Shen Kuo (1031-1091) was a Chinese scientist, polymath, general, diplomat, and financial officer who was the inventor of compasses for navigation.
In the book Meng Xi Bi Tan (Dream Pool Essays) (1088) he wrote about mineralogy, erosion, sedimentation and uplift, mathematics, astronomy, and meteorology. The literal translation of Meng Xi Bi Tan is Brush talks from Dream Brook. The name derives from his property on the outskirts of Jiangsu (Zhenjiang), a place of great beauty which he named “Dream Brook” and where he lived in isolation for the last seven years of his life.
Shen Kuo discovered that compasses do not point true north but to the magnetic north pole. This was a decisive step to make them useful for navigation.
He formulated a hypothesis for the process of land formation; based on his observation of fossil shells in a geological stratum in a mountain hundreds of miles from the ocean, he inferred that the land was formed by erosion of the mountains and by deposition of silt. Shen Kuo was not only a geologist; his memoirs list “regularities underlying phenomena” in magnetism, astronomy, and engineering. He also wrote about Yi Xing (672-717), a Buddhist monk and his calculation of possible positions on a go board, whereas without a sign for zero he had difficulties expressing the number.