Today, I woke up to the news that twelve new moons had been found orbiting Jupiter. According to an article in the National Geographic, it seems that a group of astronomers were looking for a hypothetical planet on the far fringes of our solar system, when they came across these twelve new moons dancing around Jupiter instead.
The discovery left me feeling somehow uneasy, wondering what we are looking for when we look out there, how we are prepared for the unexpected, and what really happens by accident, as opposed to by some mysterious cosmic plan of the universe. Science and religion, or rather being caught in the limbo in between. And so I turned to our books.
In What Galileo Saw, author Lawrence Lipking illustrates the blurry line between artistic imagination and rational thought, capturing how they both interplayed in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. It is a new perspective into the creative minds of those who shaped new visions of science during a turning point in human history, with eye-opening discoveries in cosmology, natural history, engineering, and more.
Granted, we are far from that seventeenth-century society that believed in witchcraft and the presence of the devil, but like Galileo, Kepler, Descartes or Hook, astronomical discoveries in the twenty-first century come at the expense of overcoming other obstacles. After all, as the National Geographic article explains, tracking dim dots in the sky requires powerful telescopes, and Jupiter presents its own demons, with intense brightness and glare that can easily obscure such tiny, faint moons.
When Galileo saw the face of the Moon and the moons of Jupiter, Lipking writes, he had to picture a cosmos that could account for them. Kepler thought his geometry could open a window into the mind of God. Francis Bacon’s natural history envisioned an order of things that would replace the illusions of language with solid evidence and transform notions of life and death. Descartes designed a hypothetical “Book of Nature” to explain how everything in the universe was constructed. Thomas Browne reconceived the boundaries of truth and error. Robert Hooke, like Leonardo, was both researcher and artist; his schemes illuminate the microscopic and the macrocosmic. And when Isaac Newton imagined nature as a coherent and comprehensive mathematical system he redefined the goals of science and the meaning of genius.
What Galileo Saw bridges the divide between science and art; it brings together Galileo and Milton, Bacon and Shakespeare. Check out this Cornell Press title and enter the workshops where the Scientific Revolution was fashioned, drawing on art, literature, and the history of science to reimagine how perceptions about the world and human life could change so drastically, and change forever.
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She often looks at the sky in search for answers to existential questions and also, to be reminded of how little we humans are.