The most recent Ordered Universe Syposium took place amid a riot of colour as summer turned to autumn at Pembroke College Oxford in late September. Continue reading
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
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.
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!
Last week, Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th November, Ordered Universe members were made very welcome at the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Research, and the Department of History at Swansea University. Continue reading
For those that haven’t yet managed to get to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, we have here a guided tour to the exhibition by Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie. Rosie Reed Gold took the photographs, adding another level of interpretation to the movement from 13th century Latin manuscripts, to editions and translations, to textual analysis (by Continue reading
Last night saw the launch of Illuminating Colour, a new exhibition from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland. The exhibition, as readers of this site will know, grew from a collaborative initiative with the Ordered Universe project, Through a Glass Darkly. The exhibition emerged from a series of meetings, collaborative readings, knowledge exchange sessions (learning about glass, living medieval manuscripts), glass-making, planning and exhibits within the Being Human Festival, all of which took place over the last 18 months. Students and staff from Durham, Sunderland and Oxford, as well as the international collaborators from Ordered Universe, have all taken part and contributed, Artists Alexandra Carr, Ross Ashton, Alan Fentiman and Rosie Reed Gold have also been involved from their different media expertise.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is Cate and Colin’s work. Taking Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow as the principal inspiration, alongside his thinking on light and other meteorological phenomena, the works have come together over the last year. It has been an enormous privilege to watch this happen, and, at some level, to have been involved. The imagination, craft, skill depth of experience and curiosity to experiment are both mind-blowing and inspiring. The exhibition dwells profoundly on Grosseteste’s statement that ‘Light is colour embodied in a transparent medium’. The end of that treatise, On Colour, invokes the fact that those who are especially skilled can manipulate the medium to make whatever colour they like. This description is applied justly to Cate and Colin, and the pieces they have created.
Illuminating Colour finishes on 11th March 2018, so there is plenty of time to come and visit, and what a reason (if any were needed), to come to the North-East. This is also only the beginning of the collaboration, so stay tuned for further cross-disciplinary exploration of the universe in which we live and how we explain and perceive it. The exhibition is supported by the University of Sunderland, the National Glass Centre, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Durham University and the Ordered Universe project. For those that couldn’t be there last night – some images and a periscope tour of the exhibits – but do come and see the real things!
National Glass Centre UK launch of new exhibition Illuminating Colour https://t.co/dK4YzTg2oT
— Giles Gasper (@GilesGasper) October 20, 2017
The Ordered Universe project is pleased to announce its latest publication, for the Applied Optics journal, Vol. 56 (2017), G197-G204, and fully open access. The experiments and writing of the paper were led and marshalled by expertly Joshua Harvey (Mellon Foundation funded graduate student at Oxford University, Dept of Engineering Science and Pembroke college), with assistance from other members of the team, from the sciences and humanities. The paper focuses on the middle part of Grosseteste’s treatise On the Rainbow (De iride) and the shape that the rainbow forms in the sky. This precedes discussion of the colours of the rainbow, covered in other Ordered Universe papers. The current paper offers an historical context for the treatise before moving to the main discussion, testing Grosseteste’s optical thought with physical experiment and physics-based simulation. The results are available below, and show, again, the benefits of collaborative working to unlock problems posed by thinkers of the past.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps 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…’]