Dirk Bertels

The greatest malfunction of spirit
is to believe things (Louis Pasteur)

Short Histories

Last updated 17 November 2011

The Ascent of Money

The word 'credit' stems from 'creed' or 'credo' which implies trust.

Around 1200 AD, Fibonacci's book 'Book of Calculations' suggested the use of Arabic numbers in business transactions. Since at the time Roman numbers were used which proved ineffective in dealing with arithmetic.

The concept of loaning money with interest existed but was only practiced by the Jews since their religion allowed lending money to people of other religious persuation; while this was regarded as a sin by the Catholics. These Jews would live in congregated areas, like gethos, and it is there they would sit on their special purpose benches doing their dealings. The word 'bank' stems from these benches.

Then during the Renaissance there was the infamous 'Medici family'. While many of their first offsprings were outlaws and often ended up in jail, they however became very influential, even to the extend that they helped 'shape' the Renaissance. Their forte was money exchange between cultures. The profits raised from that was a form of compensation for the work to achieve this currency exchange. While interest is in essence compensation also, the Medici family managed to make earning money with money socially acceptable. The true concept of banking started around this period.

From then on 'loansharks' started to appear. These were people that loaned you money for you to pay back at a great cost. They often had to use threats and could demand 'flesh' if a loan was not repaid.

Currently America has run a debt equivalent to $35,000 USD for every man woman and child in America.

From the popular BBC Documentary series: The Ascent of Money

Classic Languages

For it was probably their [Babylon's] priestly castes that divided the lunar month into four weeks of seven days in honour of the seven planets and the day into twenty-four hours of sixty minutes of sixty seconds each, sixty being the number up to which the Babylonians counted, as we count to a hundred.

The supremecy of Greek over all other languages, spoken or written, on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean from the fourth century before Christ until the seventh century of our era (or to this day to some extent) is largely the result of the conquests of Alexander.

At the time of the conquest of western Europe by Julius Caesar, that is, in the middle of the first century before Christ, Latin was already and international language.

Every language is a collection of forgotten metaphors, and the derivation of these metaphors usually contains a summary of the social history of the race.
Latin was essentially in its origin the speech of a race of farmers or peasant soldiers, as its most characteristic terms bears withness: ...

That the Romans were a truly imperial people is shown by their indifference to race and to ethnic or national principles.

There can assuredly be no end to the discussion as to the reasons why this vast imperial edifice, slowly constructed and extended through the centuries by the splendid energy of a long line of men of incomparable genius and enterprise, until its population numbered one hundred million, possessing almost unlimited economic resources, should have gone down before the uncoordinated incursions of far less civilized, less disciplined and less intelligent races, tempted by ignorant greed or forced by fear of hunger into the Empire from their own less populous lands, the great natural resources of which they were too ignorant and too indolent to exploit.

Harold Goal: Language in History

The Black Man's Burden

"The form of stowage," wrote an eyewitness who was a British naval officer in 1849, one among many such who carried out his governement's orders to stop and suppress this smuggling trade along the African seaboard, "is, that the poor wretch shall be seated on his hams, and the head thrust between the knees, and so close that when one moves, the mass must."
... the body of the victim becomes contracted into the deformity of the position, and some that die during the night, stiffen in a sitting posture; others who outlive the voyage are crippled for life.

Forbes's eyewitness account of slave ship conditions is only one among many made by officers of the British Naval blockade instituted after 1807, when Britain had banned the further conduct in British ships of the slave trade that an earlier Britain had done so much to extend and profit from. The blockade continued into the 1860s, when smuggling at last petered out.

During 26 years ... 103,000 slaves have been emancipated by the warships of the naval blockade, while in the same period 1,795,000 slaves were actually landed in the Americas.
Even so it is certain that many more than 50,000 captives ... were put ashore at Freetown [capital city of Sierra Leone], capital of the little West African colony formed years earlier for free Blacks from Britain. Most of them were sized as prospective slaves not far from the coastland of the countries that are now Ghana, the Ivory coast, Togo, and Nigeria. But many came from much more distant lands, and a few even from the coasts of East africa, as far North as the Kenya of today... In the same decade a few thousand other recaptives were likewise set ashore at Monrovia, capital of America's colony for free blacks, Liberia.

... they were now cut sharply adrift from their homeland cultures ... Ashore in Sierra Leone, settled in villages around Freetown or in Freetown itself, they little by little created a common language, a modified English known as Krio (Creole in English), invented forms of self-administration or adapted those they remembered from home, and at the same time emmbraced an ardent Christianity in place of their native religions.

Basil Davidson: The black man's burden

History of Science - 1

Copernicus (1473)
was the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology.

Tycho Brahe (Tyge Ottesen Brahe) 1546
was a Danish nobleman who gathered data of planets for over 20 years.

Johannes Kepler (1571)
used Brabe's data and dedicated 100's of pages of mathematical calculations to decipher the planet's orbits. He eventually dropped the enduring belief in divine circles and realised that the paths were elliptical.

Galileo Galilei (1564)
a professor in mathematics built the first telescope in 1609 based on the design of the then popular Dutch Spyglass. He used an organ pipe as capsule and a canonball to grind his lenses on. Galileo took advantage of the recently invented printing press to publish his book The starring Messenger which made him famous. It promoted the idea of the sun at center. He also published The Dialogue in 1632 which was essentially a series of discussions about the cosmos. This book however insulted the church and Galileo had to appear before the inquisition on charge of heresy. He was placed under house arrest until the end of his life.

Isaac Newton (1643)
In 1684, a prize was offered to he who could explain what kept the planets into orbit. The winner basically needed to prove that the elliptical path obeyed a simple mathematical rule. Haley tracked Newton down who said he already solved the problem. Newton made the connection between gravitation on earth and the motion of the planets. He used the infamous thought experiment shooting a canonball from a mountain at an ever increasing speed. Given a particular speed, the canonball would go into orbit around the Earth. His book Principia mathematica is regarded as one of the most important works in Science.

John D. Hooker (1838)
built the then largest telescope in 1917 which weighed 100 tons and floated on a bed of mercury. It is till operational.

Edwin Hubble (1889)
discovered the vastness of space. He was hired to work with the new Hooker telescope. In 1923 he took a photograph of the Andromeda galaxy and calculated it to be a million light years away (it is 2.5 million miles away). It was proof that other galaxies existed and gave people a first glimpse of the vastness of space. Hubble also discovered that the vast majority of galaxies were receding at well over a million miles an hour. The universe was expanding, which led to the theory of the Big Bang.

As a side note, Astro-Tom gives a good intuitive explanation as to why orbits are elliptical and not circular:
The situation where the Sun, for instance, would be exactly in the center of a perfectly circular planetary orbit couldn't happen in our Solar System since there are other planets that would gravitationally affect the orbit and cause it to be immediately non-circular by pulling the object to one side or the other. Any other stable orbit type than a perfectly circular one turns out to be an elliptical orbit.

Based on the BBC documentary 'The Story of Science' by Michael Mosley

History and Science of Cannabis

Chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters are the chemicals that allows conduction of the nervous signal. Across the brain there are different types of neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine, serotonin).

500 Million years ago, creatures like the sea squirt were abundant. They evolved an innovation to the nervous system, acquiring a new chemical which is related in structure to the chemical that's found in cannabis.

Because of this similarity, these new signals came to be known as cannabinoids. The cannabinoids affect the time it takes for the sea squirt's siphon to close in response to touch. It takes longer for the siphon to close when exposed to these cannabinoid compounds.

Cannabinoid receptors were inherited by all all creatures that followed in the evolution tree.

Cannabis first proliferated in Central Asia. A member of the family of hop plants, cannabis has been growing in the wild in Kazakstan for 15 million years. From 2700 BC cannabis was used in China for treatment of pain, malaria and constipation.

Scientific facts around cannabis

  • THC acts like a dimmer switch for other neuro-transmitters. Regulating these neuro-transmitters it protects the brain against neuro-transmitter toxicity, such as in epilepsy.
  • A research exploring cannabis conducted by Dr Garth Terry subjected people to 5 hour scans, the resulting images showed cannabinoid receptors in the brain, liver, and the bone marrow of the vertebral column and ribs.
  • As an anxiolytic, it dissolves your anxiety, or it can even cause your anxiety. The high (euphoria) probably comes from the deep structures within the brain.
  • Affects memory when taken by young adolescents (under age of 15). Heavy use of cannabis raises the chance of acquiring schizophrenea from 1% to 6%.
  • Restraining oneself to execute an action, lights up areas in the pre-frontal cortex. When THC has been taken, these areas don't light up. This leads to mis-interpretation which in turn can lead to paranoia.
  • Another valuable chemical present is CBD, Cannabidiol, a non-psycho-active cannabinoid. It is anti-inflamatory and anti-psychotic. Recreational cannabis contains no CBD at all thereby eliminating the naturally present antidote in the plant.


  • From: Victor Bertels
  • Date: 2012-03-14 19:30:17
What about discoverey of the WHEEL ?
In "mechanical" science it seems to me as being one of the most important tools, being present in almost every appliance, even in computers.
The thing is not so evidently "common", as many people in Africa and elswhere never discovered it by themselves.
Where and by whom was it first used ??

  • From: Dirk
  • Date: 2012-03-14 20:49:21
Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel) says that the first depiction of the vehicle wheel occurred on a vase in Southern Poland around 3500 BC. The potter's wheel originated around 4500 BC.

I suppose the wheel as transport is quite useless in areas where there are no roads. Many cultures didn't evolve technologically.

As it happens I'm currently reading up on Australian aboriginal culture. [excellent book btw: "The Native Tribes of central Australia", written in 1899 by Baldwin and Spencer, scientists who were initiated in an Aboriginal tribe]. Technology was not part of their thinking - there was no will to alter nature in any way, they made an art of blending in with nature - hard to phantom for us western people - we don't stand a chance of surviving for more than 5 days in the Aboriginal deserts without our technology. And looking at the environmental damage we are capable of causing - it is hard to tell who are the smart ones in that light ... But I'm straying :)

Circular motion is quite prevalent in nature though, several sea creatures and bacteria use wheel-like motion. Many seeds, such as the thumbleweed seed roll in the wind. An interesting contribution to the topic of wheels in nature states: "The trouble is that axles and their bearings are not compatible with macroscopic biological mechanics. It would be very difficult to power a sizeable wheel and feed its tissue, particularly developing it functionally by natural selection". (http://www.last-word.com/content_handling/show_tree/tree_id/3054.html)

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