It is a particular pleasure to be able to report on progress on Ordered Universe publications. The main news is that our first volume in the seven-volume series with Oxford University Press is completed and is accepted for publication. Knowing and Speaking presents the first two of Grosseteste’s treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds, alongside the Middle English re-imagining of both texts as part of the longer The Seven Liberal Arts. Continue reading
2018 is set fair to be another busy year for the Ordered Universe team. In addition to submitting our first volume presenting the treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds, and the Middle English Seven Liberal Arts, to press, we have a wide range of other events organised. This is just a reminder of those coming up in the first quarter of the year.
The two exhibitions featuring work inspired by the project run over this period. Illuminating Colour, a major exhibition of new work from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland, drawing on Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow runs until March 10th. This is a world-class exhibition – do come and see it in situ. And, if you find yourself in the North-East come along to the Dante Exhibition at Palace Green Library in Durham and see, amongst the other treasures, Alexandra Carr’s sculpture of the nested spheres of the medieval universe, and a film installation as well. Alexandra’s work was produced as part of her Leverhulme Trust funded Artistic Residency at Durham University and Ushaw College focusing on medieval and modern cosmology.
January sees the fifth symposium of the current series, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. In addition the OxNet course at Southmoor Academy recruits and commences its 6 week seminar series, to be taught to schoolchildren from across the North-East at the National Glass Centre. This involves Richard Bower – on Cosmology, Brian Tanner – on Physics, Joshua Harvey – on Psychology, Nicola Polloni and Kasia Kosior – on Translation, Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie – on Creativity, and Giles Gasper and Tim Farrant on History and Religion. All co-ordinated by Kasia Kosior and the wonderful OxNet team.
February features a number of different activities. Tom McLeish and Giles Gasper are speaking on 7th February, on the modern and medieval cosmos, as part of the Dante Lecture series organised by Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS). Friday 9th February will see the Ordered Universe at the Cambridge e-Luminate Festival of Light for the second year in a row. We’ll be running a series of talks and then show and tell activities over the afternoon and early evening in the Guildhall in Cambridge. And this alongside Ross Ashton and Karen Monid’s new sound and light show. Keeping up the pace, on the 13th February IMEMS is running a day-long workshop on the Scientific Study of Manuscripts, Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper will be talking on Ordered Universe experience of interpreting medieval thought using science and humanities methodologies and approaches. Finally, Jack Cunningham will deliver a lecture in the Ushaw College series in Durham on his discovery of an 18th century life of Grosseteste. ‘ ‘Saving Robert Grosseteste – Fr Philip Perry’s Lost Biography’ takes place on 22nd February, 18.00-19.15
We wrap up the OxNet seminar course in March, and put all focus on the Ordered Universe conference in April – more on that soon, and look forward to the Ordered Universe/OxNet Easter School in Durham – focused on medieval manuscripts, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science conference, and then into the early summer and our Montreal visit, the Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress….and we’re already half way through the year!
A post by Joshua Harvey, D.Phil. student, Department of Engineering Science and Pembroke College, University of Oxford, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of ‘The Mental and Material Laboratories of Medieval Science’ project, under the aegis of the Ordered Universe.
The latest research article from the Ordered Universe project: “Bow-shaped caustics from conical prisms: a 13th Century account of rainbow formation from Robert Grosseteste’s De iride” is available to read now, open access at the Optical Society of America’s journal Applied Optics. Grosseteste’s treatise De iride [On Rainbows], which may be familiar to long-term followers of the Ordered Universe project, explores theoretical optics, colour theory, and meteorology to give one of the most comprehensive pre-renaissance scientific writings on the rainbow. With this most recent article, we explore his pioneering model of rainbow formation – the first to use refraction (and not just reflection) in medieval Europe. Through an interdisciplinary combination of historical review, geometric optics, and both practical and simulated experiment, we give a thorough overview of the historical significance of the De iride, and look at what lessons we can learn from it today.
This fruitful exploration has not been done before. Although Grosseteste provides a detailed description of what he believes are the geometric underpinnings of a rainbow, he has previously been disregarded in this area. David Lindberg even went so far as to say that ‘his theory of the rainbow could not account for even the most basic phenomena and has remained largely unintelligible to the modern day.’ Well, we thought there might have been more to Grosseteste’s thought than that, being familiar with his mathematical mind and keen curiosity about the natural world. As a research team with a diverse expertise, we together arrived at an interpretation of Grosseteste’s optical mechanism that was intelligible, elegant and, most excitingly, perfectly testable. To our surprise, the caustics – patterns of gathered light – produced by a transparent cone are just as Grosseteste describes.
Remarkably, we have already been contacted by researchers investigating atmospheric optics, who have found some striking correspondences between their own work and our interpretation of Grosseteste’s De iride. Markus and Sarah Selmke’s recent paper, “Artificial circumzenithal and circumhorizontal arcs” published in American Journal of Physics, explores to great depths the kinds of refractive optical interactions between transparent cones, as modelled by glassware filled with water, and incident light. The authors have shown that Parry arcs, a type of halo, are analogous to the caustics produced by shining light through a wine glass of water. Although not as frequently observed as rainbows, Parry arcs are similarly beautiful displays of dispersive colour seen in the heavens, providing certain atmospheric conditions are met. The paper features a combination of practical and mathematical experimentation, similar to our own approach in the Applied Optics paper, and states that “light entering through the top air-water interface and leaving through the lateral cone surface results in an analogy to Parry’s halo”. This is identical to Grosseteste’s geometric scheme, as we interpreted it. Although, to his detractors, his likening of a rainbow to that of light going through a transparent cone might sound crude, or even ridiculous, it appears this simple model does indeed capture the optical principles behind a dispersive atmospheric phenomenon.
Grosseteste was wrong about rainbows. Not long after him, rainbows were correctly understood to be produced by light interacting with near-spherical raindrops, by both Kamal al-Din al-Farisi and Theodoric of Freiburg in the fourteenth century. But Grosseteste was not wrong about the optical qualities of transparent cones, and although the optical scene he describes in De iride does not relate to rainbows, it is analogous to another kind of dispersive optical event seen in the heavens.
Of course, it would be incorrect to claim that Grosseteste had solved the mystery of Parry’s arc back in the thirteenth century. He had probably never seen or heard of one, as they are rare outside the Arctic circles, and it wasn’t until 1820 that William Parry observed and drew one. Was this mere coincidence, could Grosseteste have happened upon an atmospheric optical mechanism by chance? Perhaps. But it is worth bearing in mind that his theory was likely grounded in observation, and formulated to be as parsimonious as possible. I think that rather than chance, it is instead even clearer we are reading the work of someone with a scientific mind, curiosity about nature, and a belief in a profoundly ordered universe.
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.
A new resource for Grosseteste, and wider medieval, manuscript research, is now available on the Ordered Universe website. It comprises a list of all known manuscripts of Grosseteste’s scientific, theological and philosophical opuscula. Compiled by Professor Neil Lewis (Georgetown University), the list is designed to be iterative: if you come across Continue reading
The idea that science isn’t a process of constant progress might make some modern scientists feel a bit twitchy. Surely we know more now than we did 100 years ago? We’ve sequenced the genome, explored space and considerably lengthened the average human lifespan. We’ve invented aircraft, computers and nuclear energy. We’ve developed theories of relativity and quantum mechanics to explain how the universe works. Continue reading
The Ordered Universe project has a new publication. Giles, Tom and Hannah wrote a reflective piece on the project, exploring the interdisciplinary nature of its aims and practice, and how the collaborative reading (and writing) work in practice. The article is now published, in Palgrave Communications, and, as open access, can be read or freely Continue reading
Robert Grosseteste and the pursuit of Religious and Scientific learning in the Middle-Ages. (Springer 2016) Eds. Jack P. Cunningham & M. Hocknull. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33468, ISBN 978-3-319-33466-0. No. of pages 401. No. of illustrations 16 colour. £86.00.
News of a planned volume of essays on Solomon Ibn Gabriol (1021/2 -1050/70), a Jewish poet and philosopher from Muslim Iberia. Known to the Latin West as Avicenbron, and especially for his treatise the Fons vitae translated into Latin by ibn Daud and Dominicus Gundissalinus. The treatise was of some influence on Grosseteste, notably in the De luce. Nicola Polloni, Marienza Benedetto and Lucas Oro are the guiding force behind the volume. The call for papers is as follows: Continue reading
Lessons for Interdisciplinary Working from Medieval Science is a short piece reflecting on some of the interdisciplinary practice we have developed within the Ordered Universe project by Tom McLeish and Giles Gasper. We’ve drawn together some of the lessons that we have learnt, and some that we hope might be of use to others in similar contexts. Continue reading