The RSC's Shakes Sphere talks are designed to explore Shakespeare's world, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council provides funding for research. It occurred to me that comparing fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans of the brain of an actor with those of an astronomer might yield some clues to Galileo and Shakespeare's drives.Why would such a bizarre notion occur to the writer? Galileo and Shakespeare are both as dead as Francisco Franco and their brains are unavailable for scanning. So we get this:
RSC actor Ed Hughes and Royal Observatory Astronomer Marek Kukula agreed to take part in this experiment. Extracts from two contrasting texts – Galileo's The Starry Messenger and Mark Ravenhill's translation of Brecht's play [About Galileo. More later.] – were used as tools to test the workings of the men's brains.
|Do dead salmon shed light on Shakespeare or Galileo?|
Now, the actor evidently envisioned the acting that went along with reading the play and that meant he used parts of his brain associated with physical movement. I saw nothing in the account regarding whether any similar distinction showed up in reading Galileo's tract.
Aside from the usual late modern confusion between brain and mind, we have also:
- Areas of blood flow activity are approximate and ill-defined.
- Highlighted areas generally differ among individuals engaged in the same mental tasks, anyway.
- Blood flow does not correspond to neural activity.
Inanity or insanity? You decide!
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Postscript: That infernal Tuscan
Then too the Guardian author wrote:
The Roman Inquisition imprisoned Galileo for refusing to deny Jupiter's satellites and Earth's orbit around the sun.What is it about the Galileo affair that causes people to say really stupid things? (The link will detail some additional stupidities in the column.) First, Galileo was not imprisoned. A Tuscan citizen, he was relegated to the Grand Duke's palace in Rome, then to the palace of the Archbishop of Siena (a Tuscan town), then to his own villa outside of Florence, finally to his townhouse near the Ducal palace in the city itself. Given that the most immovable object in the universe had always been Galileo in his villa, this confinement was more a humiliation than a hardship. And in typical Inquisition fashion we find a succession of Decrees that make severe admonishments on the one hand followed by wink-wink-nudge-nudge concessions on the other. This sort of public severity/private leniency was typical of Machiavellian Italy.
Secondly, the satellites of Jupiter were not only not at issue but had been independently verified by the Jesuit astronomers at the Roman College, who then threw a big party to celebrate Galileo's findings. (Which meant that Galileo could thenceforth be referred to as "a celebrated mathematician." In those benighted days, you actually had to have had a celebration in your honor to become a celebrity.)
Thirdly, that the Earth orbited around the sun was not demonstrated by any of Galileo's observations. In fact, it was not verified empirically until 1728, when James Bradley detected stellar aberration in γ-Draconis. (The effect was small, variable, and detectable only with special instruments, but counts as a proof of the motion of the Earth. Bradley’s paper was translated into Italian after 1734, and Copernicanism was in due course removed from the Index in 1758.)
complex matter all around and not, by any measure, simply one of either mathematics or religion.