Thursday, 27 September 2012
Could a carpenter's apprentice really have understood how Bessler's wheel worked?
Johann Fischer von Erlach, in his letter to Sir Isaac Newton's curator of experiments, Desaguliers, wrote of Karl, that "His Highness, who has a perfect understanding of mathematics, assured me that the machine is so simple that a carpenter's boy could understand and make it after having seen the inside of this wheel, and that he would not risk his name in giving these attestations, if he did not have knowledge of the machine."
Now that is a misleading statement, in my opinion - it wasn't meant to be, but that is how it has turned out. The problem is that he uses the word 'understand', suggesting that a carpenter's boy could make it after having studied the inside. The implication being that it is simple and obvious, even to a young inexperienced apprentice. Apparently Karl declared that he understood it too, sufficiently to risk his good name in saying it was genuine. But if the machine was so easy to understand why has no one thought of the way to replicate what Bessler did, in the 300 years since he proved it was possible? I think the reason is because there is a principle involved which was overlooked by everyone including Karl.
I think that Karl understood the mechanism but did not appreciate the whole process it underwent in rotating the wheel continuously. This is difficult for me to explain, but I'll try. If I had been able to look at the mechanism in Bessler's wheel and I saw a weighted lever, for example, falling outwards or inwards and in doing so lifting another lever, I might well understand what I was seeing. I would make an assumption based on what I knew, but if there were restrictions on what could be achieved by the first lever because it might be insufficient to lift the second lever enough, then perhaps a spring attached to the lever being lifted, to assist in the initial lift might be required - but would I have seen the spring? If I hadn't then I might think the first lever easily lifted the second one; but if I did noticce it, would I make the right interpretation of its use? And yet without the spring the whole thing might fail.
Having said that I don't think that springs were used in that way in Bessler's wheel. But I do think that Karl's understanding of the wheel's mechanism was incomplete. I have good reason for reaching this opinion as I have found a number of intricate requirements and restrictions for the mechanism which are identified in Bessler's drawings but which are not easily recognised without actually building the assemblies - and this, by the way, is the main reason why I think that the efforts to achieve success through simulation alone are doomed to failure.
The second thing is that whatever each mechanisms did, it had to be reversed or reset in order to operate again, to continue the wheel's rotation, but did Karl actually see this other part of the action? Perhaps Bessler simply said that the action was reversed on the other side of the wheel, but perhaps there were actions which only ocurred on the resetting side of the wheel - in fact, as I have discovered, there were.
Finally, we don't know which wheel Bessler showed to Karl, but I can't really believe that Karl would have waited for six months to allow Bessler time to build the big wheel, before giving the device his blessing, so he must have seen a smaller portable version of the wheel, and this would most likely have been the one-way wheel - a more simple device.
So I think that Karl was not made aware of this unknown principle which permitted the wheel to work within the current laws of physics. He may have seen it in action but not understood the restrictions imposed on its actions. I know this principle but have not yet incorporated it within a wheel. I have designed and built a mechanism that performs according to the principle - it does what it's designed to do. I know people will say that there cannot be a secret principle which obeys the laws of physics and yet works a gravity-only wheel but there is. It doesn't conflict with any law and the fact that gravity is said to be conservative does not enter into the equation.
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