Archimedes, you old fraud!

“Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” So, famously, said Archimedes, dramatizing his newly discovered law of the lever. Which in this case takes the form

Force exerted by Archimedes distance from Archimedes to fulcrum equals

Mass of Earth distance from Earth to fulcrum.

Now, I don’t think Archimedes was interested in the position of the Earth in space, but he did want the fulcrum to be fixed. (I know he said ‘a place to stand’, but if the fulcrum moves, all bets are off, so presumably that’s what he meant.) He also needed a perfectly rigid lever of zero mass, and he probably did not realize that he also needed uniform gravity, contrary to astronomical fact, to convert mass to weight. No matter, I don’t want to get into discussions about inertia or other quibbles. Let’s grant him all those things. My question is: when the Earth moves, how  far does it move? And, can Archimedes achieve the same result more easily?

(Ref: Prof Ian Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities).

More later,

Nalin Pithwa

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