Natural Philosophy #1 The garlic & the magnet

My blogging has focused a great deal on Wine for the past couple of years and with the occasional dash of philosophy (including Buddhism) and photography. For my regular followers you may have noticed that in some of my most recent wine posts I have referenced my science background in education and experience, and in particular gaining an MSc and PhD in Analytical Chemistry. It has been the analytical chemist within me that has slanted my approach to tasting and understanding wine, and only recently writing about it too.

It is this rekindling of my “earlier self” that has stimulated my current reading in the history of science, in particular the years from 1543 to around 1900, a period that includes The Enlightenment as well as the Industrial Revolution and marks the shift away from a cultish belief in everything emanating from the time of Aristotle, plus a breaking of the knot that tied every phenomenon, including movement of the planets, gravity, diseases etc, to “the will of God”. “Scientists” were known as alchemists and then as natural philosophers and were persecuted as heretics if they discussed or wrote something that was different from the prevailing order/view. They were shunned, lost their jobs, lost their wealth and property, and were sometimes imprisoned or worse at the hands of The Inquisition. Of course, this sort of thing couldn’t happen today?

So, I intend to share a few tales and events from 1543 onwards, not deep science stuff, but inspiring as well as weird science stuff from Newton, Boyle, Hooke, Halley, Wren, Faraday as well as the earlier Copernicus and Galileo and onwards to the “engineers” including Watt, Newcomen, and Brunel. All mixed in with a few personal experiences too.

The Garlic & The Magnet

Garlic was believed to have magical powers.

Did you know that it was believed in the days of Plutarch and Ptolemy circa 100AD, that a lodestone, (a magnet) would lose its attractive power if it were rubbed with garlic? And, that once demagnetised by garlic it had to be rubbed with goats blood to re-magnetise it? Well, it’s true, but you might not know that this belief continued up to the Middle Ages and beyond, until at least 1589 when Giambattista della Porta wrote in his work “Natural Magic” …. “When I tried all of these things I found them to be false”. Then it was William Gilbert in 1600 who, in his book De Magnete wrote “…a magnet rubbed with garlic does not attract iron… errors like this have steadily been spread and accepted — just as evil and noxious plants ever have the most luxuriant growth.” So why did this belief continue unchallenged for well over a millennium?

Well firstly it was believed because Plutarch had asserted and written that it WAS a fact because he had tried it and experienced it, and secondly for generation after generation you did NOT challenge what the “ancients” had written. But there was also a practical reason for believing it once the compass had been invented and used to steer ships through the oceans, and that was the banning of mariners from eating garlic or onions whilst at sea for fear of contaminating the compass. Of course it seems quite a stupid thing today for us to consider that such a thing was believed, but such was the power of the belief system through hundreds of years.

Categories: Natural Philosophy, Philosophy

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11 replies

  1. human nature has not changed. look what is going on in the usa about the current political situation and “Q” if a lie is said enough times over and over, people will believe and not question it. the facts and the truth are out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing blog 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I often wonder how many things that we take as “fact” today will be laughed at as fanciful in the future. It pays to be humble.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting that you put the word “fact” in inverted commas, the word “fact” did not appear in and English texts until the mid to late 1600s!



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