The Uncertainty Principle – The Ordered Universe at Pembroke College Access Week 2018

A guest post by Thomas Henderson, 2nd year history undergraduate at Durham University, who has spent this week as an undergrad mentor and tutor at the summer school

Window
A view of Chapel Quad, Pembroke College

After a year’s programme of seminars and a residential Easter school in Durham, the OxNet-Ordered Universe access scheme has reached its climax with this week’s residential summer school at Pembroke College, Oxford. The sixth-formers from Sunderland have joined with others from OxNet schemes in Manchester, Cheshire and London, as well as students from rural India supported by the Karta Institute, for a programme of seminars, lectures and tutorials aimed to provide an insight into the realities of university study.
The entire summer school was kicked off on Sunday evening by Dr Peter Claus, Pembroke’s Access Fellow, and Dr Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, who introduced the themes of the school’s title: ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. His diverting lecture urged the students to embrace the limitations of human knowledge, and its attendant feelings of uncertainty and confusion, as the precursors of investigation and exploration. Taking its cue from the Ordered Universe project, the school is designed to challenge the way the students conceptualise knowledge, and to encourage them to think in a way unbounded by A-level mark-schemes or conventional divisions between disciplines.

At this half-way point, it is clear that the sixth-formers have taken these words to heart. Their eager inquiries about the realities of university life and applications (making the most of their undergraduate mentors) have been matched by affirmations of their intentions to apply to elite universities. A visit from journalists from the BBC Look North served to focus them further. In their academic work, they have been just as engaged and stimulating.

Students
Ordered Universe students working on their group poster, to be presented on Friday afternoon

The Ordered Universe strand is focused on colour, light and rainbows. Work on these topics has included two of the project’s signature collaborative reading sessions, of De iride and De luce, led by Sig Sønnesyn, and a workshop on the science of rainbows with Joshua Harvey. These sessions have seen students enthusiastically discussing and disagreeing with each other over (among other things) the nature of rainbows, the problems of perception and whether a sunrise can exist without somebody to observe it. We look forward to what they will produce come Friday!

Colour Vision Workshop in Durham

News of a workshop on colour vision taking place at Durham University this week,  in the Department of Psychology organised by Rebecca Wedge-Roberts.  The workshop will explore the subject with papers and discussion from Psychology, Anthropology, Continue reading

Boston MIT: Medieval and Modern Visual Alchemy

Earlier this month members of the Ordered Universe team, Joshua Harvey and Alexandra Carr gave papers at the Media Lab at MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts. Joshua’s paper, ‘Medieval and modern visual alchemy: material and digital ‘transmutation’ of chromatic statistics’, in which he presented his recent work on the potential of manipulating distributions of chromatic statistics within an image, to transfer material appearances. His research has significant potential applications in the fields of image processing and computer graphics and has been informed by his investigations into the medieval imitation gold material featured in polychrome sculpture.

Alexandra’s paper, ‘The body of colour: a medieval perspective’, outlined her artistic outputs to her collaboration with the Ordered Universe project so far, with a particular focus on colour. Setting aside the current rationalistic empirical paradigm, she proposed the notion of colour as a physical body through investigating the phenomena of light and the concept of darkness. Seeing the world through the eyes of a natural philosopher allows space for the psychological, metaphysical and philosophical implications of the theory of colour, which has led to new scientific theories. The artistic investigation, thoughts and outputs of medieval treatises demonstrates that a revisiting of ideas from antiquity and an uninhibited re-questioning of phenomena is conducive to new methodologies and theories.

 The talks provided a great opportunity for further lines of investigation both practically and philosophically, with colour perception and impossible colours taking centre stage. Dr Andreas Mershin of The Centre for Bits and Atoms very kindly showed everyone around the lab, wowed everyone with a laser capable of  allowing you to see colours you have never seen before, and described the work he is carrying out on olfactory and visual perception. Joshua, Alexandra and Andreas plan to meet shortly to continue sharing ideas and keeping the dialogue going. We’ll keep you posted as to where this leads.

The View from Kalamazoo…in pictures

Ordered Universe team members (Giles, Nicola, Mike and Sarah), and colleagues from Durham University (Helen, Abi and Katie), made the journey from Montreal to Kalamazoo and then back to Toronto airport and home. We have a visual record here…from Quebec to Ontario to Michigan, the Kalamazoo Congress (and dance) and the Museum of Ontario Archeology and its recreation longhouse on the way home!

The View from Kalamazoo

May is the season for the Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. This year, the 53rd congress, saw the Ordered Universe present two panel sessions on Structures of Order in Medieval Science. The first, Experience and Authorities featured Nicola Polloni (Durham but imminently the Continue reading

Movement(s) of the Middle Ages – McGill/Durham 2018

Last week, following the Ordered Universe symposium at McGill, various members of the team stayed on and enjoyed a second event with our friends in Montreal. Organised between Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and McGill University, we took part in a joint graduate conference on 7th May. Taking place at Continue reading

Keeping us all in suspense…

A wonderful feature of the Ordered Universe conference (Pembroke College, Oxford, April 3-6), was the installation by Alexandra Carr, in the Damon Wells Chapel in the college. The mysterious and beautiful structure intrigued and delighted the conference delegates, but kept us all in suspense with respect to its name.   Continue reading

Early Franciscans: Authority, Innovation and Grosseteste

Over the last two days Giles had the privilege and pleasure to engage with a European Research Council funded project, Authority and Innovation in Early Franciscan Thought (c.1220-45). Led by Dr Lydia Schumacher, the project explores in particular the Summa Halensis, one of the earliest theological compendia from the first half of the thirteenth century, and distinguished by the ambition of its enterprise and the range and volume of its questions. Continue reading

Science, Imagination, and Wonder: Impressions and Experiences

One of the main challenges for all who study the highly variegated output produced by Robert Grosseteste over the course of his lifetime is how, if at all, his works within highly disparate disciplines may be harmonized into a coherent whole. This challenge was embodied in practice from April 3rd through 6th, when scholars from a wide range of disciplines descended on Pembroke College, Oxford, for the conference ‘Science, Imagination, and Wonder: Robert Grosseteste and his Legacy’. In order to make this an occasion for mutually fruitful exchange across – rather than merely within – the boundaries segmenting academia, Continue reading