May 12 2021
Historian Seb Falk on Seeing the Light in the Dark Ages
Hello everyone today is May 12th 20-21 and welcome to another edition of the Well-Read Investor, the podcast that profits your mind and your money. I’m your host Mike Hanson. Today we’re talking history—a period of history most, even universities, gloss over: The period in the West commencing after the fall of the Roman Empire and leading up, more or less, to the Renaissance: The Dark Ages. Or should I say Light Ages? We’ve got historian Seb Falk to tell us why the Dark Ages is a misnomer, and in fact some great innovation and technology occurred in this era, not to mention advancements in science. Seb’s book, The Light Ages, is a wide-ranging history of medieval science, told through the life of one extraordinary monk, John of Westwyk. The book follows the twists and turns of John's life as a yeoman and novice, scholar and exile, crusader and astronomer—it’s an engaging story and I picked up much the process. You might even think of Westwyk’s spirit as similar to the aspiring stock analyst, questing for the secrets of market behavior. Seb teaches medieval history and the history of science at Cambridge University, and specializes in astronomy, navigation and mathematics from their ancient origins to modern developments. And it’s this technological part of things I found most interesting—Seb calls the Astrolabe the “smartphone” of its era, as it allowed practitioners to know the date and time from anywhere, was aesthetically designed and served as a symbol of status (so much like today’s iphones). And it’s got a literary history—Geoffrey Chaucer, of Canterbury Tales fame, himself wrote a treatise on how to use one. Seb’s book prompted me to buy an astrolabe (in fact you can get a good one for less than 50 dollars on Amazon), and I’m in the midst of learning to use it. But so much more than that—advances in astronomy, mathematics, and much else happened in the “Light” Ages, and serves as a reminder that today’s technology will one day, too, be outmoded and apparently barbaric. Investors should take note, developments in how we measure the world will change how we see it, and with so much data today you can see the parallels between how our beliefs are shaped by what we can measure. Enjoy this one—Seb is a gifted speaker, writer, and storyteller, and we had a lot of fun talking. And make sure to follow us on social media on Twitter @wellreadpod and Instagram at @wellreadinvestorpod or just google the Well Read Investor to see what I’m reading, reviewing, and talking about week in and out.