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Maps, Moons, Illusions and the Integrated Life

I’ve been paging through What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution by Lawrence Lipking, a literature/humanities professor at Northwestern. The book’s big idea is that the Scientific Revolution was only possible because of a synergy of imagination between science, poetry, observation and the arts. Galileo was not simply what we would, today, call a “scientist;” Yes, he looked at the stars through a telescope, but he also painted and sketched, he wrote prose, poetry, and essays, he manufactured and created.

Lipking notes that contemporaries of Galileo looked through similar telescopes at the same moon and made similar observations about the moon’s surface, yet because of Galileo’s unique perspective and artistic imagination, he was able to assemble his observations in such a way that radically affected the cosmological understanding of his day and shifted the course of scientific discovery.

This key moment of intellectual progress was brought about by a beautiful integration of science and art and imagination. 

I love it and have been chewing on this all week. There are all kinds of implications here for how we shift from disintegration and compartmentalization to a holistic and integrated perspective on life and the world around us.

Here’s a few quotes from What Galileo Saw (Cornell Press, 2014) that got my attention and have stuck with me.

“Eventually the story of a war between imagination and science became so powerful that it divided the world.”

“Again and again the work of scientists has resulted in new ways of imaging life and the world. This process is not an abnegation of science but part of science itself.”

“To see things is to change them.”

“The history of the arts keeps pace with technical advances: the laws of perspective, the camera obscura, photography, film stock, computer imaging. In this respect, one might argue that in practice science continually joins with art to reenchant the world.

“A map is not, nor is it intended to be, the thing it represents. Instead of an illusion of reality, it offers a scheme of relations, in which the often muddled shapes and vistas that meet the eye resolve into intelligible and clearly distinguished marks and points.

The above quotes are from a pre-publication copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.


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