state control, for evaluating the status of science, by idealizing the experience of the Napoleonic educational reforms, and positing operability, precision, discipline, and political resilience as the special intellectual virtues which science is meant to exemplify.