Standing In Midair

The Archimedean Point

Archimedes (c. 287-211 BCE) was perhaps the most notable mathematician and inventor in ancient Greece.  He lived most of his life in Syracuse on the island of Sicily, then a colony of Greece.

Archimedes is reputed to have said, “Give me a place to stand, a fulcrum, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.


As depicted here, he seems to be doing just that.  But, where is that place for him to stand outside of the world he is moving?  Must he actually be somehow standing in midair?

That place has become known as an Archimedean point. It is a hypothetical point from which we can perceive the subject of our inquiry.  It is where we stand,  removed from the object of our observation, seeing how it is related to every other thing, yet remaining independent of them.  As such, we are viewing our subject in its entirety with pure objectivity, a power great enough to move the world, just as the metaphorical lever of Archimedes shown here.

Whether we can ever achieve the power of such pure objectivity has been debated over the millennia.  One of the more succinct comments on this question comes from the founder of the Skeptic Society, Michael Shermer – “We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a true Archimedean point—a god’s-eye view—of ourselves and our world.”

There is something worse than failing to achieve objectivity.  It occurs every time we  Continue reading