Baroque Science: Ofer Gal and Raz Chen-Morris

The two primary cultural movements of seventeenth century Europe, the New Science and the Baroque, are rarely considered together. When they are, they are treated as diametrically opposed. 'Baroque' refers to the preoccupation with paradox and contrast, with asymmetry and distortion, with imagery and sensual detail. 'Science' is the search for simple, universal structures, eschewing rhetorical embellishment for logical rigor and sense qualities for the austerity of matter in motion.

This opposition owes its air of self evidence to the still-prevalent notion that the main achievement of the new science was the submission of all phenomena to a small set of exact mathematical laws. Recent scholarship, however, suggests another perspective on the development of mathematicized natural philosophy through the seventeenth century. Its early canons indeed aspired to decipher God’s perfect design by means of mathematics-the science of simple, perfect structures. But the final success of the endeavour they initiated was predicated on the gradual abandonment of this aspiration. In its place came an approach to the universe as an imperfect machine; an erratic assemblage of isolated laws and constants.

Correspondingly, natural philosophy came to treat mathematics not as an instrument for revealing the divine harmony of the universe, but as means to approximate it into human-scale local order. From this perspective the emergence of the new science appears as a thoroughly Baroque phenomenon. Rooted in cultural moments such as the crisis in musical theory, marking the collapse of the traditional model of perfect harmonies; the emergence of a sophisticated concept of technology and its relation to nature; and a growing appreciation of the inherent variety of nature, bred by exploration, new observation instruments and new artistic representation techniques.

This project will explore these routes, as well as the very tension between overt commitment to harmony and practical acknowledgement of discordant reality, a tension which is perhaps the most distinctively Baroque characteristic of early modern science.