Machina Mundi: How Medieval Thinkers Foreshadowed Modern Physics

From Clockworks2
Jump to navigationJump to search

Lagerlund, Henrik, and Sylvain Roudaut. "Machina mundi: How medieval thinkers foreshadowed modern physics in investigating the character of machines, devices and forces." Aeon essays on line, as of August 2023, here.[1]

Most relevant paragraph (our bolding):

From these historical facts, it will appear more clearly why and how the modern identification took place – explicitly stated by Galileo, Francis Bacon and René Descartes – of nature with a type of mechanism whose secrets must be investigated by the natural philosopher. The invention of mechanical clocks which, unlike most previous human inventions, did not require anything to keep moving once set in motion, had already modified the way philosophers conceived of nature with respect to machines. In the 14th century, Oresme compared the world to a clock, an analogy later taken up by Kepler in the 17th century. As early as the first half of the 13th century, John of Holywood had designated the Universe created by God as the ‘machine of the world’ (machina mundi). This expression, later quoted by Robert Grosseteste, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Nicholas of Cusa and Copernicus, was well known to the 16th-century commentators of the [pseudo-Aristotle] Mechanical Problems, including Galileo, who quotes John of Holywood in his lectures given in Padua. But while the expression could still be regarded as a mere metaphor in the earlier Middle Ages, it had acquired a much more literal meaning by the time modern thinkers undertook to explain nature according to a mechanistic model. The development of medieval mechanics, the redefinition of its scope and acquisition of a new status were key to this evolution.


RDE, finishing, 2Aug23