Recreating a Medieval Universe – the De Luce

image001We are very excited to announce the full scientific analysis of Grosseteste’s De luce  – ‘On Light’ will be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A  within the next month. A pre-submission version is available at  the Arxiv site. This takes the form of what we are calling a functional analysis of the treatise: taking Grosseteste’s account of how the body of the universe is formed, and the subsequent generation of the perfect and imperfect spheres of the universe, and modelling it mathematically, using modern media to interpret a vision of physical universe from the 13th century. The treatise is a longer one than the De colore or the De iride, and has been edited by Cecilia Panti, with a new translation in English by Neil Lewis – we have been exploring this wonderful and mysterious text in a number of workshops, and it formed the basis of two of our sessions at the Porto conference last June (2013). The full volume, with the new edition, translation, alongside historical and cultural contextualisation and functional analysis will be the next to appear in our publication series: and work is proceeding apace on that!

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Richard explaining the modern universe…

Grosseteste’s De luce in many senses pays homage to earlier cosmological conceptions, Aristotelian and neo-Platonic, and it reveals a wide range of sources. The cosmological scheme which he explores, a geocentric universe, with ten spheres, nine perfect spheres above the moon, and four imperfect spheres below (Grosseteste bundles all of these imperfect spheres together and counts them as one) has its origins in Aristotelian theory, taken on in ancient cosmology by Ptolemy and others. The ten spheres are the contribution of arabic commentary on these earlier traditions (al-Farabi d.951, al-Haytha d.1040 and al-Bitruji d.1204, amongst others). Grosseteste’s universe begins with an instantaneous expansion from a single point of light, light is self-replicating and is able, by virtue of this property to extend matter – thus body, the conjunction of form and matter, corporeity, is formed. How the rest of the universe takes shape he then explains as the continual in-dwelling and compression of light within the spheres. It is this action that our physicists and cosmologists: Richard Bower, Tom McLeish and Brian Tanner have been able to model.

Using Richard’s modern cosmological toolkit to create a mathematical translation of this section of the treatise has created a fabulous, wide and dynamic range of interpretations for Grosseteste’s universe, or multiverses…and the whole paper is available at the Arxiv site. The research enshrines our conviction of Grosseteste as a creative and supple thinker, who was extremely precise in his thinking and expression; and the inspiration that his work can still inspire if we take both what he said, and how (and when) he said in in conjunction.  We’re delighted by coverage of the paper and its implications, to colleagues at Science News, Ciencias Miztas and slashdot – and there will be a feature in the New Scientist as well. What would Grosseteste have thought!

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