Category Archives: Odds and Ends

The Renaissance Mathematicus Roadshow

Next week the Renaissance Mathematicus will be undertaking a mini-tour of Berlin to hold two semi-popular public lectures, in German. Actually it’s the same lecture on the history of the calendar and the calendar reform held twice. On Tuesday I shall be entertaining the good folks at the Urania Berlin e.V. at 17:30 and on Wednesday those at the Wilhelm-Foerster-Sternwarte mit Planetarium am Insulaner Berlin at 20:00.

If you are in Berlin and should you wish to experience The Renaissance Mathematicus in real live Technicolor, living, breathing and even talking then please come along. If you would like to meet up for a chat, coffee or whatever then leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch.

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A change in terminology

A public service announcement:

 

Effective as of today The Hordes of Pharyngula will henceforth be known as The Gnu Model Army: Defenders of the Faith of Scientific Puritanism (F.D. Sci-Pu)

 

H/T  The ever erudite and effervescently witty Ian H. Spedding FCD

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Only nine blogging days to GS #27

I have been neglecting my duties as newly appointed junior Giants’ Shoulders slave. There remain just NINE shopping days till Christmas days for all of you historians of science to formulate, file and finish your masterpieces on “fools, failures and frauds” in sciences for the special 27th editions of the Giants’ Shoulders history of science carnival. When you have fabulated your fantastic offers you can submit them either directly to this months hot host scicurious or here at the blog carnivals’ site.

Two related items: Darin at PACHS has put together an interesting survey on The Giants’ Shoulders and our favourite Darwinian Bulldoggie has put together an awesome list of history of science blogs.

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Not only the press!

The Plato/Pythagoras paper, the press reports on which I criticised yesterday was written by Dr. John Bernard Kennedy of Manchester University who according to his own description has pretty impressive credentials:

I studied mathematics and computers at Princeton. My doctorate is in philosophy from Stanford University, with a specialty in the history and philosophy of mathematical physics. My advisors were Nancy Cartwright, Peter Galison, and John Dupre. I also studied Greek philosophy with Julius Moravcsik, Jean Hampton, and Wilbur Knorr. I was a student for a year at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. I was an assistant professor at Notre Dame University for three years and spent a year doing research at Cambridge University, where I was the principal investigator with an NSF grant, before moving to Manchester University.

These are posted on the web site that he has set up to explain his thesis. Unfortunately he also includes the following in his introduction to the subject:

The two most surprising ideas in Plato’s hidden philosophy may be explained simply. First, the musical and mathematical structures he hid in his writings show that he was committed to the radical idea that the universe is controlled not by the gods on Olympus but by mathematical and scientific law. Today we take it for granted that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, but it was a dangerous and heretical idea when it struggled for acceptance in the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake and Galileo was condemned and imprisoned. After Socrates was executed for sowing doubts about Greek religion, Plato had every reason to hide his commitment to a scientific view of the cosmos.  But we now know that Plato anticipated the key idea of the Scientific Revolution by some 2000 years. (My emphasis)

I dealt with the supposed anticipation of the scientific revolution by Plato yesterday and now wish to deal with the section that I have emphasised above. If this had been written by one of the denizens of the Pharyngoogoo comment column or a similar intertube cesspit I would not have been surprised but coming from a genuine historian of science this section almost left me speechless.

Where to begin? The idea that the book of nature is written* in the language of mathematics was never dangerous or heretical and nobody was ever persecuted for it by anybody and to claim otherwise is unsubstantiated codswallop. Galileo was condemned and imprisoned for “vehement suspicion of heresy” for having broken the injunction he received in 1616 not to teach or claim that the earth goes round the sun, mathematics had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The inclusion of Bruno in the quote above is positively obscene. Firstly as I have almost certainly pointed out at least a zillion times on various intertube comment columns Bruno was immolated for his theology and not for any scientific theories he might or might not have held. Secondly Bruno famously rejected the mathematisation of natural philosophy that was developing at the end of the 16th century, not exactly the person to name as a martyr for mathematics.

I love experts!

*Thanks to Mike for pointing out that something was missing from this sentence!

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Don’t you just love journalists?

Heterodoxology an essential blog for anyone interested in the occult sciences in the Early Modern Period has an interesting first report on a paper from the Manchester University researcher J. B. Kennedy claiming to have found a Pythagorean sub-text in the works of Plato. I must admit that I’m very sceptical about what I have read so far but will reserve judgement until I have read the paper for myself. However Heterodoxology links to a couple of journalistic reports on the paper that contain a claim that make my toes curl up.

The Guardian offers the following:

Plato is revealed to be a Pythagorean who understood the basic structure of the universe to be mathematical, anticipating the scientific revolution of Galileo and Newton by 2,000 years.

Scientific Blogging offers us this:

Kennedy says the hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important concept – that nature is written in the language of mathematics.

These few lines contain so much crap that I’m not really sure where to start. The earliest generation of heavyweight historians of science in the 20th century claimed that the scientific revolution came about because, during the Renaissance, Neo-Platonic philosophy replaced Aristotelian philosophy, emphasising that this was a mathematical Pythagorean Neo-Platonism and not the ethical or religious Parmenidean Neo-Platonism characteristic of the 3rd century CE. The theory here is that far from anticipating the scientific revolution the Pythagorean Plato triggered it, a theory that I largely reject. So what please is supposedly new here?

Also the gap between the very mystical assumption of the Pythagoreans that the natural numbers are the building blocks of the universe and the mathematisation of physics that took place in the 17th and 18th century is a chasm against which the Grand Canyon dwindles into total insignificance.

Finally, at least the Guardian deigned to mention Galileo alongside Newton although both sources ignore Kepler who posited a mathematical God and a geometrical universe before both of them, not to mention the many mathematicians in the 15th and 16th centuries who worked under the same assumption but Scientific Blogging manages to combine the name of Newton with, perhaps, the most often quoted line that Galileo ever wrote (even if it’s only a paraphrase).

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Filed under Myths of Science, Odds and Ends

Justifying my existence.

Jennifer Rohn at Mind the Gap has a post that using a modern example illustrates the raison d’être for a large number of the things that I write about and post here. The little guys also matter.

H/t to the Albino Aussie AnthropoidTM

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Thank God for experts

During a roundtable discussion on German television (ARD) one of the so-called football experts in answer to the question why the top South American teams have been performing so much better than their European opposite numbers suggested that it was because being from South American they didn’t suffer from the time difference problems that the Europeans have in South Africa!

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