Margaret Wertheim on Science and God

“Centuries after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, contemplated the relationship between science and religion, and decades after Carl Sagan did the same in his exquisite Varieties of Scientific Experience, physicist-turned-science-writer Margaret Wertheim offers perhaps the most elegant and emboldening reconciliation of these two frequently contrasted approaches to the human longing for truth and meaning.

“Wertheim is the creator of the PBS documentary Faith and Reason, author of deeply thoughtful books like Pythagoras’s Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender War and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, and cofounder of The Institute for Figuring — ‘an organization dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science, mathematics and engineering’.”

“[Wertheim:] ‘I don’t know that I believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. But my favorite book is the Divine Comedy. And at the end of the Divine Comedy, Dante pierces the skin of the universe and comes face-to-face with the love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe in Dante’s vision.'”   –Maria Popova, “Dante and the Eternal Quest for Nonreligious Divinity,” Brainpickings, 2015

See the full article here.

Dante’s Inferno Science

“How can a knowledge of physics, earth science and astronomy enrich a reader’s understanding and experience of this classic work of Western Literature? How can reading classic Western Literature enrich a student’s understanding and experience of science? In this lesson I aim to bring science to the reader of poetry – and poetry to the student of science…  Dante travels through the centre of the Earth in the Inferno, and comments on the resulting change in the direction of gravity in Canto XXXIV (lines 76–120).” […]  —KaiserScience

Contributed by Madisen Pool (University of Kansas, 2019)

Mark Levinson, Particle Fever (2013)

Particle-Fever-LAC-doc-Circle-art-poster-Dante“For the first time, a film gives audiences a front row seat to a significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens. Particle Fever follows six brilliant scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, marking the start-up of the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet, pushing the edge of human innovation. […]

“Directed by Mark Levinson, a physicist turned filmmaker, from the inspiration and initiative of producer David Kaplan and masterfully edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Godfather trilogy), Particle Fever is a celebration of discovery, revealing the very human stories behind this epic machine.”

During the course of the documentary (released in 2013), particle scientist Fabiola Gianotti quotes Inferno 26: “fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.”

For more on the film, including links to the official trailer, still photos, and video clips, see the official film website.

Contributed by Yuhan Jin (Notre Dame, ’15)

Measuring Hell


Click Images above to watch full video.

“…Given his devotion to empirical fact, it seems odd to think that Galileo’s most important ideas might have their roots not in the real world, but in a fictional one. But that’s the argument that Mount Holyoke College physics professor Mark Peterson has been developing for the past several years: specifically, that one of Galileo’s crucial contributions to physics came from measuring the hell of Dante’s Inferno. Or rather, from disproving its measurements.
In 1588, when Galileo was a 24-year-old unknown, a medical school dropout, he was invited to deliver a couple of lectures on Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Many in Galileo’s audience would have been shocked, even dismayed, to see this young upstart take the stage and start poking holes in what they believed about the poet’s meticulously constructed fantasy world.
Ever since its 1314 publication, scholars had toiled to map the physical features of Dante’s Inferno — the blasted valleys and caverns, the roiling rivers of fire. What Galileo said, put simply, is that many commonly accepted dimensions did not stand up to mathematical scrutiny. Using complex geometrical analysis, he attacked a leading scholar’s version of the Inferno’s structure, pointing out that his description of the infernal architecture — such as the massive cylinders descending to the center of the Earth — would, in real life, collapse under their own weight. Later, Galileo realized the leading rival theory was wrong, too, and that even the greatest scholars of the time simply didn’t understand how real-world structures worked.” [. . .]   –Christ Wright, Boston Globe, January 9, 2011

See Mark Peterson’s forthcoming book: Galileo’s Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

Janet Jensen, “Dante’s Equation” (2006)

janet-jensen-dantes-equation-2006“Science and sci-fi go hand in hand in this ambitious, if not entirely successful, thriller by Jensen (Millennium Rising), which incorporates elements of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) as well as theoretical physics. During WWII, physicist and mystic Rabbi Yosef Kobinski vanished from Auschwitz in a blinding flash of light. Kobinski left behind at the camp his Kabbalist masterpiece, The Book of Torment, to be buried for safekeeping. Half a century later, a Jerusalem rabbi and an American journalist are trying to find it.”    –Publishers Weekly, Amazon