Renaissance Part Three

Exploring the Creativity of the Renaissance Scientist.

The main thrust of this unit will be in guiding students through an interdisciplinary experience of science, trying to recapture the sense of wonder and discovery that scientists of the Renaissance may have felt.

Our perception, even stereotype, of the scientist as a rationalist interested only in quantity and quantitative relationships is one that the scientists of the Renaissance would have found strange. The Renaissance scientists, while serious men of science and disciples of the “new learning,” could be speculative, philosophical, even mystical at times.

Unit One: Opticks

Among the many things the science of the Renaissance started to see with new eyes was the phenomena of light. How does it work? What is it? This unit starts students on an exploration into the phenomenonlogy of light.

Unit Two: Changing Views of the Universe

Arguably one of the most profound paradigm shifts in recorded history is found in the radical change from a geocentric understanding of the universe to a heliocentric one. This unit helps guide students through this important change of perspective.

Unit Three: The Music of the Spheres

The study of the art of science would not be complete without a unit concerning music, and the legendary music of the spheres is par excellence the summit of this unit.The concept of the music of the spheres, also known as the harmony of the universe, is not a concept that was introduced in the Renaissance. Like many other fields of inquiry of the Renaissance, the concept was first introduced in Classical times. Plato mentions the singing of the muses from the planets in the last book of The Republic. In Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio,” a heavenly music only heard by the fortunate is likewise described. The concept goes back even before Plato to Pythagoras, whose school at Crotona included the study of geometry, mathematics, and geometry. In the Renaissance, natural philosophers such as Robert Fludd, Marsilio Ficino, and even Johannes Kepler believed that the music of the spheres existed.Just what the music of the spheres was or how it was supposed to occur was a matter of conjecture. Some thought that because the spheres were crystalline they should naturally possess a sound; just as any object of any size or shape would possess a unique sound. Some thought, as Plato imagines, that the sound arose from angelic beings or daemonarum. Kepler, who did not believe in the existence of physical spheres, nevertheless held that the spaces between the planets in their orbits corresponded to musical intervals. And this is only the scientists. The idea also inspired great moments of literature, such as Shakespeare’s “Sit, Jessica” speech in The Merchant of Venice and the theophany scene in Pericles. (See item). The overriding belief in the music of the spheres was that one could hear it only when one was “in tune” with the universe, in a moment of grace or beatitude.

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