Spaces, Knots and Bonds : crossroads between early modern magic and science

21-23 juin 2012
Observatoire de Paris (21 juin, salle Cassini) et Université Paris Diderot (22-23 juin, bâtiment Condorcet, salle Klee 454A) - Paris (France)
Space has always played an important role in the narratives of the Scientific Revolution. The debate between Leibniz and the Newtonians, for instance, is constructed as a foundational moment for modern science. In order to understand what is happening in this period, however, it is important to come to grips with the multifarious conceptions of space developed during the renaissance and the early modern period, not only in scholastic natural philosophy or the ‘new science’, but especially in a diversity of other traditions. Especially after historiographical challenges to distinctions such as ‘magic’ and ‘science’, or ‘occult’ and ‘scientific’, the ideas presented in these traditions as well as their role in the broader historiography of science have to be reassessed. This conference aims at addressing the role of space in medieval, renaissance and early modern heterodox traditions and bringing such an interest into relation with the more canonical figures from the history of science. The conference theme consists of two different parts : A) Space, in medieval and the renaissance ‘occult traditions’, is where things are organized. The Aristotelian cosmos already gives to space an almost active role in organization : the four elements have their unique natural places below the sphere of the moon ; the fifth element has its natural place above. The role of space changed, however, whenever aspects of Aristotelian cosmology and physics were rejected, elaborated upon, or modified, and philosophers tried to come to grips with this in different ways. The universe was still thought to operate by patterns present both at small and large scales, but the nature of these operations was open to wide speculation, especially when occult properties were involved. Indeed, distance was usually no hindrance in magic and astrology : it was assumed that reorganization in one part of space could immediately cause another part of space to be reorganized in a like manner. Numerous causal schemes were proposed - e.g., the rays of al-Kindi, the species of Roger Bacon, and the vincula (links) of Giordano Bruno - to explain this hidden connection. As examples of study, we might mention Bruno’s cosmos, which is infinite, locally heliocentric, and flowering with sympathies and antipathies, or the space of Johannes Kepler, which is a milieu of organization par excellence, filled with archetypes and harmony at every level of scale and ontology. Also, the connection between the Cambridge Neo-Platonists and Newton deserves revaluation in the light of the rich diversity of renaissance concepts of space. B) In line with what is discussed above, the conference also seeks work on conceptions of social, bodily, imaginative and mnemonic spaces. The renaissance mind did not have anything like our distinction between psychological and material space. How were these spaces distinguished ? What were the objects and forces of these spaces ? The “links” of Giordano Bruno traverse and bind together objects of every possible kind of space : social, imaginative, intellectual and physical. For Al-Kindi, ray-like emanations underlie all cause and effect in the universe, while other thinkers find other means to explain and discuss universal harmony as an organizing principle. Famously, pneuma, or spirit, also connects different kinds of ‘spaces’, internal and external, in sources ranging from occult and neo-stoic authors to Newton’s aether theory. Finally, we would be receptive to presentations focusing on different ways in which astrological and cosmic spaces were seen to be reflected or embodied in architecture, the arts, and in the microcosm of the human body itself.
Discipline scientifique : Histoire, Philosophie et Sociologie des sciences

Lieu de la conférence
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