What Science Has Forgotten

Many people think that science will eventually be able to explain everything that happens in nature, and that technology will be able to reproduce it. Perhaps that is so, but even then, that day lies far into the future. Probably a more likely scenario is that the further science and technology advance, the deeper the mysteries of the world will grow. Even with topics that we believe science has solved for good, when you take a closer look, you'll find that plenty of problems have slipped through the cracks or been swept under the carpet. Furthermore, these are often the issues that are closest to us and most important in our daily lives. Take hunches or intuitions or premonitions, for example. They may have rational-sounding explanations, but our gut feelings tell us something is not quite right after all. Such examples are not at all uncommon. When you think about it, there are lots of things that modern civilization has forgotten all about. Maybe the time has come to stop for a moment and try to remember. The seeds of forthcoming science and technology are impatiently waiting to be discovered among the things we have left behind.



It seems that it has always been humankind’s eager desire to be liberated from worries about difficult challenges and unknown situations. The history of science and technology has solved many of these problems through the discovery of laws, methods, and relationships.
Both equations and abacuses were tools for thinking, of course, but at the same time they were perhaps also tools for leaving the task of thinking to others, so that we didn’t have to think for ourselves.

Einstein’s famous equation in his own handwriting


Equations were used already in ancient civilizations such as Babylonia. In order to realize that two apples and two oranges make four pieces of fruit, you need to “think.” But to realize that 2+2=4, you only need to execute the procedure; you don’t need to “think.” Dividing fractions is not particularly difficult once you know the rules. The reason that many kids still find dividing fractions so hard is that they “think” about how it works.

The Philosopher’s Stone and Homunculi

The Philosopher’s Stone has become a household term thanks to the Harry Potter series. In alchemy, it was believed to be a miraculous elixir, a catalyst that could transmute base metals into gold, and it was also considered a symbol of wisdom. A homunculus was an artificial “little man” created through alchemy, and the alchemists tried to develop manufacturing technologies for homunculi. A homunculus was supposed to possess all knowledge already at birth,


The Tree of Life that is highly regarded in the Jewish mystic tradition of Kabbalah. Sefirot is also the name of a systematized figure with 10 sefirah connected by 22 paths. The sefirot represents all of creation, and might be viewed as a system diagram for describing and understanding the world. It is said there is nothing that cannot be classified into one of the 10 sefirah. The sefirot has played an important role in Western magic in the past couple of centuries.

Pythagoras’s “Tetractys” (Tetrad)


Numerology is said to have been originated by Pythagoras, but had in fact been practiced in various forms around the world even long before him. Replacing names with numbers, and using the date of birth, fates and fortunes are predicted based on calculations according to specific formulas. It is a system that produces “knowledge” out of the unknown by investing numbers with particular meanings and powers.


An instrument used by ancient astronomers and astrologers for astronomical observations. It was an analog computer used for measuring and predicting the positions of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars, determining and converting latitude and local time, surveying, etc. Invented in ancient Greece, astrolabes were improved at various locations in the Islamic world, and highly complex and sophisticated models were constructed out of brass.


One of the earliest known libraries in the world was that of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria in the 7th century BC. It was a collection of clay tablets. The likewise famous Library of Alexandria was a comprehensive database that also included a medicinal herb garden. In both cases, access was limited to a small portion of the privileged classes. The spread of books as tools of wisdom in the West had to wait until the arrival of Gutenberg.

Llull’s Ars magna

Ars magna

A method for generating new knowledge by combining and connecting symbols. It was invented by the medieval theologian Ramon Llull, who is considered one of the pioneers of computation theory. His ideas later influenced the 17th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who in his book On the Combinatorial Arts tried to develop Llull’s Art to make it more functional and accurate.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

A tree that appears in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. Eating its fruit would give the eater the same knowledge of good and evil as the gods. Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and are expelled from the Garden of Eden, and ever since that day man cannot escape from death. The fruit is usually considered to have been an apple, but sometimes a fig or even a banana.


There are various theories regarding the origins of the soroban, or Japanese abacus: the Aztec origin theory, the Arab origin theory, the Babylonian origin theory, the Chinese origin theory, etc. Be that as it may, soroban began spreading in Japan during the Edo period. In a contest held in 1946, a soroban beat an electronic calculator for both speed and accuracy. A soroban or abacus is a lattice-like construction of wood or paper, with rods and movable beads used for calculation. It is a type of digital computer.

Portable sundial


Originally a single stick rising from the ground and subsequently a symbol of wisdom. A gnomon is the stick that casts its shadow in a sundial; thanks to the gnomon and the sun, the time is displayed automatically. The word gnomon originally means “one that knows,” but has also come to signify “indicator” or “discerner.” In China, a magnet was known as a “guide,” like a compass that always points in the same direction. Later it came to mean one who receives wisdom.


“Gengo” (“Abstruse Language”) is a logical model of the world constructed by the 18th century Japanese philosopher Miura Baien, based on the philosophies of yin, yang and ki. It includes approximately 160 circular diagrams called gengo-zu. With the circle as the fundamental template, all concepts are arranged seemingly automatically.

Pascal’s calculator restored

Mechanical calculators

Analog computers that perform calculations using gears and other mechanical parts. Early examples were devised in 17th century Europe by Schickard, Pascal, Leibniz, and others. Leibniz invented a calculating machine called the step reckoner, saying that “it is beneath the dignity of excellent men to waste their time in calculation when any peasant could do the work just as accurately with the aid of a machine.”

”Mystic Turtle Diagram,” believed to be the origin of the eight trigrams.

I Ching

According to I Ching, The Book of Changes, combinations of yin and yang can express everything in creation and foretell the future. The combinations of three horizontal lines that indicate yin or yang are the “eight trigrams,” and the combinations of six lines are the “sixty-four hexagrams.” Leibniz, who established the binary system, learnt about the sixty-four hexagrams from a Jesuit missionary and interpreted them as binary arithmetic.

Babbage’s engines

The definitive mechanical computers were Charles Babbage’s difference engine and analytical engine. The analytical engine was also the first machine designed on the premise of programming. However, since Babbage repeatedly kept improving the design, neither engine was completed. Babbage’s design philosophy is said to be heavily influenced by Indian logic.

From The metaphysical, physical, and technical history of the two worlds, namely the greater and the lesser by Robert Fludd


These days, the ability to remember things is undeservedly treated as fairly unimportant. Formerly, memory was regarded as one of the cornerstones of wisdom, and various mnemonic techniques were invented. Before the spread of books, buildings were the main memory devices. The book itself also originally functioned as a mnemonic device through its structure and design.

Gulliver’s Engine

The knowledge-generating Engine described in the “Voyage to Balnibarbi” section of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels generates new permutations of words and thereby knowledge when you turn the 40 iron handles on its sides. However, the blind pursuit of science and technology without any practical results ruins the kingdom of Balnibarbi. The story was also a scathing satire of the Enlightenment project.

Elephant automaton


Automata were built from the 12th to the 19th century mainly in Europe, but the idea of making a doll move or giving it a soul goes back to antiquity both in the West and in the East. The Jewish Golem or the bronze man Talos in Greek mythology are prime examples. Japanese straw effigies may not move, but could still be considered a kind of automata.

17th century Tibetan mandala


Based on esoteric Buddhist scriptures, a mandala is a schematic representation of a pagoda, where a range of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are arranged around a main Buddha. It is a sort of model of the world, and also a device for memorizing the sutras. In other words, focusing on the mandala automatically evokes the contents of the sutras. The Two World Mandala, which had a particularly high importance in Japan, expresses the state of truth and enlightenment as preached by Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana).