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    Re: Chauvenet's practical navigation experience
    From: Patrick Goold
    Date: 2010 Mar 16, 11:45 -0400
    Galileo provides a bold example of the possibility of reaching a solution to a navigation problem that is sound in theory but of no value to practical navigation.   I am thinking of his solution to the longitude problem using observations of the moons of Jupiter to determine time.


    On Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 11:07 AM, Frank Reed <FrankReed@historicalatlas.com> wrote:

    Of course, the mathematicians and nautical astronomers of, ahem, "yesteryear" were absolutely essential to the success of scientific navigation. That's the whole nature of the beast. But that doesn't mean that they were always right. There is a difference between "intelligence" and "wisdom". A nautical astronomer can be astoundingly intelligent while at the same time making choices and recommendations that are unwise. Take for example, the numerous nautical astronomers and mathematicians in the late 19th century publishing what they called "new" methods of clearing lunars decades after such solutions were necessary (I say "new" because frequently they didn't realize that they were re-treads see, for example, Merrifield's "new" method). They were largely wasting their time. Chauvenet himself fell into this trip. His method of clearing lunars was a trivial improvement. He could just as easily have added some modest improvements to pre-existing tables, in Bowditch e.g., to achieve the same effect. Meanwhile, as he was expending all that time and energy assembling his own lunar method, navigational practice was running in entirely different directions. Imagine how different American navigational history would have been if Chauvenet had focused his mind on celestial lines of position (he has only a few brief pages on the topic in his great "Manual of Spherical and Practical Astronomy").


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    Dr. Patrick Goold
    Department of Philosophy
    Virginia Wesleyan College
    Norfolk, VA 23502
    757 455 3357
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