Saturday, March 12, 2011

Archimedean Insight

My youngest and I just read a book about Archimedes, the Ancient Greek mathematician and scientist who yelled "Eureka!" when he got into a full bathtub and it overflowed. Look him up -- amazing man.

The book's account of the Eureka incident is fun (it's a children's book -- which reminds me, by the way, that I think I want to write children's books someday about fascinating things in history that they wouldn't normally hear about because grown-ups think it's over their heads). The story may not be historically accurate as written, but it seems to be based on an accurate representation of Archimedes' personality. He would get so involved in thinking about a problem to be solved that he would forget to eat, sleep, bathe, all that. The book said his servants finally picked him up and dragged him out, kicking and screaming, to the local bathhouse to get him clean. The man drawing up his bathwater was so distracted trying to keep him from running away that he let the water fill up too high. And the rest is history.

I love this about Archimedes. That he would get so lost in thought that the rest of life got away from him. I've read that about other significant historical characters -- a prominent scientist from the Renaissance . . . Galileo? Copernicus? One of that crowd. And a famous preacher was like that, too. Jonathan Edwards, maybe?

I love it, because I can be the same way. When I get started thinking seriously about something -- like, a script I'm working on, or lesson plans for my homeschool, or a political debate with a Facebook friend -- I get so FLIPPIN' ANNOYED when I have to break off my train of thought and, say, make dinner. Or walk the dog. Or greet my wonderful husband when he gets home.

That was the best part for me of our recent getaway to Florida. When Keith was off playing golf or tennis or whatnot, I was able to just sit and think. No interruptions. No agenda. Oh, the glory of it! It was the most rejuvenating part of the trip, I think. One of the many doctors I spoke to about my sleep problems once asked if I was keeping myself awake at night by thinking too much. I replied that alone in bed at night was the only time and place that I could think. I mean, really think. The way I need to think.

You know, God made some people to be "people people". They are created to have a direct impact on others -- that's their domain of effectiveness. Others are "things people". They're most effective when working with things -- wood, metal, food, cloth, paint, and such. I am an "idea person". I'm most effective, I think, when I'm lost in my own brain. Unfortunately, idea people get kind of a bad rap these days. As much as I enjoyed my thinking time in Florida, planning out my ideal school (which I'm describing here to you all, gradually), I also felt guilty about it because it seemed like an impractical use of my time.

And this is another insight from my reading on Archimedes. He, along with many other Ancient Greek scientists, was interested in "pure science" as opposed to "practical science". Other civilizations of the time focused their study on what had immediate practical use -- like, for building a pyramid or predicting the seasons. Archimedes didn't want to know about the heavens just to be able to tell a farmer when to plant his crops. He wanted to know about the heavens just for the sake of knowing about the heavens. Everything he could possibly know about them. Yep, that's me, too. I would go back to college and get a multitude of degrees just for the sake of studying the subjects -- except I would feel guilty spending the time and money on the pursuit with no practical aim for the knowledge I obtain.

But here's the thing: Archimedes' discoveries in his pursuit of "pure science" and "pure mathematics" were used by scientists and inventors centuries later to make a myriad of "practical" things that have changed our lives. There is value to knowledge and thinking simply for the sake of knowledge and thinking.

So there!

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