Tuesday, January 3, 2023 — The Remarkable John Wilkins

I do seri­ous­ly, and upon good grounds affirm it pos­si­ble to make a fly­ing-char­i­ot; in which a man may sit, and give such a motion unto it, as shall con­vey him through the air. And this per­haps might be made large enough to car­ry divers men at the same time, togeth­er with food for their viaticum, and com­modi­ties for traf­fic. It is not the big­ness of any thing in this kind, that can hin­der its motion, if the motive fac­ul­ty be answer­able there­un­to. We see a great ship swims as well as a small cork, and an eagle flies in the air as well as a lit­tle gnat.
 This engine may be con­trived from the same prin­ci­ples by which Archy­tas made a wood­en dové, and Regiomon­tanus a wood­en eagle.
 I con­ceive it were no dif­fi­cult mat­ter (if a man had leisure) to shew more par­tic­u­lar­ly the means of com­pos­ing it.
 The per­fect­ing of such an inven­tion, would be of such excel­lent use, that it were enough, not only to make a man famous, but the age also where­in he lives. For besides the strange dis­cov­er­ies that it might occa­sion in this oth­er world, it would be also of incon­ceiv­able advan­tage for trav­el­ling, above any oth­er con­veyance that is now in use.
 So that not­whith­stand­ing all these seem­ing impos­si­bil­i­ties, it is like­ly enough, that there may be a means invent­ed of jour­ney­ing to the moon; and how hap­py shall they be, that are first suc­cess­ful in this attempt?

― John Wilkins, The Dis­cov­ery of a New World: or, a Dis­course tend­ing to prove, that it is prob­a­ble there may be anoth­er Hab­it­able World in the Moon, with a Dis­course of the Pos­si­bil­i­ty of a Pas­sage thith­er (pub­lished in 1638)

Though Wilkins pub­lished this half a cen­tu­ry before the pub­li­ca­tion of New­ton’s Prin­cip­ia, he had a pret­ty good grasp of grav­i­ta­tion, though it remained unnamed and its nature baf­fled him, and could pic­ture well enough the behav­iour of bod­ies in space. He explic­it­ly stat­ed that if there were a tun­nel dug through the Earth that inter­sect­ed its cen­ter and end­ed at its antipodes, an object thrown down it would come to rest, hov­er­ing, exact­ly at the cen­ter. Wilkins was a math­e­mati­cian, and ten years after the Dis­cov­ery of a New World, pub­lished a vol­ume called Math­e­mat­i­cal Mag­ick, in which he explained the gen­er­al prin­ci­ples of mechan­ics, spec­u­lat­ed on pos­si­ble tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the future (includ­ing flight), and urged his read­ers to pur­sue sci­en­tif­ic studies.

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