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Baroque Science

In Baroque Science, Ofer Gal and Raz Chen-Morris present a radically new perspective on the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Instead of celebrating the triumph of reason and rationality, they study the paradoxes and anxieties that stemmed from the New Science and the intellectual compromises that shaped it and enabled its spectacular success.
Gal and Chen-Morris show how the protagonists of the new mathematical natural philosophy grasped at the very far and very small by entrusting observation to the mediation of artificial instruments, and how they justified this mediation by naturalizing and denigrating the human senses. They show how the physical-mathematical ordering of heavens and earth demanded obscure and spurious mathematical procedures, replacing the divine harmonies of the late Renaissance with an assemblage of isolated, contingent laws and approximated constants.  Finally, they show how the new savants, forced to contend that reason is hopelessly estranged from its surrounding world and that nature is irreducibly complex, turned to the passions to provide an alternative, naturalized foundation for their epistemology and ethics.
Enforcing order in the face of threatening chaos, blurring the boundaries of the natural and the artificial, and mobilizing the passions in the service of objective knowledge, the New Science, Gal and Chen-Morris reveal, is a Baroque phenomenon: deeply entrenched in and crucially formative of the culture of its time.

352 pages | 51 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Art: European Art

History: History of Ideas

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


“Gal and Chen-Morris have mastered a diverse set of sources to support their claim that the ‘New Science’ developed from the tensions in the baroque era. This important work will provide scholars with new questions and offer opportunities to reconsider timeless questions about the nature of humanity and knowledge. Highly recommended.”

G. D. Oberle III, Germanna Community College | Choice

Baroque Science will help to break down the barriers between histories of science, art, and culture in the seventeenth century, and does an excellent job of tying together diverse elements in the thinking of its protagonists through original readings of their optical, mathematical, and intellectual epistemologies.”

Simon Werrett, University College London | Journal for the History of Astronomy

“A novel and inspiring view of the Scientific Revolution. The book is superbly written and perfectly accessible for the general historian. I highly recommend it.”

Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis, University of Twente | Journal of the Northern Renaissance

“Gal and Chen-Morris’s book shows with some originality how scientists unpicked entrenched beliefs and replaced them with a new science and a new world view. A study of spectacles in medieval paintings provides a fascinating insight into how such aids were perceived in relation to the ‘truth’ imparted by the naked eye. The handling of Hooke’s hesitation to apply the inverse square law to planetary orbits is equally absorbing, keenly revealing the tentative, painstaking deliberations that scientists of the time were engaged in. And the endeavours of Galileo and Kepler to deduce the ‘perfect’ mathematical laws of nature are insightfully contrasted to Isaac Newton’s calm acceptance of an ‘imperfect’ universe and the crucial role of approximations.”

Nicola K. S. Davis | Times Literary Supplement

“In one sense Gal and Chen-Morris have given us a traditional intellectual history of the development of seventeenth-century science. They concentrate on showing us how the giants of the period moved mathematics, astronomy, optics, and physics forward. But they have developed an interesting twist. Their view of the science of this period as Baroque shows us that science did not develop linearly, nor was it inevitable. Gal and Chen-Morris effectively describe the strangeness, the paradoxes, and the leaps of imagination that played crucial roles.”

Sheila J. Rabin, Saint Peter’s University | Renaissance Quarterly

“How did Kepler, Descartes, Newton, and their contemporaries envision the mathematical and physical complexity of the world? In this impressive rethinking of seventeenth-century science, Ofer Gal and Raz Chen-Morris offer a new interpretation of the birth of modern science as a baroque subject born from paradox, unleashed by instruments, and reassembled in the imagination. A highly original and interdisciplinary study of the early modern natural philosopher’s anxious quest to order the world.”

Paula Findlen, Stanford University

“A new grand narrative of the mathematical Scientific Revolution, Baroque Science binds together the early modern challenges of finding epistemic order, of creating new artifices for knowledge, and of profiting from the imagination in a lucid gem of a book both technically sophisticated and accessible. Through its deft readings of Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Hooke, and Newton, and challenging retellings of the development of optics and the inverse square law of gravitation, Baroque Science forces us anew to attend the cultural and philosophical shifts that made different mathematicizations of the world possible, compelling—as well as limiting. Passionate in subject matter and form, the book will enliven and inspire many a seminar and many a scholar.”

Matthew L. Jones, Columbia University

Table of Contents

List of Figures


1    Science’s Disappearing Observer: Baroque Optics and the Enlightenment of Vision
2    Per aenigmate: Mirrors and Lenses as Cognitive Tools in Medieval and Renaissance Europe
3    The Specter of the Telescope: Radical Instrumentalism from Galileo to Hooke


4    Nature’s Drawing: Problems and Resolutions in the Mathematization of Motion
5    From Divine Order to Human Approximation: Mathematics in Baroque Science
6    The Emergence of Baroque Mathematical Natural Philosophy: An Archeology of the Inverse Square Law


7    Passions, Imagination, and the Persona of the New Savant


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