The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet

“Cyberspace may seem an unlikely gateway for the soul. But as science commentator Margaret Wertheim argues in this ‘marvelously provocative’ (Kirkus Reviews) book, cyberspace has in recent years become a repository for immense spiritual yearning. Wertheim explores the mapping of spiritual desire onto digitized space and suggests that the modem today has become a metaphysical escape-hatch from a materialism that many people find increasingly dissatisfying. Cyberspace opens up a collective space beyond the laws of physics–a space where mind rather than matter reigns. This strange refuge returns us to an almost medieval dualism between a physical space of body and an immaterial space of mind and psyche.”   —Amazon, 2000

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.

“An Architect’s Vision of Dante’s Hell”

“Based in Campinas, Brazil, Paulo de Tarso Coutinho is a professional architect with a passion for Dante who created the following videos to visually represent the spatial issues in play in the Dantean conception of hell. Drawing on the early modern reception of the Commedia, including Antonio Manetti (1423-1497) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Coutinho incisively reads Dante’s infernal journey in architectural terms and shows how the form of the spiral is a necessary solution for the way that the space of hell is narrated in the poem. In similar fashion, his video of Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) illustration of hell puts an emphasis on the concrete, creating a cross-section of the globe to put this infernal model in real space and highlighting Botticelli’s idiosyncratic use of staircases to think through the mechanics of Dante’s descent. Coutinho’s work is an important way of showing the degree to which Dante’s poetry was infused by the real, martialing mathematical and scientific currents to narrate a space that would inspire the sort of reception by later artists and thinkers who sought to map it in precise geographical and spatiotemporal terms. As Coutinho shows, that process continues still.”   –Akash Kumar, Digital Dante, 2018

Check out the Digital Dante site to view the videos.

The Geological Features That Inspired Hell In Dante’s Divine Comedy

forbes-2016-geology-of-dante

“For a long time, the inner earth was a mysterious place – supposedly the reign of demons, home to ancient gods (like Pluto) and place of eternal damnation. Italian poet Dante Alighieri imagined an especially elaborate version of Hell in his Divine Comedy. He included in his description the nine circles of Hell, with Lucifer residing in the lowest, real landscapes and geological features. According to author Marco Romano, in the description of Dante’s Inferno we find earthquakes, rivers, mountains, landslides, a desert of scorching sand and even some types of rocks (like the famous marble of Carrara).

“Dante imagined Hell like an inverted cone, with its circles gradually becoming smaller nearer to Earth’s core. Each circle was dedicated to a sin and the sin’s related punishment. This image is based on calculations of Greek philosophers, like Eratosthenes of Cyrene or Claudius Ptolemy, who argued that Earth is a sphere. Hell, as part of earth, would have to be cone-shaped. Dante even gives an exact value of Earth’s radius of 3,250 miles (it’s actually 3,959 miles).” — David Bressan, Forbes, July 16, 2016

Read the full article here.

“Dante’s Cosmic Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno – the first part of The Divine Comedy – the poet describes Hell as a series of nine concentric circles, each representing an order of wickedness greater than the one that preceded it until finally arriving at the center of the Earth, where Satan is imprisoned. One might imagine his depiction of Hell as something like an infernal, subterranean solar system with locked Hellish loops acting as parallel universes of sin under the relentless pressure of poetic justice revolving around the embodiment of evil. As one might expect, the Inferno is filled with images of fire – the classical elemental symbol long associated with divine wrath and punishment – with unsettling and supernatural, near-animistic qualities. In Canto XII, for example, those who’ve committed acts of violence are condemned to eternal immersion in the river Phlegethon, described by Dante as consisting of boiling blood, but originally imagined by the Greeks as a river of fire: the name itself means ‘flaming.’ His other Hells are no less unpleasant.

“Had Dante been allowed access to, say, radio telescopes and modern technology, he might well have imagined justice being meted out to souls trapped on Hellish exoplanets: intemperate places – some worlds of fire, others of ice – where not even the faintest idea of life can persist amidst cosmic severity. ” [. . .]    –K.S. Anthony, Outer Places, July 11, 2018.

Check out the circles of Hell as planets on Outer Places.

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)

Robot Dante’s Voyage

“Following in the fictional footsteps of the poet Dante, who descended into hell in his Divine Comedy, a robot also named Dante will later this month descend into the inferno of Mount Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica. The eight-legged, spider-like robot, developed by two American universities and NASA, will gather data and samples from the hostile environment inside the volcano’s crater. At the same time, robotics researchers hope to gain valuable experience about how to build robots to explore the surfaces of other planets.” — Jonathan Beard, New Scientist, December 12, 1992

Read more of this article here.

From Dante’s Circles of Hell to Academic Freedom

From a 2018 profile of Swedish Diabetes Researcher Hindrik Mulder:

“After Haricots Verts [Mulder’s band] and during his studies in medicine, Hindrik Mulder began doing research at the Endocrinology Clinic in Malmö. His first stint there was not a success.

“‘Not at all. The clinic was like Dante’s circles of hell. If you were in the wrong circle – which you were as a young undergraduate – it wasn’t a nice place to be. It was hierarchical and old-fashioned,’ observes Hindrik Mulder, recalling the time he received a reprimand for not standing up when the professor entered the lab.

“‘At that point I decided I’d had enough and quit.’

“It’s understandable. This was not 100 years ago but in the late 1970s.”   –Tord Ajanki and Hanna Mellors, Lund University Diabetes Centre, December 10, 2018

Read the rest of the article here.

The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell

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For the descriptions of the sins, see Neuroskeptic’s full post on the Discover Magazine website.

The Beyond-Two-Degree Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno, he describes the nine circles of Hell, each dedicated to different sorts of sinners, with the outermost being occupied by those who didn’t know any better, and the innermost reserved for the most treacherous offenders. I wonder where in the nine circles Dante would place all of us who are borrowing against this Earth in the name of economic growth, accumulating an environmental debt by burning fossil fuels, the consequences of which will be left for our children and grandchildren to bear? Let’s act now, to save the next generations from the consequences of the beyond-two-degree inferno.” — Marcia McNutt, Science, July 3, 2015

Read the full article here.

(Contributed by Alexandra Basili, FSU 2019)