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Astronomers depend on light for their understanding of the cosmos beyond the confines of the Solar System. Many of the most exciting discoveries over the last couple of decades were made possible by new generations of cameras and telescopes, both on the ground and in space. The resulting observations captured the imagination not just of the scientists but also of the general public. Dr Crawford will discuss the new facilities anticipated coming online over the next ten years or so – how they’ll not only change our view of the Universe, but also alter the way we do Astronomy.
Arising from the 2019 Darwin College Lectures, this book presents essays from seven prominent public intellectuals on the theme of vision. Each author examines this theme through the lens of their own particular area of expertise, making for a lively interdisciplinary volume including chapters on neuroscience, colour perception, biological evolution, astronomy, the future of technology, computer vision, and the visionary core of science. Featuring contributions by professors of neuroscience Paul Fletcher and Anya Hurlbert, professor of zoology Dan-Eric Nilsson, the futurist Sophie Hackford, Microsoft distinguished scientist Andrew Blake, theoretical physicist and author Carlo Rovelli, and Dr Carolin Crawford, the Public Astronomer at the University of Cambridge, this volume will be of interest to anybody curious about how we see the world.
The majority of works written in Early Modern Morocco in the natural sciences remain in manuscript, which has made them difficult to access and evaluate. The chapter takes up astronomical, medical, and alchemical works to discuss the types of approaches scholars in Morocco used and the nature of the questions in which they were interested. Drawing on recent work in the field, it demonstrates that the occult sciences, including lettrism, were part and parcel of this project and that Moroccan scholars produced innovative syntheses and commentaries throughout the period in consideration.
This chapter sets out to explore the thesis that Plato, at least in his later years, in his efforts to identify the nature of his First Principle, was inclined to settle on the concept of a rational World Soul, with demiurgic functions, and that this was a doctrine that his faithful amanuensis in his last years, Philip of Opus, advanced on his own account, in the belief that in this he was developing the latest theories of his Master.
From the intergalactic dance of dark energy and gravity, to the push and pull of our sun’s protonic plasma, to the ebb and flow of Earth’s winds and waves, a series of delicate balances supports life on our “Goldilocks Planet.” A nice balance of gravity's pull and dark energy's push resulted in a rich quilt of galaxies and stars, with us ending up in a comfortable Green galaxy, in a prime-mid spiral section of the Milky Way galaxy, rotating around a nice sun (not too close, not too far) gently emitting in the yellow part of the energy spectrum. A healthy quantity of atmosphere and greenhouse gasses, along with the Van Allen belts, keeps out most high-energy particles and maintains a reasonable temperature. The Hadley and Walker Circulations pitch in, creating clockwise rotating circulation cells in and over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, transporting heat away from the equator and depositing it in poleward latitudes. These circulations bring life-giving moisture to the continents, supporting abundant life. Note, however, that the manual for Spaceship Earth does not contain a warranty. Right there on the cover, next to the red “Don't Panic” logo, is emblazoned “No Returns If Opened.”
Here, framed in the context of a humorous story, we learn about the electromagnetic spectrum, entropy, negentropy, and available potential energy. We learn to see stars as tremendous gravity-driven concentrations of matter and energy, uniquely capable of supporting increased complexity and life on our planet. Seen from this perspective, the vast empty reaches of space allow for the formation of stars, which in turn support life. Energetically closed systems are doomed to entropic heat death, as mixing drives the system inexorably toward a boring end. But energetically open systems, like the Earth, absorb solar radiation and turn it into growing complexity on a planet hovering in a “magic” and narrow temperature range. This “negentropic” system can evolve over time. This increasing complexity arises because this incoming energy supports temperature gradients that drive weather and climate systems. Climate change adds more energy, and this extra energy can create more intense gradients, and more intense weather and climate events. Understanding this simple fact improves our ability to recognize and predict the dangerous impacts occurring now. At large scales, exceptionally warm tropical waters drive drought-inducing semi-global rainfall disruptions. At regional scales, warmer Ocean and atmosphere conditions can lead to more intense storms and hurricanes. As more energy moves through our Earth system, we are experiencing more extreme weather and climate.
The transfer of the Cape to British control in 1806 gave the region new geopolitical prominence and the Cape sea-route more importance as the colonial authorities sought to consolidate control of the hinterland. British colonisers legitimated their presence in the region by insisting on their commitment to civilisation, progress, better governance and scientific accomplishment. This included conquest of the Xhosa, the British settlement programme in 1820, and scientific institutions. African kingdoms were also changing rapidly as they absorbed new military technologies such as horses and firearms. In the 1820s, a Royal Observatory was sited at Cape Town to expand knowledge of astronomy in the southern hemisphere and help with navigation and mapping. In the first half of the nineteenth century, scientific networks and associations gained footholds in local colonial society leading to the establishment of a natural history museum, the revival of the botanical garden and zoological expeditions. Geological exploration revealed fossils in the Karoo, prompting new thinking about the age of the earth. Flints and middens helped to catalyse archaeology as a field of interest – as did rock art. The science of race, which slip-streamed in Darwin’s wake, was given impetus by imperial conquest in South Africa.
The post-apartheid ANC government took pride in repurposing the country as a modern, democratic state and promoted a vision of science and technology for the common good. Astronomy was a particular beneficiary of the new dispensation. The Southern African Large Telescope at Sutherland was part of the dividend resulting from the country’s transition to democracy and the decommissioning of nuclear weaponry. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, advocated national renewal through an ‘African Renaissance’ that promoted both indigenous knowledge and scientific ambition. Mbeki’s suspicion of the authority of Western science and his Africanist affinities impelled him to intervene in the controversy surrounding HIV/AIDS and to support AIDs denialism. It has often been alleged that Mbeki was caught between ‘indigenous’ and ‘Western’ knowledge, yet his scientific legacy was more complex. In fields such as ethno-botany, for instance, there is evidence of complementary research in post-apartheid South Africa between scientists and carriers of African knowledge of plant medicines. The process of developing a new spirit of ‘South Africanism’ in the post-apartheid rainbow nation meant greater openness to South Africa’s position as an African nation, while also inviting bids leadership of Africa through ‘big science’ initiatives like astronomy and Antarctic research.
In 1632, the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-642) was placed on trial by the Roman Inquisition for daring to claim that the Earth moved. Since then, many people have interpreted this encounter as a battle between science and religion. The story of how Galileo arrived in front of the Inquisition, however, is both more complicated and more interesting than one of simple conflict. When Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-543) suggested that the Earth moved around the Sun in his De revolutionibus of 1543, he launched a debate about more than the structure of the universe. His work called into question the legitimacy of traditional beliefs, and ultimately led Galileo to argue that he, not the theologians of the Catholic Church, had the right to study and interpret the natural world. It was a far more radical position than those taken by other astronomers, like Tycho Brahe (1546-601) and Johannes Kepler (1571-630), who proposed models of the cosmos inspired by religious faith. More than anything, Galileo’s story centers around a single question: Who should have the authority to proclaim the nature of reality?
In his commentary on Nicomachus’ Introduction to Arithmetic, John Philoponus explains the role that mathematics, and hence harmonics, play in Platonic philosophy, as redefined by the Neoplatonists. There are two main issues regarding harmonics. The first issue: harmonics is one of the mathematical sciences that lead to the knowledge of divine and absolutely immaterial entities; but harmonics also concerns other mathematical disciplines, because there is an astronomical harmony, that is, the harmony of the revolution of the stars, and there is a geometric harmony, that is, the cube, one of the Platonic solids that are the constitutive elements of the physical world as a geometric model of equality. The second issue: there exists a harmonic proportion, already known to the Pythagoreans, Plato and Aristotle. Both these aspects in Philoponus’ study of harmonics have a common denominator, namely the fact that, as Plato teaches in the Timaeus, the universe, its soul and human souls have a numerical structure based on the relationship between two principles, that is, equality and inequality. But harmonics is precisely the mathematical science of relationship. Therefore, harmonics has a privileged place in the Neoplatonic philosophical system, as Philoponus’ commentary worthily testifies.
Focusing on the examples of astrology, astronomy, and cometography, this essay investigates the historical intellectual connections between the so-called scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, religious reformism, and metaphysics. It argues that it was the strong voluntarism, in particular the strong belief in the sovereignty of divine providence, that Calvinism inherited from late medieval metaphysical nominalism that led to the rise of modern empiricism, the breakdown of Ptolemaic cosmology, and the ancient science of astrology, thus preparing the way for a new heliocentric and mechanistic understanding of the universe.
The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of Giordano Bruno’s conception of mathematics. Specifically, it intends to highlight two aspects of this conception that have been neglected in previous studies. First, Bruno’s conception of mathematics changed over time and in parallel with another concept that was central to his thought: the concept of infinity. Specifically, Bruno undertook a reform of mathematics in order to accommodate the concept of the infinitely small or “minimum,” which was introduced at a later stage. Second, contrary to what Héléne Védrine claimed, Bruno believed that mathematical objects were mind-dependent. To chart the parallel development of the conceptions of mathematics and infinity, a seven-year time span is considered, from the publication of Bruno’s first Italian dialogue (La cena de le ceneri, 1584) to the publication of one of his last Latin works (De minimo, 1591).
The medieval expression of Jewish esotericism known as Kabbalah is distinguished by its imaging of the divine as ten hypostatic sefirot that structure the Godhead and generate the cosmos. Since Gershom Scholem, the preeminent twentieth-century scholar of Kabbalah, declared the term sefirah (sg.) as deriving from “sapphire”—pointedly rejecting its connection to the Greek σφαῖρα—scholars have paid scant attention to the profound indebtedness of the visual and verbal lexicon of the kabbalists to the Greco-Arabic scientific tradition. The present paper seeks to redress this neglect through an examination of the appropriation of the diagrammatic-iconographical and rhetorical languages of astronomy and natural philosophy in medieval and early modern kabbalistic discourse. This study will place particular emphasis on the adoption-adaptation and ontologization of the dominant schemata of these most prestigious fields of medieval science by classical kabbalists, what it reveals about their self-understanding, and how it contributed to the perception of Kabbalah as a “divine science” well into the early modern period.
We explain science, both the idealised version to which scientists aspire, and the real version that involves actual human beings. If you are a cosmic revolutionary, who wants to replace the prevailing big bang theory with their own ideas, we explain the importance of mathematical models, publishing, peer review and presentation of your ideas. In particular, we show how to make scientist's human motivations work in your favour.
The universe is smooth on the largest scales, with roughly the same number of galaxies in every large cosmic neighbourhood. But the standard history of the universe won't allow any process to smooth out an initially smooth universe. An addition to the standard model, called cosmic inflation, aims to fill this void.