Monday, March 31, 2003

Back from skiiing which was very hard work as I am having great trouble turning right. Have to try again next year.

At least I got some reading done. The Lewis book was really helpful as it sought to explain the medieval workview. You need to have this in mind when reading old literature and also understand how it fitted together. The key point is that the way they saw the world was entirely rational in their own terms and consistent with what they knew. It actually made a lot more sense than the purposeless and blind universe of modern science. The book contained lots of useful stuff for putting Copernicus in context even though it is largely about literature.

Finally found out where the analogy of the net that can't catch small fish comes from: it isn't Wittgenstein but Arthur Eddington from the Philosophy of Physical Science (at least according to this week's TLS). I need to get an exact reference for my Dialogue on Natural Theology.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Off skiing for a week in the Alps. This is only my second time but I hope for a refreshing week when my brain can have a rest and my body get seriously exercised. Have to decide what books to bring. I am reading Anthony Grafton's Cardano's Cosmos which is about the life of a sixteenth century astrologer with an ego the size of a planet. Very interesting but entirely text based - there is nearly no historical context beyond what Cardano himself wrote. After that I thought I would bring Emma as I have never read it and CS Lewis's The Discarded Image which is an introduction to medieval literature. It is often forgotten he was a distinguished professor of European literature at both Oxford and Cambridge as well as an apologist and novelist. If I have any time left I also want to start on the second part of Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell but that might have to wait.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Not updating this as often as I thought I might. I have been translating some Latin sources on medieval academics who got into trouble with the church. There are not very many at all but one, Cecco d'Ascoli, got burnt at the stake for relapsing into heresy after he had already got into trouble before. He was a professor of astrology at Bologna university but his heresy is not quite clear. A later inquisitor says he was claiming that Jesus's life was determined by the stars he was born under - that is that God himself had no freedom from the influence of the stars. Certainly, Cecco was no scientist and no martyr for reason, despite what some anti-Christian polemicists have claimed. And he appears to have been the only natural philosopher to be burnt by the Church in the Middle Ages and it is clear that the dispute was about theology not science.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Another nice web site from the Wayne Church of Christ, this time on the text of the bible and other stuff. It is a useful introduction to the way the text has been transmitted and just what those of us who do not know our Western from our Byzantine text need read. Other useful articles include one on using textual criticism to analyse the puzzle surrounding the end of Mark. I think I shall be linking some of this up to my own writings on the origins of the New Testament.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Found a great website called Non - contradiction. It is a learned site all about Aristotle and contains English translations of much of his work and lots of other stuff too. I have already used it to search for an argument used by Copernicus that I suspected was from Aristotle. All right, so a long dead philosopher is not everyone's cup of tea but for us people interested in early science, he is The Philosopher who was almost seen as the font of wisdom in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

On Question of Sport on BBC 1 last Friday, the panel had to work out which balls, shuttlecocks, darts etc were heaviest. In order to work this out, both sides dropped the objects to see which landed first. It's amazing that five centuries after Galileo, ordinary people are still Aristotelians at heart. I remember some footage at school of an astronaut on the moon dropping a feather and hammer and both landing at the same time (which happens as there is no air resistance on the moon). Perhaps that snippet of film needs a wider public.

Monday, March 03, 2003

There was a good programme on BBC 2 on Saturday night (yes, it's sad but I wasn't down the pub). It was based on the research reported in this newspaper story involving Newton's alchemy and religious prophecies. According to one of the contributors he was a religious fanatic. What was interesting is that it was one of the first times that TV has dared debunk the positivist 'scientism' view of history and admit that great scientists simply do not measure up to the modern rationalist ideas that they are usually judged on. See my school report for Newton below. One of the academics on the programme sent around an email saying he had been pursued by science journalists incredulous that their entire view of Newton had been shattered. Not a bad result.
I've decided that the essay for the Renaissance science course will be on Copernicus as I want to read some more on it. The essay title asks about the different sorts of arguments and evidence he uses which is fascinating stuff. Basically, if you try to imagine Cop as a modern scientist you are going to come badly unstauck because although he has this revolutionary idea - the justification for it is almost entirely medieval. Hopefully I'll be able to bring in what I've read on scholasticism and religious discipline as well. I don't think Cop was woriied about censure from the church but rather from his fellow academics. To them, heliocentricism seemed as daft as creationism does to Richard Dawkins and they could certainly have made things uncomfortable. But Cop was never in any danger from the Inquisition and delayed publishing for intellectual rather than religious reasons as his manuscripts (rediscovered in the 19th century) prove.