My DragonCon Schedule (Including a Talk on Ancient Technology!)

Dragon Con logo, a yellow dragon outline on a blue ball, with the title arced across the front, photo of crowds behind.I’ll be on some panels. I’ll be in the parade. I’ll be selling and signing my books (briefly). But above all, I’ll be speaking on the topic of ancient Roman technology, and why the scientific and industrial revolutions did not occur then. The full DragonCon schedule is now available here. There’s an amazingly huge amount of cool stuff. Competing with which is my sad little self at four points this weekend:

Friday September 4

Skeptrack Kick-off 2015 : “A panel of some of our skeptic guests discussing who skeptics are & some of their passions” will include James Randi, Margaret Downey, Nick Eftimiades, Ian Harris, Steve Hill, Leighann Lord, and me. Friday at 10am (204–207 Hilton).

More About…Richard Carrier : A professional life dedicated to researching the history of religion & antiquity. Friday at 11:30am (204–207 Hilton). So, right after the first panel, it’s more about me, and a chance to buy my books and get them signed or inscribed or what have you. I’ll have some supply of On the Historicity of Jesus and Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

Saturday September 5

The DragonCon Parade : From 10am until 11 or 11:30 or something is the big parade through town. There will be many far more fabulously costumed folks than me. But I will be representing the Syrian skeptic and wit Lucian of Samosata, alongside people representing many other famous skeptics throughout history. We will be in the tenth slot this year, so pretty close to the front. After that, we’ll be talking about who we represented on a podcast.

Real Steampunk: How Ancient Roman Tech [Can Inspire] Writers & Designers : Then at 2:30pm (204–207 Hilton), “The Greco-Roman world had computers, vending machines, steam-powered automation…But why no industrial revolution?” I’ll discuss their achievements, how scholarship has radically changed our understanding of ancient tech in the last twenty or so years, and what I think is the most likely explanations for why the scientific and industrial revolutions didn’t take place then, even though they had everything in place, and were very close to it. I have a new slideshow built just for the purpose!

(Somewhere during the weekend I might also be in one of the autograph tracks for an hour. Check the schedule Friday to find out.)

Lots more is going on not just throughout DragonCon, but even just in the Skeptics Fan Track (Skeptrack). For just that line-up alone, see here.

Anyone who wants to buy a book from me but misses the Friday morning window, just email me or message me on Facebook (my settings are public, so anyone can) before 5pm on any day of the con. I’ll check all messages by 6pm, and get back to coordinate with anyone who asks (if you leave your cell number for texting, I’ll use that).

-:-

P.S. And for those who are in or near Pennsylvania, don’t forget, I’ll also be at PASTAHCon in Harrisburg the following weekend! That’s just two weeks away.

Speaking at DragonCon. Need a Costumer!

Dragon Con logo, a yellow dragon outline on a blue ball, with the title arced across the front, photo of crowds behind.This is a call for someone to hire! I will be a featured guest speaker for Skeptrack at DragonCon in Atlanta, GA this September (4th-7th, 2015). I’ll give a new and fancier-than-ever talk on ancient technology (“Real Steam Punk”), possibly also be on a panel of some kind, have an hour table & signing slot somewhere on the schedule, and be in the parade dressed with other Famous Skeptics.  I’ll have fuller details in early August and blog then about all that. But it’s the parade I want to get a jump on now: I need a costume!

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Knitting Fans, Behold Some Awesome Ancient Roman Tech!

There’s this guy, you see, who knitted his way to a solution to an infamous problem in Roman history. This might be a bit premature (since academic journals haven’t weighed in yet), but I am persuaded that the mystery of the ancient Roman dodecahedrons has been solved. And why I’m persuaded affords a handy example for teaching how Bayesian reasoning works in making good historical inferences. [Update: This case likewise shows how Bayesian reasoning can incorporate new facts so as to change what’s likely: experts in the comments to this article subsequently persuaded me that a full accounting of the facts in my Bayesian model does not get as positive a result for this thesis as I had initially thought.]

A What?

Photograph of a bronze dodecahedron recovered from the ancient Roman Empire, described in the text.I suppose I should begin by explaining what a “mysterious ancient Roman dodecahedron” is. It’s not just any dodecahedron from ancient Rome (I’ll show you an unrelated example shortly), but a very peculiarly consistent oddity that no one has been able to explain (mainly because no writing survives mentioning it). It’s a common object. Some hundred or so have been found, originating in the 2nd century A.D. and spanning a couple of centuries afterward. But only in France and northern and eastern Europe. It’s weird looking. And has peculiar features. Some are of stone manufacture, but most are cast bronze.

Another example like the one above, this one lacks the grooves mentioned in the text.Some typical examples (one from Wikipedia, another from the Birmingham Musem) are shown to the right. Each is a twelve-sided hollow object, the sides generally symmetrical (an isohedron, so it looks a little like a twelve-sided die, something old-school role-playing-gamers will recognize), but every side has a circular hole in it, and the holes are different sizes, but the pattern of sizes (the sequence and arrangement) is the same on every object, even though the size of the object (and thus size of the holes) varies considerably, from kind of tiny (one and a half inches total diameter) to about the size of what would have then been a large adult fist (a little over four inches). The holes also sometimes have a sequence of parallel carved rings around them (sort of like gutters or guidelines in the face of the object), but many do not, so these appear to be a decorative flourish (a typical accent found in Roman tech of the time, where common utilitarian objects can be prettied up with some artsy flourishes like that).

But importantly, every corner of these objects has a solid knob sticking out of it, a bollard narrower at its base than at its tip (many of these just look like attached spheres), for twenty knobs in all. This most of all prevents the twelve-sided die analogy from quite being right, that plus the fact that the holes being of different size means each face has a different weight. They also aren’t inscribed with anything…a fact that is far more crucial to determining their purpose than you might at first think.

Just search “Roman dedocahedron” in Google Images and you’ll find dozens of examples. And yet…

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