OxNet North East: Questions and Answers


The OxNet-Ordered Universe 2019 seminar programme is in full swing with the 2019 cohort of school students aged 16-17 (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12) from the North-East. Students from Southmoor Academy, St Anthony’s, St Robert of Newminster, and Park View Academy, met earlier this week for the fourth part of their six-week seminar course, led by Ordered Universe team members, on their expert topics: Richard Bower (Durham) on Cosmology, Brian Tanner (Durham) on Physics, Joshua Harvey (Oxford) on Psychology, Nicola Polloni (Humboldt Berlin) on Philosophy and Translation, Colin Rennie (Sunderland) on Creativity and Giles Gasper (Durham) on History and Religious Studies. These take place in the entirely appropriate setting of St Peter’s Church, Sunderland, rich in its legacy for history of science as one of the home monasteries for Bede.

Claire Ungley, the OxNet North-East co-ordinator had the following thoughts on the fourth seminar session, which was led by Nicola Polloni from the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin:

Seminar 4 of the OxNet series was focused around Translation and Philosophy. Students prepared for the session by completing reading on medieval translators and works that were translated from Arabic into Latin. They then discussed the definitions of key words, including philosophy, epistemology, knowledge, and the differences between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ phenomena. Students quickly understood that definitions in medieval times differ to our perceptions today – what we categorise as philosophy, science and superstition is often at odds with medieval thinkers. For example, creating an elixir to make humans immortal might have been a scientific endeavour in medieval times, but now is seen as superstition. From this, students examined a set of stones including fool’s gold, and evaluated a translated recipe to create gold by Michael Scot. Although many centuries have passed, alchemy still interests academics today. For example, Larry Principe of John Hopkins University has recreated medieval alchemical recipes, and evaluated the chemistry behind what actually happens. By the end of the session, students had a good idea of what makes science and philosophy different – science gives you an answer, whereas philosophy gives you a question.

More to come, and we’re so excited to hear more from the students about their thoughts on medieval and modern art and science.

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