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Before we had cars and phones that tell us where to turn when we need to get somewhere, humanity was doomed to navigate with nothing more than maps and compasses. But don't underestimate what a massive invention compasses were -- it's a big goddamned improvement over, say, trying to navigate by the stars on a rainy night.
Google Maps: Beta.
So knowing how compasses work -- by tuning themselves to the Earth's magnetic poles -- it must have been some kind of navigational genius who invented the things, right?
The Crazy Behind the Science
The Chinese originally came up with their "south pointer" as a tool for arranging their homes with feng shui. You know the idea: arranging furniture so that good energies can flow freely through the home. Maybe your hippie aunt is a believer and keeps surreptitiously shifting your sofa away from the television and facing the dog's corner to better align the flow.
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Maybe you're Donald Trump, and you practice feng shui so Chinese people will like you.
The point is, long before anyone was interested in exploring and conquering new lands, the Chinese were interested in living at peace with their environment, and to them, a peaceful coexistence with nature meant building homes with a regard to the north-south axis, something current builders are pretty interested in as well. Only the Chinese used a spoon on a plate to get the job done.
It was the first multitool, capable of pointing north, feeding you soup, or cooking your heroin.
The spoon was made of lodestone and represented the Big Dipper, the bronze plate represented the Earth, and the circle on the plate was the heavens. So the spoon would spin around on the plate, its handle always pointed south, and the soup bowl always to the north (they also had a version of it with a little wooden fish that would float in a bowl of water, a metal needle inside the fish making it point north at all times).
It was only after this that explorers and sailors thought, "Damn, that would be as useful as hell in terms of not getting lost and starving to death during expeditions!" and with that, the world was changed forever.
"Now that we aren't dying, does anyone else want to try that whole 'sodomy' thing we keep hearing about?"
You don't need us to spell out the historical importance of Isaac Newton. From his brain we got 300 years of guidance on how the universe works, specifically how gravity keeps us on the ground and keeps the planets in orbit. Without Newton we wouldn't have Einstein, space exploration, calculus, or insanely metal hair.
The Crazy Behind the Science
As we have previously mentioned, intellectual giant Isaac Newton was an occasional full-blown lunatic and a would-be wizard. He didn't just dabble with a bit of the black arts -- he wrote more about occult secrets during his life than he ever did on physics, and was thoroughly obsessed with finding the Philosopher's Stone.
Newton, seen here sciencing.
But it was actually Newton's willingness to embrace the spiritual and the occult that primed his mind for coming up with the law of universal gravitation. Newton was born in 1642, and by the time he was an adult, every major scientist of the day was trying to distance himself from the superstitious nonsense of the Middle Ages. The ages of alchemy and astrology were over, and every illness, fart, and Jesus-shaped birthmark could be explained rationally, even if the actual science wasn't known yet. So when it came to explaining the motions of the planets, there had to be a physical explanation that you could measure or see or taste.
So, in the same way that the stars couldn't shape the personal lives of humans on Earth, the rational minds said that the sun couldn't magically influence the planets a kabillion miles away. No more invisible magic, damn it! So tons of theories from respected scientists were put forward: Maybe the universe was filled with tiny particles moving the planets around, or maybe each planet was emitting waves, or space was actually filled with water and the planets were just bobbing around.
We've always been big proponents of the "drunken juggling giant" theory.
Newton wasn't bound by such notions. For him, the idea of an "invisible force" pushing the planets around was as natural as using the Bible to figure out when the world would end or learning how to change lead into gold. So when he tested all the other theories of how the planets moved and nothing checked out, Newton decided to strike out on his own with a new idea. Maybe a non-physical spirit was doing all the work. Here's what he came up with:
Only instead of calling what we'd eventually know as gravity a "spirit," he switched to "force" and gave gravity a name derived from the Latin word for weight. But he never could explain what it was that made gravity work. This made some contemporary scientists attack his theory with a vengeance, because to them it just seemed like magic.
But it wasn't magic, it was the work of somebody who was, once again, just crazy enough to stumble across the mind-blowing truth.
Related Reading: To keep your science and crazy mixed together, check out this article. You'll learn about mad science's earnest attempts to discover how sex affects the weather. Follow up with some exploding lakes and nuclear tanks, because nothing says "crazy" like a weapon of mass destruction. End your tour of technological madness by reading about the scientific experiments that just might end the human race.