Thursday, February 7, 2013

Adam Gopnik on John Dee

“The Arch-Conjuror of England” (Yale), Glynn Parry’s entertaining new biography of Galileo’s contemporary the English magician and astrologer John Dee, shows that Dee was, in his own odd way, an honest man and a true intellectual. He races from Prague to Paris, holding conferences with other astrologers and publishing papers, consulting with allies and insulting rivals. He wasn’t a fraud. His life has all the look and sound of a fully respectable intellectual activity, rather like, one feels uneasily, the life of a string theorist today. The look and the sound of science . . . but it does have a funny smell. Dee doesn’t once ask himself, “Is any of this real or is it all just bullshit?” If it works, sort of, and you draw up a chart that looks cool, it counts. Galileo never stopped asking himself that question, even when it wasn’t bullshit but sounded as though it might well be. That’s why he went wrong on the tides; the-moon-does-it-at-a-distance explanation sounds too much like the assertion of magic. The temperament is not all-seeing and curious; it is, instead, irritable and impatient with the usual stories. The new stories might be ugly, but they’re not crap. “It is true that the Copernican system creates disturbances in the Aristotelian universe,” Salviati admits in the “Dialogue,” “but we are dealing with our own real and actual universe.”

 from What Galileo Saw

see also the thorough drubbing Gopnik received at the hands of the Renaissance Mathematicus
http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/gopnik-galileo-and-ed-yong-galileo-not-admitting-being-wrong/
http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/help-ive-just-been-savaged-by-a-toothless-american-bulldog/

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