Durham researchers reveal story of the medieval bishop who predicted modern science (nearly…)

Bishop Grosseteste – a leading light of medieval scholarship

A 13th-century bishop’s theory about the evolution of the Universe has been shown to have a striking resemblance to modern scientific thought.

Robert Grosseteste, one-time bishop of Lincoln, wrote the treatise De Luce (meaning “Concerning Light”) in 1225. In this work he described the creation of the Universe via a Big Bang-like explosion of light before forming into a series of nine celestial spheres.

This idea resembles the modern theory of multiple universes, according to experts from the Ordered Universe Project.

The astonishing discovery was made by the multi-disciplinary group of Durham academics, including physicists, psychologists, cosmologists, Latin experts and medieval historians, who are studying Grosseteste’s work.

The team created a new Latin translation, before applying modern mathematical and computational techniques to the bishop’s equations.

Dr Giles Gasper, the Ordered Universe Project’s Principal Investigator, said: “De Luce is the earliest known person to attempt to describe the Universe using a coherent set of physical laws, centuries before Sir Isaac Newton.

“It proposes that the same physics of light and matter, which explain the solidity of ordinary objects, could be applied to the cosmos as a whole.

“In doing so it also suggests, although this was probably not apparent to Grosseteste at the time, a series of ordered universes reminiscent of the modern ‘multiverse’ concept.”

Professor Richard Bower, from Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology and lead author of the research paper, said:

“We now know of course, thanks to the astronomical advances of the last four centuries, that a cosmos consisting of nine spheres centred on the Earth is not correct.

“But when Grosseteste wrote De Luce, it was the most elegant and simple theory consistent with then-current knowledge. It shows us that the fundamental human desire to understand the workings of nature is very old.

“It’s fantastic that this has coincided with results from the BICEP 2 project which has uncovered new evidence from the Cosmic Microwave Background to support a Big Bang theory for the origin of the Universe.”

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