The Ordered Universe team, old and new (for attendence see Giles’ previous post) were welcomed 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!
The recent interest in the Ordered Universe project following summary articles, in Nature, TheConversationUK, The Economist, The New Statesman, and various republished versions of the above, has been very gratifying (in the most part) but has also made it clear that some clarification is needed on both the way the project works, and on what we are saying. Continue reading
…and fast becoming a typical, if active, one in the life of a Durham Grosseteste Project member. An unexpected realisation is dawning – that the feel of the project reminds me of other scientific research programmes I have been involved in. I mean that I have the sense of collabrating on a project with a group of colleagues, as I have many times in the past, and that one of them is a 13th century Master to the Oxford Franciscans called Robert Grosseteste. Continue reading
I am fascinated by the ebb and flow of insight, discovery, writing, progress in this project. Like so much science itself, sometimes ideas need simply to develop quietly on their own, at other times they are ready for serious up-front work. So the realisation of Hannah Smithson when at the Porto workshop that Grosseteste’s identification of his colour coordinates with the dimensions of rainbows and “different types of rainbows” might lead to co-ordinate systems with spiral structure, hss led to two weeks (prior to the next JOSA deadline – deadlines help too!) of intense and fruitful work (by far mostly on Hannah’s part out cheered on by the rest of us). This involved a lot of serious physical optics (sourced from world expert Philip Laven), mathematical perception theory (Hannah)and a totally trivial link to the rather bijou “log-polar” co-ordinate systems (me) – but for the first time the De Colore puzzle looks like having a satisfactory solution. More anon with diagrams – very beautiful ones.
Recent working meeting with Richard Bower, Hannah Smithson, Tom McLeish and Brian Tanner worked through the surprisingly subtle physics issues of balancing luminous drag and absorption as the celestial spheres crystallise out.
Another surprise is the strong effect of the initial matter distribution (following the original expansion). Well behaved universes of the Aristotelian type seem to require steep initial density distributions, though this requirement may be balanced by sufficient absorption within the shells. Would Grosseteste be surprised to hear that for his universe to work, the heavenly spheres need to possess only partial transparency to “lumen”?
Somewhere in there is not just a medieval universe, but a medieval “multiverse”. All possible numbers of planetery spheres – and other universes where the density goes chaotic and non-monotonic. The initial density profile looks important too … more when the movie comes out!
What does a study of Medieval Science do for a Scientist today?
One of the more remarkable statements in the Sky and Night article, and one that also sums up at quite a deep level what the Ordered Universe project can deliver for scientists today, is from Richard Bower, the computational cosmologist on the project. He points out how that, once “inside” the logic of Grosseteste’s cosmological physics, how compellingly beautiful and impressive his acheivement, and the Aristotelian cosmos itself, now becomes. Too often an object of glib ridicule from those with the benefit of (eight centuries of) hindsight, Bower points out that Grosseteste was wrong because he made a wrong, but observationally reasonable, assumption (that the earth was in the centre of the universe). He wonders what cosmologists might say in a century’s time about the assumptions that he and his colleagues make today about the properties of dark matter, and beautifully describes how the project puts his own work into the context of a much longer story.