Author: Huxleў
© Huxleў — almanac about philosophy, business, art and science.
Liberal ArtsScience
4 minutes for reading

HOW TO WAKE UP HUMANITY: from Plato to the smartphone

HOW TO WAKE UP HUMANITY: from Plato to the smartphone
Share material
Patent for the alarm clock in 1911 by Aged Pixel /


Humans love to sleep — it’s a scientific fact. On average, we sleep 240 hours a month, 2888 hours, or 120 days a year. Unsurprisingly, many people find sleeping a third of their lives quite frustrating. But if we can’t avoid sleeping, it is preferable to at least control the time of waking up. This is how the idea of the alarm clock was born, and mankind’s path to it was quite twisting.




The predecessors of the modern smartphone alarm clock, which today wakes up millions of people, appeared thousands of years ago. It is believed that in addition to the compass, gunpowder, porcelain, and paper, the ancient Chinese gave us the «fire clock» — the very first alarm clock in history.

It was a stick made of resin and sawdust, on which a string with a weight was hung and set on fire. The time of smoldering was calculated in advance. When the string burned out, the weight fell, and the sound of its fall was a signal for the Chinese.

The first European version of the alarm clock owes its origin not so much to the Chinese as to the great ancient Greek philosopher Plato.




It seems that a talented person is really talented in everything. In the IV century BC, Plato was very annoyed that the students of his academy came to his philosophical studies as God would have it. So, he invented a way of signaling the start of classes. But, unlike the Chinese, he used water rather than fire.

His device was similar to a klepsydra — a type of water clock, which, to be fair, the ubiquitous Chinese came up with again 4.5 thousand years ago. However, this fact does not minimize Plato’s ingenuity.

The philosopher took several vessels, connected them with tubes, and filled them with water. Flowing from jug to jug, the water sharply displaced the air, which rushed to the flute, built into the wall of the lower jug. This resulted in a shrill whistling sound.

Surprisingly, Plato’s alarm clock could already be «wound up» — it was regulated according to the season.


By joining the Huxleў friends club, you support philosophy, science and art




During the Renaissance, not anybody turned to Plato’s idea, but Leonardo da Vinci himself. However, he surpassed the ancient philosopher in originality. In Da Vinci’s case, overflowing from one vessel to another, the water activated not a flute but levers that lifted up the legs of the sleeper. But if Leonardo’s technological creativity hadn’t caught on, then without Galileo Galilei’s discovery in the 16th century, there might not have been an alarm clock at all.

Galileo Galilei was a very observant man and a Catholic. As a decent Catholic, he regularly attended the Pisa Cathedral — there was no option to ignore the mass because the scientist of the time could easily draw the attention of the Inquisition.

Apparently, he was not particularly fond of the liturgy, and at the service, Galileo was frankly bored, so he found a fascinating occupation — to observe the various lamps, which the cathedral was abundant.

He noticed that the periods of oscillation of the lamps in the draught did not depend on their shape or weight, but solely on the length of the chain on which they were suspended. And so the idea of the clock pendulum was born.




But despite the progress of scientific thought, clocks, up to the Modern Age, could only «ring» at once and forever set times. In 1787, American Levi Hutchins finally designed something resembling a modern alarm clock, which could wake up its owner only at 4 a.m.

It was only in 1847 that Frenchman Antoine Redier patented a mechanism that could be programmed to give a signal at any time of day.

The only disadvantage of Radier’s alarm clock was its considerable weight and size, so later, all engineering thought focused on solving mainly this problem. The second most important problem was how to prevent a person from falling asleep again.




Today we have a wide variety of versions of the alarm clock: they can detect the phases of sleep and use the «fleeing signal». The latter was invented in 2004 by University of Massachusetts student Gauri Nanda and gave rise to the Clocky alarm clock.

To many people, Nanda’s invention seemed nothing more than a curiosity and even won the IgNobel Prize in the category «economics», because it forcibly promoted productivity and increased the working day.

Now the principle of the «fleeing alarm clock» is familiar to almost every smartphone owner. Its signal spontaneously changes its trajectory, so it is not easy to ignore and turn it off. That’s how the alarm clock turned into a real nightmare for those who want to «sleep a little more».

You can learn about the damage to your health that can be caused by a sudden awakening on the alarm clock from our material:


LOUD KILLER: Alarm clocks can be a source of strokes and heart attacks


When copying materials, please place an active link to
By joining the Huxleў friends club, you support philosophy, science and art
Share material

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: