Why did the Babylonians and the Greeks approach astronomy so differently? In my last post
I quoted Toulmin and Goodfield from their history of dynamics and astronomy, The Fabric of the Heavens
, where they argue that the Babylonians, because of their careful record keeping and math skills, could make excellent astronomical predictions, but they couldn't explain why those predictions worked. The Greeks on the other had were obsessed with explanation and theory, and were for a long time relatively bad at astronomical prediction.
There is a plaque on the south side of Trafalgar Square, just behind the statue of Charles I, that is the reference point from which all distances from London are measured. However, there is a far more intriguing plaque of scientific interest that is also associated with a tale of official incompetence and disaster.
Between the January 1589 and the spring of 1590, at Helmstedt, Giordano Bruno wrote "The Lulliana Medicine”.
This work consists of a practical application of the Lullian System in the medical astrology. The text incorporate large sections of Explanatio Compendiosaque Applicatio Artis Illuminati Doctoris Magistri Raymundi Lulli (1235-1315), edited by the Franciscan Bernard de Lavinheta (c.1517).
The work opens with the premise that health is determined by the balance of four elements, fire hot and dry, the air hot and humid, the water cold and wet and the earth dry and warm. Regarding the astrological studies applied to the medical art, Bruno gave to the world a vision of nature alive full of magic and spirituality.
In popular culture the Greek Muses are seen as representations of artistic inspiration. Writers, and especially poets, are keen to express their mysterious source of insights as a territory inhabited by their muse. Dante, feeling fragile and forlorn as he enters the Inferno laments, “O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!” This may all seem a bit of classical allegory; harmless but slightly anachronistic for our age. However, I think the Muses are symbols of something far more important.
Let's firstly look at a list of the nine Muses and their respective arts:
Calliope - Epic poetry
Clio - History
Erato - Lyric poetry
Euterpe - Music
Melpomene - Tragedy
Polyhymnia - Choral poetry
Terpsichore - Dance
Thalia - Comedy
You're living as part of a small band of hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago in what will later become France. How do you explain the fact that a stone, when dropped, falls to the earth? How do you even begin to think about gravity?
People sometimes wrinkle their noses when, in the context of explaining the meaning of the word 'theory' in science, you talk about the 'theory of gravity'. Gravity is a fact, isn't it? But from our 21st century perspective, we take too much of 2000 years of theoretical developments for granted. So try to imagine how you would even begin to think about gravity if you were living in a cave 30,000 years ago.
With the first decade of the millennium coming to a close, it is time to take stock. What have 'The Noughties' brought us in terms of scientific advances?
No more sifting through unsanitary goat knuckles, searching for abstractions in tealeaves, shaking the Mattel magic eight ball, listening to Yellow Submarine backwards, or trudging India’s highlands in search of infamously reclusive gurus—instead, look no further for answers than Les Propheties, the 1555 work of Michel de Nostradame.
The coolest science conference of the 20th century was, hands down, the 1927 Solvay conference. Occurring during one of the most intense periods in the development of quantum mechanics, and attended by some of the most famous scientists in history, this meeting is especially well known for the sparring between Einstein and Bohr.
A friend on a newsgroup went recently to see the "Creation" fim / movie. He'd like to know what the folks on Scientific Blogging think of it (I presume it's being shown across the pond, also.) He writes:
Went to see the film the other night. Not quite what I expected and to some extent disappointed as it was very much an interpretation of Darwin (and Huxley), which didn't always fit in with the biographies of Darwin I've read.
Huxley had a walk on part and the actor who played him made him look like a dwarf and a stooge to Hooker.
With what words he did say, I'm not sure whether many people would be able to differentiate between his anti-clericalism and an anti God stance.
I’ve been putting the case for some months now, that evolutionary biology is in a deplorable state due to an uncritical acceptance of the unrealistic assumptions that lie at the heart of selfish gene theory, by those who are directing current research. (See also Gerhard Adam’s articles on Hamilton’s Rule, Selfish Gene Theory, and Biology.) Contributing biologists have responded by telling me that my fears are groundless, that biology has moved on, that the influence of selfish gene theory has waned, that I should concentrate on the current literature and not dwell on the past. So I went to the trouble of checking out the Oxford University Zoology Department’s very good selection of papers available online, that deal with current research in this area.