Grosseteste meets York Stained Glass Studies

Bishop_Robert_Grosseteste,_1896_(3x4crop)Tom McLeish was invited last week (November 1st) to hold a seminar on Grosseteste’s colour science  with the University of York’s History of Art Department’s Stained Glass Studies Group.  So here (right) is a stained-glass representation of the Bishop to start with.

Tom, an original member of the Ordered Universe project right from the very early days in Durham, has recently joined the University of York as its new Chair of Natural Philosophy.  Although based in Physics, the role has time allocated to the

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Kings Manor of the University of York, the home of its Centre for Medieval Studies

University’s long-standing Centre for Medieval Studies, as well, which is now a partner of the project. The Centre is accommodated in Kings Manor, the former abbot’s house of St. Mary’s Abbey (now ruined) close to the Minster, Museum, Library and Art Gallery in the centre of the city.

The natural starting point for the Kings Manor seminar was Grosseteste’s De colore, his treatise, probably from the mid 1220s that develops his natural philosophy of light into a theory of colour.  Early in the Ordered Universe project’s life we had studies this jewel of a treatise, and found it to be structured in a highly mathematical way. It constitutes the first description of an abstract three-dimensional space for colour.Dimensions of Colour book_ These insights, together with a fresh edition and translation and interdisciplinary commentary, formed the first ‘pilot’ publication from the project, Dimensions of Colour, back in 2013. in only 400 Latin words, Grosseteste carefully identifies colour as the effect of light incorporated in a diaphanous medium, and describes three ‘axes’ along which colour can vary independently. Crucially, two of these depend on properties of light and one on the material within which the light dwells – its ‘purity’ or ‘impurity’. This is turn is related to the quantity of ‘earthiness’ (earth is the only non-translucent of the four Aristotelian elements). The final paragraph of the treatise contains an invitation to try out making colours with different lights and materials, and is one of the pieces of evidence pointing to Grossteste’s involvement in the very early stirrings of experimental tradition.

York stained glass scholar Sarah Brown, who led the scholarly work behind the recent 10-year restoration of York Minster’s Great East Window, was led to think about glass-making right away by this paragraph. Might Grosseteste have witnessed the manufacture of glass?  If so this would not have been in England, but in northern France. Does a thread from light through colour and glass constitute another line of evidence that leads to a presence for him in France in the early 13th century?

The discussion also moved onto lenses and lens making in that era, of which no doubt there will be more news on this blog at a future date…

 

Annual Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics

Here is the lecture I am giving in Lincoln this Wednesday – Tom

Maths & Physics News

Medieval Science and the Ordered Universe project

a public lecture by

Professor Tom McLeish FRS

Department of Physics and
Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Durham University, UK

Wednesday 16 November 2016 at 6 pm

Stephen Langton Building (former EMMTEC) Lecture Theatre, Brayford Pool Campus, University of Lincoln

Eventbrite - 2016 Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics
Version 2For the English polymath, Robert Grosseteste, light was the fundamental first form that gave dimensionality and stability to the material world. In a dozen scientific treatises written in the early 13th Century, he postulated a physics of light, colour and the rainbow.  In his De luce (on light) he extends it to the origin of the Universe in what has been referred to as the ‘Medieval Big Bang’. His arguments are so taut that they can be translated into mathematics – our resulting numerical simulations show that Grosseteste’s model does actually work. He also described the method for developing a universal…

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The Ordered Universe of UBC, Vancouver

Friday last saw the Ordered Universe project hosted at a very civilised Dinner-and-Lecture evening at St. Johns College, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. medbigbangvancouver

Tom McLeish, Co-investigator of the project had been in the Vancouver area all week on a lecture tour organised by the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation (CSCA). After four events based around his book Faith and Wisdom in Science, as well as several science seminars (in Simon Fraser University and UBC itself), this last event, as all others organised by long-suffering and ever-kind host Gordon Carkner, focussed in on the unique collaboration of humanities scholars and scientists digging deeply together into the natural philosophy of Robert Grosseteste.

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St John’s Graduate College, UBC

A Medieval Big-Bang Theory: An Interdisciplinary Tale, began with a personal story about Tom’s first encounter with Grosseteste, from Jim Ginther’s regular HPS seminars at Leeds in the 1990s, then his astonished reading of the treatise on light, the De luce, the summer before his move to Durham in 2008, where he met up with medieval historian and theologian (now project PI) Giles Gasper.  The seminar then covered the technical content of Grosseteste’s light-expanded cosmos, and the corollary of his material physics of light – the theory of colour in the De colore and the De iride (on the rainbow).  The invited audience of students, faculty and members of CSCA had enthusiastically reserved 2 hours for the  event (!), so it was possible to go into some detail on the delicate interplay of scientific analysis, textual and philosophical work.

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Grosseteste’s rainbow co-ordinates mapped onto perceptual colour plane by H. Smithson

 

As ever, the participants were surprised and delighted to hear about the new science that the project has produced, as well as its insights and scientific commentary on 13th century treatises.  Tom managed to fit in both the three-dimensional mathematical structure of the colour space Grosseteste constructs in the De colore, and the new ‘rainbow mapping’ of colour space that this, accompanied by work on his De iride inspired, later published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America.

FaWis_450Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the context of this event, however, was the invitation from the hosts to situate the project findings in the twin theological contexts of Grosseteste’s day and ours. Our medieval polymath tends to stick to science in his science texts, but from other important works such as the Hexameron, and the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, we know that he has a developed theological purpose for studying nature to the end of understanding it.  He sees the process of induction from our sense data and intellect as a long and slow process of reawakening that insight and close relationship with nature that humankind was created to have in the first place, but lost through the turning away from its Creator in the Fall.  At this point the medieval science work dovetails into the thesis Tom has been developing in Faith and Wisdom in Science (click though for book and blog) for a healthier modern narrative for science.  The idea of science as the means to a healed relationship with nature strikes important late modern chords, as well as resonating with the philosophy of earlier ages.  It’s an old story of purpose that we have forgotten and need to remember.

Questions were very rich and varied – including one that the questioner would have liked to pose to Grosseteste himself: ‘Why did God allow the perfection of the spheres to stop at the Moon, and not complete all the way through the cosmos?‘ Our Oxford Master was fond of alternative histories – he tackled the question of whether there would have been an incarnation without a Fall, after all.  But what would he have made of a universe of crystalline spheres ‘all the way down’ (which is precisely what one of Prof. Richard Bower’s early simulations of his cosmogenesis physics in the De luce produced!). To be discussed…[Giles says: ‘Perfectness can’t re-create perfectness, otherwise it wouldn’t be perfect…’]

The Ordered Universe Project Returns to (one of) its Roots

I received an invitation last year to give a seminar that was impossible to turn down.  Every Wednesday afternoon the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science at Leeds University holds a proper academic seminar – 3.15 to 5pm, giving plenty of time to expound an idea as well as have it comprehensively discussed.  I had to go – for it was in this setting, regularly taking time of from the Physics department during the years I was professor there, that I first learnt about Robert Grosseteste. Continue reading

Gravitational Waves and the Cosmic ‘Sonativum’

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Artistic rendition of the merging black holes that gave rise to the gravitational waves reported in February 2016. Image from LIGO collaboration

Only an Ordered Universe blogpost could deserve a title like that.  We cannot let a discovery of such reach, beauty, conceptual depth and powerful simplicity (yes indeed) as the LIGO team’s announcement this month of the first detection of gravitational radiation go without a celebratory comment from the Robert Grosseteste club here.

Robert did, after all, engage in the magisterial De luce in the work of imagining the entire cosmos, and indeed in the propagation of waves across it in the process of its first formation.  Another centrepiece of his thought world was the connection of the universal with the present and microscopic. Continue reading

Medieval Rainbows at Cambridge Mathematics

The Cambridge University Mathematics Campus and one of its more famous denizens.
The Cambridge University Mathematics Campus and one of its more famous denizens.

Ordered Universe Co-investigator Tom McLeish was invited down to the Cambridge Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) to talk about the project in that famous institution’s regular ‘fluids’ seminar series. Continue reading

Ordered Universe goes Down Under

As Giles has already indicated, I have been enjoying a lecture tour over the last week in Australia and New Zealand. Originally catalysed by the Faith and Wisdom in Science book (which does have some Grosseteste stuff in it), and an invitation from the Theology department of Otago University here in Dunedin – particularly their Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI), it grew into a series of visits to departments of physics, chemistry as well as interdisciplinary centres and theology departments in Melbourne,  Aldelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Queenstown, Dunedin and Wellington.  In Australia my host organisation was ISCAST, a network supporting thinking and public engagement of Christianity and science. Continue reading

Can Science be more like Music? An Experiment with Light and Song

I thought that readers of the Ordered Universe blog might like to follow up our musings on Grosseteste’s theologically and physically inspired ideas on sound and the healing powers of music with a more contemporary take on Science and Music, originally posted on my Faith and Wisdom in Science blog…

Faith and Wisdom in Science

The_Light_of_Music_by_TWe4ksmallKarl Popper once wrote: “A great work of music, like a great scientific theory, is a cosmos imposed upon chaos – in its tensions and harmonies in exhaustible even for its creator”. If this is true (and it needs some unpacking before we can get to work on that question) then might great music be a source of illumination of great physics? Might physics inform and deepen our enjoyment of music? I don’t know – but I mean to find out with the help of scientific and musical colleagues in Durham this November, when we set out on a musical and experimental exploration for the International Year of Light.

FaWis_450Of course, musical themes and analogies surface frequently in Faith and Wisdom in Science.  I even imagine a nightmare world, in the introduction, where we have ‘locked away’ music from general human enjoyment and celebration in the same way…

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The Liberal Arts at Lincoln and a Choral Homage in Grosseteste’s Chapel

Easter Week saw the Ordered Universe project team converge for three days on the ancient city of Lincoln – where Robert Grosseteste was Bishop from 1235-1253.  It felt almost like a pilgrimage for those of us who have been studying the scientific works of this 13th

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral

century polymath together for 5 years now.  We even brought our very own bishop (and medieval scholar) with us in the form of David Thomson (Huntingdon). Familiarity (and depth of scholarship) go back far futher for Prof. Cecilia Panti who joined the group once more from Rome, and Neil Lewis, who ‘skyped’ in from Georgetown.    It felt rather like a family gathering with new friends. Continue reading

On the Generation of Sounds in Pembroke College Oxford

The Ordered Universe team, old and new (for attendence see Giles’ previous post) were PC at nightwelcomed with open arms by Pembroke College, Oxford, last week.  Their Mahfouz Forum supported this workshop on a new text for us, the De generatione sonorum – on the generation of sounds, as well as embedded public lectures on our work on Grosseteste’s cosmology, colour and science of the rainbow from previous texts.

The College picked up on all the thematic resonances of the week – with even rainbow-hued floodlighting of the hall at night!

Continue reading