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Jokes of Nature and Jokes of Knowledge: The Playfulness of Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Europe*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Paula Findlen*
University of California, Davis


During The Sixteenth And Seventeenth centuries natural history, and to a certain extent science in general, rediscovered its capacity for playfulness in the form of the scientific joke. By scientific joke, I mean the lusus naturae, or joke of nature, and the lusus scientiae, or joke of knowledge, that populated the museums and scientific texts of the period. The relation between the natural paradox of lusus and the scientific demonstrations and experiments that were also lusus points to the way in which the dynamic between art and nature and between collector and audience unfolded in the spectacle of science.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1990

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Aspects of this paper were presented at the Northern Californian Renaissance Conference, San Francisco State, 1987, and at the History of Science Society and British Society for the History of Science Anglo-American Conference, Manchester, England, 1988.1 would like to thank Cristelle Baskins, Lorraine Daston, William Eamon, Giuseppe Olmi, Katharine Park, and Randolph Starn for their comments and suggestions, and Anthony Grafton for his careful reading of the initial manuscript I submitted. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.


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