The power of Simplicity!

I asked a friend of mine recently ‘what is the height of simplicity?’ He looked blank and so I provided the answer. I said – ‘It’s just a meter at the most!’ He looked even more puzzled and probably thought it was one of those irritating PJs!(poor jokes). I felt I must quickly clarify that I had something profound to say before he got mad. Here is a brief explanation of the answer I gave:
Recently I read a fascinating book titled “Big Bang” by a well known author -Simon Singh,who is a professor of particle physics at Cambridge university. It is a great book which tells the story of our universe in quite an interesting and entertaining manner. It is meant for the layman and does not assume any prior knowledge of cosmology. Even so,the book covered all important theories of the universe as it evolved including the works of scientists like Einstein,Lamaitre, Hoyle and Narlikar to name a few. Several discussions, while being scientific, bordered on philosophy and spirituality as well.
I must congratulate the author for presenting such a difficult subject in a very simple manner – at once understandable to laymen.
Now let me turn to my cheeky answer to the question with regard to the height of simplicity. My reference to one meter as the height of simplicity has to do with some wonderful work done by a Greek mathematician by name Eratosthenes. Way back in 250BC,when virtually no gadgets were available,this guy uses just a stick and his mathematical brain to calculate the circumference of our earth. Can anyone imagine using a stick to measure the earth’s circumference! Yet that is what the guy did.
He carried out a simple experiment on the day of summer solstice(21st June),when the earth is at its maximum tilt and the towns lying along the tropic of Cancer are closest to the sun. The rays of the sun then would fall vertically making an angle of 90deg. Syene is one such town. At the same time Alexandria which is several hundred kilometres north of Syene,would not experience the rays of the sun at the same right angle. This is a consequence of earth’s curvature. Eratosthenes then stuck a stick of about one meter length on the ground at Alexandria at noon and measured the angle between the sun’s rays and the stick(from its shadow)which was around 7.2deg. From simple trigonometry,one can see this angle is same as the angle between radial lines drawn from Syene and Alexandria to the centre of the earth. Using this angle and the actual distance between Alexandria and Syene,one can make a calculation of the circumference of the earth from simple trigonometry. And Erastothene calculated it as 46250km,which is only 15% higher than the actual value of 39250km.
Simply amazing!
I believe that nature reveals her secrets to simple minds if only one is open,passionate and curious.

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. brilliant!

  2. I came to this site from Subra’s article and I must say I enjoyed most of your posts very much.

    I am now a regular reader of this blog.

    thank you for the good work. especially your interpretations of the stories of ramayana/bhagavata are quite enjoyable.


    • Thanks

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