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Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Scottish wizard who inspired Newton

From The Scotsman:

HE was said to be a magician who travelled with a black spider in a small box and a black cockerel as his animal familiar. But "Marvellous Merchiston" - real name John Napier - was actually one of Scotland's greatest scientists, and a man who has been compared to Archimedes. The philosopher and mathematician, who lived from 1550 to 1617, is credited with inventing the logarithm - although Islamic scholars may have actually beaten him by at least three centuries - the decimal point, and a mechanical calculator. He also developed a screw and axle to drain mines and suggested using salt as a fertiliser. A number of "secret inventions" were described by his contemporaries, including a round chariot that was an early version of a tank, giant mirrors which could burn the sails of enemy ships, a submarine and an artillery piece that could apparently destroy a whole field of soldiers. snip Napier is also thought to have secretly dabbled in alchemy, divination and the occult, all highly dangerous activities at a time when witches could be burned at the stake. He died in 1617 and is buried in St Cuthbert's Churchyard in Edinburgh.
The moral of his story is if you're a witch, invent spells with military potential and they'll name a university after you instead of burning you at the stake. Some things never change.


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