Circles Are the Mother of All Inventions

24 05 2009

When I tell people that circles are the mother of all inventions, the first thing they ask is, “circles are inventions?”

Yes, a circle isn’t something that exists in nature. It isn’t something that people discovered like gold or the new lands of America. It is a mental construct, a symbolic representation that was invented much the same as language and the alphabet.

eclipse1-100There is no way to be certain, but anthropologists generally agree that the circle was created long before recorded history. It is quite likely that it was drawn by a stick in the sand. With the sun being a constant in early man’s existence and the source of all life, it is quite likely that the first circle represented the sun.

Through the years man’s understanding of the circle has evolved substantially with Euclidean geometry being its crowning point of technological understanding. (Having said that, I assure you this blog is not going to be about mathematics or boring scientific equations.)

What we will say that is without the rudimentary understanding of circles, the world would not be anything like it is today. Without circles, there would be no wheel, which is man’s crowning achievement dating back to the Neolithic Age (circa 9500 BC).

The three other great achievements are the ability to make fire, the agriculture of crops, and the domestication of animals. While the circle didn’t have any direct bearing on these advancements, the understanding of circles certainly contributed to their proliferation and expansion.

patent-steamengine1-100Besides the wheel, pulleys, gears, ball bearings and a thousand other items we take for granted wouldn’t exist. And of course we would never have the pleasure of driving a car, riding a Ferris wheel, or watching the moon landing on our television set.

If you look through any old patent claim, you will most likely find the repeated use of circles, spheres, curves, arches, etc. They are an intrical component in the invention of almost everything that we see around us.

I had a microbiologist challenge me that his field didn’t have much use for circles. Not knowing anything about microbiology, I asked him what was the shape of the lens in his microscope.

The circle is the most primitive and rudimentary of all human inventions, and at the same time, the most dynamic. It is the cornerstone in the foundation of science and technology. It is the basic tool of all engineers and designers. It is used by the greatest artists and architects in the history of mankind.

asu2-100And it doesn’t exist except in our mental construct. It is a symbol, not a thing. We talk about it in every language on earth. It is written about in millions of textbooks and all over the Internet, and yet we cannot put it in a wheel barrel. It doesn’t exist in a three dimensional world or even a two dimensional world. It is merely a representation.

Immanuel Kant’s famous phrase “ding an sich” applies to the circle. A circle is not a “thing-in-itself.” It is a semantic fabrication that exists only in our imagination. As Alfred Korzybski, the father of General Semantics, would say, it is “the map, not the territory.”

But here we are getting off on a philosophical tangent that might be subject to a future blog entry. For now let’s just say that circles are everything and they are nothing. They don’t exist in reality and yet they are the basis of all that mankind has brought into existence. That is why I think the circle is so fantastic and why I hope you will follow along with me on this blog.



Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Circles*

23 05 2009

*But Were Afraid to Ask.

buffalonickle-100I fell in love with circles at a young age, but it took me fifty years to realize it. When I was a kid I started collecting coins; Indian head pennies and buffalo nickels mostly. They were out-of-print with just enough in circulation that I would be thrilled with delight every time I found one. As I grew older my interest expanded to silver dollars and gold pieces, all of which I cherished.

In high school I loved studying solar systems, planets, and anything that followed an orbit. I frequented planitariums as often as I could. I owned more globes than baseball cards.

asu1-100I also had a passion for architecture. I loved Frank Lloyd Wright. I attended ASU which had two FLW buildings on campus. I loved his use of circles, arches and spirals. I traveled around America visiting Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, but I still never connected my enthusiasm for FLW with collecting coins.

Nor did I connect it with my passion for collecting antique signs like the round coke sign that I use as an avatar. Or the hundreds of other signs and logos that are predominately circular in design. Or the vintage bone china plate collection I had amassed.

zencircle1-100As a Zen student I spent countless hours with a calligraphy brush doing an exercise called "drawing the perfect circle." As a music lover I collected albums and was delighted when CDs were invented. As a traveler I collected coasters from every place I visited. As a poker player I collected playing chips as souvenirs of the money I lost. As a political junkie I collected pins of every candidate I supported and most of them that I didn't.

clock-wells1-100Still I never made the connection. It was just recently when my friend Bob and I were looking through boxes of old photos that I had taken over the course of many years. Bob asked if I had noticed that my pictures had a common thread? I didn't, but he did and he was quick to point it out. That was my eureka moment.

fwheel2-100With the exception of friends and family, the vast majority of my photos pertained to something related to the circle. Ancient Roman aqueducts, the Mayan calender, modern suspension bridges, manhole covers, clock faces, diving helmets, domed capitals, wagon wheels, port holes, Buddhist mandalas, water wheels and wind mills to name but a few.

I loved anything and everything related to circles. Round things, arched things, oval things, egg-shaped things, spherical things, and of course curved things. As James Joyce said, “Roundness you think good.”

Most people know their life passion early in life. Call me a late bloomer. Obviously I always had a passion for circles since I was a kid, but it took me half a century to connect the dots. (Pun intended.)

Since I had my moment of self-enlightenment, I realized that I knew a lot about the art, history and psychology of circles. Enough to write this blog without fear of running out of new source material.

pi-gravatar1-100If you follow along with me, I will do everything I can to keep your attention with fun facts and interesting insights. I promise not to bore you with the mathematics of circles other than an occasional reference to the unique nature of pi.

Speaking of pi, I will let you guess my favorite desert. Here is a hint; it is as American as …

Enjoy the blog,
Boz Donovan