Almagest: Vol. IV, Issue 1

Table of contents and abstracts, Almagest 4-1, May 2013

Michela Malpangotto
La critique de l’univers de Peurbach développée par Albert de Brudzewo a-t-elle influencé Copernic ? Un nouveau regard sur les réflexions astronomiques au XVe siècle.

Abstract: In 1454 Georg Peurbach teaches astronomy at the Collegium Civium in Wien by reading a work of his own: the Theoricae novae planetarum. Intended to replace the old Theorica planetarum communis which had dominated the mediaeval culture, this new book is very soon adopted in the major universities of Europe and enjoys a broad diffusion being published, studied and taught up to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Among the numerous commentaries which have been preserved –both in manuscript and printed form– the tradition of the Cracow University, started by Albert of Brudzewo, distinguishes itself because it submit Peurbach’s contribution to a subtle critique which, while recognizing the merits to which its large acceptance is due, focuses also its limits. In the name of the reality of the celestial world, Brudzewo critiques the presence, in the universe of the Theoricae, of abstract entities like the equant and the mean apogee, to which the uniformity of the movements must be referred according to an active interaction with the “real” orbs. In the name of the celestial perfection, he grasps the weaknesses and incoherences of Peurbach’s universe and arrives, ultimately, to question this point of view which acts as the mean between the real celestial world and the way it appear to an observer. In this paper, I will try to show that what was strongly supported by Brudzewo as a requirement which must be respected –i.e. the perfect uniformity and circularity of celestial movements– becomes, in Copernicus, the reason to research an alternative solution: “a more reasonable model composed of circles from which every apparent irregularity would follow while everything in itself moved uniformly, just as the principle of perfect motion requires”. So, the better known among the students of the Cracow school proves that it is not only possible, but even necessary to make astronomy from a new point of view.

Noël Golvers
A note on the ‘machine of Roemer’ in late-17th century China, Antoine Thomas, SJ, and the first contacts of Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ, with the Jesuits in Paris (11/02.2013).

Abstract: This contribution focuses on a detail of Jesuit astronomy (especially eclipse observation) in China, viz. the introduction of new instruments such as the “machine de Roemer”: arguments are offered to prove that its introduction in China is not to be attributed to the “mathématiciens du Roy” (arr. in 1688), as it was apparently known to Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. (Head of the Astronomical Bureau/Qintianjian) in 1682. When trying to reconstruct the “route” followed by this innovation, again the figure of Antoine Thomas, S.J. (1644-1709) – “assistant”’ and later first successor of Verbiest at the Astronomical Bureau - comes to the fore, who may have got acquaintance with this innovation through the issue of 1682 of Journal des sçavans, not in Peking, but in Macau. This is a new element, which shows again the important (but silent) part Thomas played in the communication of astronomical novelties, printings etc. from Europe to China, and vice-versa.

Sonja Brentjes
Narratives of knowledge in Islamic societies: what do they tell us about scholars and their contexts?

Abstract: Current history of science, including cartography and geography, in Islamic societies has lost its mainstream status that it occupied some decades ago. The major reason for this unfortunate development is the change of what constitutes mainstream today in comparison to the past. Mainstream history of science in other than Islamic societies is much more focused on the study of the sciences in culture than on the study of the content of scientific texts or instruments alone. Moreover, numerous of its representatives apply various theory-based approaches and methods taken from other humanities and other fields of the historical sciences. Historians of science in Islamic societies have refused to engage in a productive manner with these newer developments and hence have found themselves marginalized with high costs for subsequent generations in the field. Some newer developments in the US indicate that younger scholars have taken up the challenge. It is, however, too early to judge whether this will lead to a renewed recovery of mainstream positions.

On the other hand, mainstream history of science in other than Islamic societies is plagued by problems caused by its shift to new grazing grounds. In many cases, the specialized training as historians of science has caused a loss of qualification characteristic for previous generations in the field ˗ a more than fleeting familiarity with at least one of the sciences and a knowledge of more than their native language/s. Some of this equally unfortunate development has caught on in history of science in Islamic societies with the worrisome result of an empty rhetoric.

Hence, for me this new rhetorical kind of history of science holds little promise. I am more attracted by the challenge of the first generation of colleagues who made context, culture and theory mainstream in history of science. I think history of science in Islamic societies has still to go a very long way to reach their level of skills and sophisticated insights. The subject of my talk to the workshop on how to become mainstream was chosen to discuss one of the many possibilities to advance on that road. Hence my paper will offer some observations and reflections on narratives of knowledge in Islamic societies and possibilities for uncovering what they meant for their narrators and their audiences.

Rinat M. Nugayev
The Ptolemy – Copernicus transition: intertheoric context.

Abstract: The Ptolemy-Copernicus transition is analyzed in the intertheoretic context provided by an analogy between the Copernican revolution and the Einsteinian one. In the case of Einstein’s revolution it was argued that its cause consisted in the clash between the main research programmes of classical physics: Newtonian mechanics, Maxwellian electrodynamics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. In the present paper it is demonstrated that the Ptolemy-Copernicus transition is similar to the Lorentz-Einstein one with Lorentz playing the Ptolemy role and Einstein – the role of Copernicus. Just as Lorentz’s “theory of electrons” of the second half of the 19th century can be evaluated as a dual theoretical scheme mixing Newtonian mechanics with maxwellian electrodynamics, one can evaluate Ptolemaic cosmology as a dual theoretical scheme mixing the principles of “Platonic mathematics” with those of “Aristotelian physics”. Analogously to the Einsteinian revolution, it is argued that the Copernican one can be considered as a realization of the dualism between mathematical astronomy and Aristotelian qualitative physics and the corresponding gradual efforts to eliminate it. Hence the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton can be comprehended as the stages of the mathematics descendance from skies to earth and reciprocal extrapolation of earth physics on divine phenomena.