Take Home Diagnostic Essay Response: Textual Comparisons for Theoretical Theses

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Take Home Diagnostic Essay Response: Textual Comparisons for Theoretical Theses

(selections from my favorite science news of the last three years)

1.) For nearly a century scientists and historians wondered what the Antikythera Mechanism, a broken case made of wood and bronze containing numerous gears, was for. It appears to have been built in the Greek city of Corinth just before its destruction by a Roman Army in 146 BC. A team of scientists from Cardiff University, the National Archeological Museum of Athens and the Universities of Athens and Thessaloniki, working in Athens, Greece, now believe that they have uncovered the purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism at last.

Using X-Ray computer imaging technology provided by the firm X-Tek and with computer imaging enhancement technology from Hewlett Packard, the team of researchers determined that the Antikythera Mechanism was, in effect, an astronomical computer.

The Antikythera Mechanism could track the movements of the sun and moon, predict eclipses, tell the phases of the sun and moon, and even, scientists surmise, track the movements of the planets then known to the ancient world. The Antikythera Mechanism was also a calendar that contained the schedule for the Olympic Games, which were held every four years in ancient times.

Scientists have expressed astonishment at the sophistication of the Antikythera Mechanism. Nothing like it would be built again for another thousand years. A final question haunts researchers. If the ancient Greeks could build something like the Antikythera Mechanism, what else were they building, now lost in time and to history?

2.) New research indicates the mathematical prowess of medieval Islamic architects may have been nearly 500 years more advanced than that of Western mathematicians. By studying the intricate geometric patterns that adorn many Middle Eastern buildings and mosques like the Darb-e Imam in Isfahan, Iran, Harvard University graduate student Peter J. Lu and physicist Paul J. Steinhardt of Princeton University concluded the artisans who developed the patterns had some knowledge of the complex concept of quasi-crystalline geometry. Unlike simple floor tiles, quasi-crystalline tile patterns include 5 and 10-sided tiles that can extend indefinitely without repeating patterns.

Previously it was thought that the Islamic artisans used straight edges and compasses to draft their complicated star- and polygon-shaped patterns. However Lu and Steinhardt’s findings (published in the journal Science on Feb. 23) state that the artists must have had some understanding of the advanced geometry that Western mathematician Roger Penrose was credited with discovering only in the 1970s.

Using a set of five “girih tiles” as Lu and Steinhardt called them – a rhombus, pentagon, hexagon, decagon, and a bow tie-shaped hexagon – artisans would create two designs, one with the interlocking tiles and another with the line markings atop the tiles. Lu believes this toolbox of tiles allowed medieval artisans to create the enormous tiled motifs that adorn the walls of buildings spread from Bursa, Turkey to Agra, India with few flaws. Without the aid of such tiles Lu said the process would have been painstaking and most likely wrought with mistakes in the line markings.

As Lu studied the Darb-e Imam (built in 1453) he counted only 11 mismatches in the pattern out of 3,700 Penrose tiles. The mistakes could have been made inadvertently while constructing or repairing a pattern, said Lu. In conjunction with further construction flaws (designs initiated with an arrangement of several large tiles rather than a single girih tile), the small mismatches could also be an indication Islamic designers did not have a full understanding of the quasi-crystalline patterns. However Lu said, "It shows us a culture that we often don't credit enough was far more advanced than we ever thought.”

Your writing task today is two-fold. First, synthesize what the two pieces say and then what this means to you (create a considered response to a considered argument). Second, try and work out for yourself how one text informs the other. In other words, what problems in understanding or breakthroughs in understanding does reading one have if you have the other in mind. Does one explain the claims of the other more clearly; does one complicate or contradict the thesis of the other? Now, having considered all these things, create your own claim about the import or lack thereof of these two pieces of information/arguments. Essentially, this exercise prepares you to synthesize information the way you are supposed to when writing a research paper; so please have this in mind as you write. I don’t want this to look like three essays. It should be one cohesive narrative.

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