The OxNet-Ordered Universe 2019 seminar programme concluded earlier this week with the 2019 cohort of school students aged 16-17 (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12) from the North-East. Students from Southmoor Academy, St Anthony’s, St Robert of Newminster, and Park View Academy, Continue reading
The OxNet-Ordered Universe 2019 seminar programme is in full swing with the 2019 cohort of school students aged 16-17 (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12) from the North-East. Students from Southmoor Academy, St Anthony’s, St Robert of Newminster, and Park View Academy, Continue reading
Tom McLeish was invited last week (November 1st) to hold a seminar on Grosseteste’s colour science with the University of York’s History of Art Department’s Stained Glass Studies Group. So here (right) is a stained-glass representation of the Bishop to start with.
Tom, an original member of the Ordered Universe project right from the very early days in Durham, has recently joined the University of York as its new Chair of Natural Philosophy. Although based in Physics, the role has time allocated to the
University’s long-standing Centre for Medieval Studies, as well, which is now a partner of the project. The Centre is accommodated in Kings Manor, the former abbot’s house of St. Mary’s Abbey (now ruined) close to the Minster, Museum, Library and Art Gallery in the centre of the city.
The natural starting point for the Kings Manor seminar was Grosseteste’s De colore, his treatise, probably from the mid 1220s that develops his natural philosophy of light into a theory of colour. Early in the Ordered Universe project’s life we had studies this jewel of a treatise, and found it to be structured in a highly mathematical way. It constitutes the first description of an abstract three-dimensional space for colour. These insights, together with a fresh edition and translation and interdisciplinary commentary, formed the first ‘pilot’ publication from the project, Dimensions of Colour, back in 2013. in only 400 Latin words, Grosseteste carefully identifies colour as the effect of light incorporated in a diaphanous medium, and describes three ‘axes’ along which colour can vary independently. Crucially, two of these depend on properties of light and one on the material within which the light dwells – its ‘purity’ or ‘impurity’. This is turn is related to the quantity of ‘earthiness’ (earth is the only non-translucent of the four Aristotelian elements). The final paragraph of the treatise contains an invitation to try out making colours with different lights and materials, and is one of the pieces of evidence pointing to Grossteste’s involvement in the very early stirrings of experimental tradition.
York stained glass scholar Sarah Brown, who led the scholarly work behind the recent 10-year restoration of York Minster’s Great East Window, was led to think about glass-making right away by this paragraph. Might Grosseteste have witnessed the manufacture of glass? If so this would not have been in England, but in northern France. Does a thread from light through colour and glass constitute another line of evidence that leads to a presence for him in France in the early 13th century?
The discussion also moved onto lenses and lens making in that era, of which no doubt there will be more news on this blog at a future date…
The Ordered Universe team tend to find themselves contemplating a dark sky rather than a dark forest and thinking about how the straight paths through the universe were found, rather than the paths through heaven and hell, but this week Ordered Universe team members Giles Gasper and Tom McLeish were Virgil to the audience’s Dante as they led a lunchtime lecture in Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study.
Joshua Harvey, a DPhil Candidate in the departments of Engineering Science and Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford brings us a report on his time as a ‘Lost Late’ exhibitor at the Oxford strand of the Being Human Festival 2017.
Last Friday saw 1,500 people of all ages congregating under a fabulous mix of lights, music, research, and dinosaurs. The event, ‘Lost Late’, formed part of the national Being Human festival, hosted by both the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums in Oxford. From 7pm until late into the evening, visitors could stroll through the two connected museums, which had been utterly transformed into a realm of discovery, from mazes to archaeological dig sites. Continue reading
Well, it has been about three weeks since the Being Human, National Festival of Humanities activities took place in Durham. Philipp Nothaft’s magnificent lecture on the dating of Easter (just before Advent, appropriately) on the 18th November, which attracted an audience of over 80 and is available in video form, began events. The lecture took place Continue reading
Today is the launch of Being Human! Ordered Universe Events start tomorrow, with the public talk by Philipp Nothaft (pictured above). Philipp is a graduate of the University of Munich, has been associated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University College London, and the Warburg Institute. He was appointed as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at All Soul’s College, University of Oxford, in 2015. We’re delighted that Philipp is able to give this talk – it forms his major research area. He explores Time, Astronomy/Astrology and Calendars in both medieval and early modern Europe, and across a fascinating and wide-ranging series of texts. Continue reading
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…’]
Apart from the time devoted to collaborative reading sessions during Ordered Universe Symposia, there is also room for broader conversation and exchange of ideas. These conversations are very interesting and maybe also quite unusual, as they represent a rare instance of academics from very different disciplines being brought together. Interdisciplinary discussions are challenging in many ways and they require trust and respect on both sides. It is wonderful to see how during Ordered Universe Symposia, an atmosphere of open-mindedness and friendliness is all around so that this kind of true interdisciplinary exchange becomes possible. Continue reading