Galileo's Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts

Overview

Mark Peterson makes an extraordinary claim in this fascinating book focused around the life and thought of Galileo: it was the mathematics of Renaissance arts, not Renaissance sciences, that became modern science. Galileo's Muse argues that painters, poets, musicians, and architects brought about a scientific revolution that eluded the philosopher-scientists of the day, steeped as they were in a medieval cosmos and its underlying philosophy.

According to Peterson, the recovery ...

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Galileo's Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts

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Overview

Mark Peterson makes an extraordinary claim in this fascinating book focused around the life and thought of Galileo: it was the mathematics of Renaissance arts, not Renaissance sciences, that became modern science. Galileo's Muse argues that painters, poets, musicians, and architects brought about a scientific revolution that eluded the philosopher-scientists of the day, steeped as they were in a medieval cosmos and its underlying philosophy.

According to Peterson, the recovery of classical science owes much to the Renaissance artists who first turned to Greek sources for inspiration and instruction. Chapters devoted to their insights into mathematics, ranging from perspective in painting to tuning in music, are interspersed with chapters about Galileo's own life and work. Himself an artist turned scientist and an avid student of Hellenistic culture, Galileo pulled together the many threads of his artistic and classical education in designing unprecedented experiments to unlock the secrets of nature.

In the last chapter, Peterson draws our attention to the Oratio de Mathematicae laudibus of 1627, delivered by one of Galileo's students. This document, Peterson argues, was penned in part by Galileo himself, as an expression of his understanding of the universality of mathematics in art and nature. It is "entirely Galilean in so many details that even if it is derivative, it must represent his thought," Peterson writes. An intellectual adventure, Galileo’s Muse offers surprising ideas that will capture the imagination of anyone—scientist, mathematician, history buff, lover of literature, or artist—who cares about the humanistic roots of modern science.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mount Holyoke professor Peterson reviews Galileo's life and works while discussing his contemporaries and predecessors, classical Greek and Roman views, and the interplay between mathematics and the arts. In excavating the world of Galileo, Peterson explores Dante's poetry and finds new meaning in The Divine Comedy when interpreted mathematically. He also takes a mathematical look at perspective in the works of Piero della Francesca, Leonardo Pisano/Fibonacci, and in the Golden Ratio. In terms of music, Peterson discusses Galileo's study of the ratios between pitches and how this impacts scales and tuning of different instruments. On architecture, Peterson writes: "Galileo takes a fundamentally geometrical, not arithmetical, point of view. He begins with a geometrical theorem about proportions…this gives him a flexible framework for considering the design. Each part of the architecture is a model for each other part." With these studies as supporting data, Peterson advances the hypothesis that it was the interplay of mathematics in the arts, not the philosophically-bent sciences of the day that evolved into our modern sciences. The book's academic tone and detailed discussions are best suited for readers with an amateur or professional interest in math and science history. (Oct.)
The Australian

Peterson believes there is a fresh and important story to tell about Galileo's roots in Renaissance humanism. He tells that story well and makes the fascinating argument that Galileo's interest in applied geometry arose not from the study of orthodox philosophy and mathematics but from his interest in the application of geometry to poetry, painting, music and architecture. He makes this case well.
— Paul Monk

Times Literary Supplement

Mark A. Peterson takes us on a lively journey...Galileo's Muse is a welcome addition to the growing literature on art and science in the early modern period.
— Alexander Marr

Owen Gingerich
Peterson's book portrays Galileo in a wonderfully fresh perspective. Over several decades I have steeped myself in Galileo biographies, and it's really rare to find an account as intriguing as this one.
Peter Pesic
Galileo's Muse explores a wealth of intriguing connections between the arts and the birth of modern science, presented with thought and verve. Mark Peterson's excitement shines through on every page
Arielle Saiber
Galileo's Muse is a brilliant study that lucidly explains the mathematics central to innovations in the Renaissance arts and sciences. Peterson's expertise as a mathematician and physicist gives this book a level of detail and insight that will offer much to historians of art, science, literature alike.
The Australian - Paul Monk
Peterson believes there is a fresh and important story to tell about Galileo's roots in Renaissance humanism. He tells that story well and makes the fascinating argument that Galileo's interest in applied geometry arose not from the study of orthodox philosophy and mathematics but from his interest in the application of geometry to poetry, painting, music and architecture. He makes this case well.
Times Literary Supplement - Alexander Marr
Mark A. Peterson takes us on a lively journey...Galileo's Muse is a welcome addition to the growing literature on art and science in the early modern period.
Library Journal
Where did Galileo come from? Why was he uniquely willing to relate mathematics to the real world? These are the questions Peterson (physics & mathematics, Mount Holyoke Coll.) asks. He reveals the answers in a tour of Galileo's education and the heritage of Renaissance mathematics and art. Peterson ends by laying out how Galileo helped move mathematics beyond philosophy, making it a tool for precise theorizing about imprecise, real-world data. This book covers well-worn ground in the history of science; scholars have written much about Galileo's connection to the arts and about the complex relationships among art, math, and science in the early modern period. (One need only mention the works of Pamela O. Long, David Freedberg, and others.) In addition, for a historian of science, Peterson perhaps overemphasizes Galileo's similarity with present-day scientists and overexplains how he rose above the shortcomings of his contemporaries. VERDICT Suitable for general readers, this book is not for advanced scholars of the history of science.—Jon Bodnar, Emory Univ., Atlanta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674059726
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/17/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 884,321
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Peterson is Professor of Physics and Mathematics on the Alumnae Foundation, Mount Holyoke College.
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