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Mind and Sailing Ships

A few philosophers were working their minds in ways that would change the world. From the 6th century, textbooks in Europe were supporting the idea of the sphericity of the Earth. Back in the early 500s, Boethius wrote of the Earth as an insignificant point in the center of a spherical cosmos. There was Bishop Isidore of Seville (560 – 636) who had written a widely read work, The Etymologies, stating that the world was globular. The English scholar Bede in the 700s wrote of the earth as "set like a sphere in the middle of the whole universe." By the 11th century, Europeans had learned of Islamic astronomy, which revitalized Europe intellectually. Aquinas also concluded that the earth was a sphere. The most influential astronomy textbook of the 1200s and required reading by students in all Western European universities was titled "On the Sphere of the World."

A flat disk didn't make sense, neither did a flat world of any other shape. Nature beyond little things and bigger than local terrains had no edges. That was not general knowledge, but a view of the earth as flat raised the questions of where was the water of the oceans to fall and why didn't the oceans drain. And there were the sailors who saw mountains disappear below the horizon when they sailed away from shore. The earth being round was the best explanation.

By the time of Columbus, belief that the world was round was common sense. Long distance voyages were made possible also by a willingness to go beyond talk and musings to doing things. Europeans borrowed from those Chinese who had started using a rudder as a means of steering. And in the 1400s, as had the Chinese, Europeans started using a second mast, and then a third. By the end of the 1400s the Europeans had ships with four masts carrying as many as eight sails. And there was the magnetic compass and an astrolabe for measuring the angle of celestial bodies from the horizon.

Sailing ships were taking the world toward new experiences and unimagined change.


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