On the liberal arts and the generation of sounds

lumiere_postcard_21-1024x682Robert Grosseteste suggested in his treatise on the liberal arts that in all areas of human endeavour it is necessary to choose carefully the hour most propitious for the undertaking one wants to carry through. Plants carry more fruit if planted when the celestial spheres are correctly aligned, and base metals are transformed into gold more easily if processed under favourable planets and stars. We no longer believe this to be true, of course, and we may even speculate about the extent to which Robert himself gave credence to such theories; nevertheless, had Robert been around at the Ordered Universe workshop organised in Durham last week, he may have inferred that the organisers had chosen a favourable hour indeed. Discussions and deliberations carried much fruit, and base drafts were transformed into golden light of understanding. A liberating experience indeed, and one which generated the right kinds of sound! Continue reading

Sound Medieval and Sound Modern: Reading the De generatione sonorum

IMG_2825IMG_2824As Tom’s earlier post indicated, the collaborative reading sessions on the De generatione sonorum exceeded our expectations. We get through the whole of the text over the course of the three sessions, but made substantial progress in establishing the reading of the text, and, as we have done time and again, enjoyed collectively identifying and following the precision and self-consistency of Grosseteste’s writing. The treatise is constructed effectively over two parts, the first deals with both the generation of sound in the abstract, the second relates this to the production of the human voice and to vowel and consonantal sounds. John Coleman gave an introduction to phonetics and vocal production, using audio-visual examples, as well as himself, as you can see on the right. This discussion provided an important anchor in our intellectual movements between the medieval and modern understanding of sound. Continue reading

What a wonderful world – aha-moments triggered by insights into a medieval thinker’s mind

Photo0044IMG_0032In the aftermath of Ordered Universe gatherings I find myself time and again struck by how little appreciation I normally give to the complexity of the natural world. So many fundamental properties of the physical universe I usually take for granted, without even giving it a thought that someone would have some sort of explanatory account for them. Through engaging with 13th-century models of physical phenomena, some of this fascination with the fundamental properties of the world around us has been unlocked for me. Furthermore, I keep being baffled by how science – in the sense of ‘groping for understanding’, as Tom McLeish sometimes puts it – is far from a modern-day phenomenon but has been with us throughout the ages. Given my psychology and philosophy background this constitutes a steep learning curve, and has certainly enriched my understanding of the nature and history of science. Continue reading