The Ordered Universe goes to Harvard

Ordered Universe Co-I for the University of York, Tom McLeish, is lucky enough to chair the Harvard-UK Knox Fellowship Committee, which awards 2-year postgraduate fellowships to Harvard across all subjects. Once a year he gets to visit the new (and not so new) fellows at Harvard in rather more relaxed settings than their London interview.

Harvard Yard was looking rather gorgeous in its fall colours:

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While in town, Tom also went to see some astronomers: the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics lab holds a Thursday lunchtime bag lunch seminar where four people give short talks. The seminars are well-attended by about 100 astronomers from all over Boston.

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The Harvard-Smithsonian lunchtime seminar in full swing with a talk on 21st century astrophysics, following Tom’s talk on 13th century cosmology. Note that the scientists are still there.

On this occasion one was on a rather old (c. 1224) theory of a Big Bang origin of the cosmos, contained in Robert Grosseteste’s treatise De luce (On light). For a lecture by a real cosmologist on this topic see Durham astronomer Richard Bower’s talk here. Grosseteste does an extraordinary thing in the De luce, using Aristotelian physics to counter Aristotle’s belief that the universe could have no temporal beginning. Instead, Grosseteste supposes that a point of light expands into a giant sphere, ‘the size of the world machine’, taking matter with it, until it can be rarefied no further. Following that the light, in new guise, propagates inward, forming the nested planetary spheres as it goes. It is a marvellously mathematical theory of how a medieval geocentric cosmos might have come into being, and as an example of the scientific imagination, is hard to better.

The Harvard cosmologists were fascinated to hear about some of the medieval history of their subject, and had interesting questions about the scientific community then, and the way that written records were disseminated.

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Prof Owen Gingerich with Flamsteed’s star catalogue

Later that afternoon Tom had the immense privilege of visiting the one-man Harvard institution that is Professor Owen Gingerich. He owns a personal collection of early modern astronomical texts, and some earlier manuscripts as well. Here is Owen with a prized member of his collection – one of the few surviving copies of first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed’s star catalog, edited by Edmond Halley, but most copies destroyed by Flamsteed. This, surviving, copy is heavily redacted in Flamsteed’s hand (can you make out the falsum est on the bottom corner?) !

The final astronomical joy was a meeting with leaders of the Harvard Black Hole Project, partially funded through the John Templeton Foundation, of which Tom is currently a trustee. Philosopher and historian of science Peter Galison gave Tom a signed copy of the ground-breaking short-waveradio image from the Event Horizon Telescope – capturing the monster black hole at the heart of active galaxy M87 (below).

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What would Robert Grosseteste have thought about the notion of a Black Hole?

Horizon and Zenith at Light Up Poole

Zenith playing on the interior of St James’s Church in Poole. It takes inspiration from medieval astronomy, Islamicate and European, and the notion of the zenith, a point directly above a particular location – the ‘zenith of the head’ as medieval authors put it, Continue reading

Medieval and Modern Tides – Light Up Poole Festival 2019

Last weekend, on Saturday February 23rd, Ordered Universe members Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper took part in the Light Up Poole Festival, on the UK’s south coast, in Dorset. We gave a talk to the public on the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste, in Continue reading

Light Up Poole

The Light Up Poole Festival launched, quite literally, in a  blaze of collective light on 21st February, and closes tonight, on the 23rd February. Of the 24 installations, 2, from the Projection Studio, were conceived and developed in partnership with Ordered Universe research. In this case it’s the cosmological vision and astronomical writings of Robert Grosseteste that provided the inspiration. Horizon, premiered at Continue reading

Getting ready for Light Up Poole

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Fresh from its US premiere at the Napa Lighted Art Festival, California, Horizon created by The Projection Studio in collaboration with Ordered Universe, and using imagery from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, receives its European premiere in the coming week at the Light Up Poole Festival. The show, elaborates Grosseteste’s treatises On the Sphere and On the Six Differentiae. The former, composed between 1215 and 1220 deals with issues connected to the Continue reading

Horizon at Light Up Poole

Fresh from the Napa Lighted Art Festival, the projection show Horizon, created by The Projection Studio – Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, in collaboration with the Ordered Universe, and in consultation with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will play at the upcoming Light Up Poole Festival. Running from 21-23 February Light Up Poole features Continue reading

Napa Lighted Art Festival – Final Activities

Our final day at the Napa Lighted Festival was 19th January, featuring two talks by Dr Henrike Lange (University of California Berkeley) and Joshua Harvey (Oxford), in a session entitled Beyond the Material, in the First Presbyterian Church. Joshua’s work on material perception, and the quality of lustre in particular, sat engagingly alongside Henrike’s exploration of renaissance art and the manipulative devices used by artists. Continue reading

Napa Lighted Art Festival – Colour, Perception, the Avant Garde and more

A second set of talks, and memories from the Napa Lighted Festival last month. Friday 18th January saw a first talk from multi-media sculptor Alexandra Carr, a frequent collaborator with the Ordered Universe, and Joshua Harvey (Psychology and Engineering Science, University of Oxford). In Beyond Colour Alexandra and Josh spoke on various Continue reading

Horizon – Full version

For all who were unable to be in Napa for the recent Lighted Art Festival, it is a great pleasure to post the full, official, filmed version from the Projection Studio. Featuring Ordered Universe research, student voices from Durham University and many other contributors, we present it here:

HORIZON Napa 2019 from Ross Ashton on Vimeo.

The show was a co-commission with the Light-Up Poole Festival, 2019, which will also feature some Ordered Universe participation, so you can still get to see it live!

Horizon – from the Projection Studio

Guest blog-post about the Napa Lighted Art Festival from Karen Monid:

Ross and I are thrilled to be asked to return to the Napa Lighted Festival in the USA. Our first piece there, Line, shown in 2017, was a contemporary study in the combined effect of optical illusion, sound and motion with modern architecture. This year, the festival has generously offered us one of the most historic sites in Napa to show our new work, Horizon, a co-commission between the Ordered Universe project, the Light Up Poole Festival in the UK and the Napa Lighted Art Festival in the US.

The Ordered Universe project website has information about Horizon already here. As artists, it has been a wonderful experience to create a new work that is not only inspired by Robert Grosseteste’s works, but goes even further, using his own words as the central core of the piece. Horizon places his observations, experiences and interpretations of the earth and our place in it alongside those of the ecosystem studies of the Jet Propulsion Labaratory in NASA, whose work sits at the cutting edge of 21st century technology. Horizon reveals a surprising similarity of human aim behind scientific enquiry and searching, both then and now. It shows how interpretations have developed, as we have changed our viewing positions from that of being ‘on the earth’ to moving ‘off the earth’ and looking back at ourselves on this planet.

Something new I was keen to explore in the audio for the work, something that has never been done before with the Ordered Universe project, is to focus on the context of Grosseteste’s writings, to allow them to be presented to Horizons audience as the teaching materials we believe them to have been, spoken aloud to students, learning about their place on the earth and in the universe as a whole. It has been exciting to find creatively meaningful ways to do this in Horizon, working with Professor Giles Gasper, Dr Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, and students at Durham University, in particular. Moreover, that Horizon also shows that modern science continues in this same work today shows a direct lineage from thinkers such as Grosseteste into the modern world.

One if the most exciting aspects of the project for us is that we are being given the opportunity to present the piece in Napa on the Goodman Library. The Goodman Library is a beautiful piece of Napa architectural history. It has survived several earthquakes and has recently reopened after an intense restoration program to preserve and protect its unique features. Libraries are the repositories of knowledge and so it is particularly resonant to have developed the premiere of ‘Horizon’ for this particular building. We will be discussing Horizon and our work, at the free ‘Meet the Artist’ event in Napa on January 13th. Tickets are available here.

Finally, we would like to extend our grateful thanks for the support of our collaborators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA, Dr Joshua Willis and Dr Joshua Fisher. Dr Willis is the principal investigator on the OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) mission and Dr Fisher is Science Lead on the ECOSTRESS mission, one of several space-based data gathering missions that are collectively looking at earth ecosystem changes, in collaboration with other space agencies internationally. We are delighted that Dr Joshua Fisher will also be giving a talk at Napa Lighted as part of the program of talks on offer at the Festival. Tickets are available here.