(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Cosmos

“The structure of the universe- I mean, of the heavens and the earth and the whole world- was arranged by one harmony through the blending of the most opposite principles”*…

Two diagrams from Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia (1533) demonstrating the proportion, measure, and harmony of human bodies — Source: left, right

… And as we undertake to understand that structure, we use the lens– the mental models and language– that we have. The redoubtable Anthony Grafton considers and early 16th century attempt: Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa‘s De Occulta Philosophia libri III, Agrippa’s encyclopedic study of magic that was, at the same time, an attempt to describe the structure of the universe, sketching a path that leads both upward and downward: up toward complete knowledge of God, and down into every order of being on earth…

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s manual of learned magic, De occulta philosophia (1533), explicated the ways in which magicians understood and manipulated the cosmos more systematically than any of his predecessors. It was here that he mapped the entire network of forces that passed from angels and demons, stars and planets, downward into the world of matter. Agrippa laid his work out in three books, on the elementary, astrological, and celestial worlds. But he saw all of them as connected, weaving complex spider webs of influence that passed from high to low and low to high. With the zeal and learning of an encyclopedist imagined by Borges, Agrippa catalogued the parts of the soul and body, animals, minerals, and plants that came under the influence of any given planet or daemon. He then offered his readers a plethora of ways for averting evil influences and enhancing good ones. Some of these were originally simple remedies, many of them passed down from Roman times in the great encyclopedic work of Pliny the Younger and less respectable sources, and lacked any deep connection to learned magic.

[Grafton describes the many dimensions of Agrippa’s compilation of the then-current state of magic…]

But few of the dozens of manuscript compilations that transmitted magic through the Middle Ages reflected any effort to impose a system on the whole range of magical practices, as Agrippa’s book did. He made clear that each of the separate arts of magic, from the simplest form of herbal remedy to the highest forms of communication with angels, fitted into a single, lucid structure with three levels: the elementary or terrestrial realm, ruled by medicine and natural magic; the celestial realm, ruled by astrology; and the intellectual realm, ruled by angelic magic. Long tendrils of celestial and magical influence stitched these disparate realms into something like a single great being…

Agrippa offered, in other words, both a grand, schematic plan of the cosmos, rather like that of the London Underground, which laid out its structure as a whole, and a clutch of minutely detailed local Ordinance Survey maps, which made it possible to navigate through any specific part of the cosmos. Readers rapidly saw what Agrippa had to offer. The owner of a copy of On Occult Philosophy, now in Munich, made clear in his only annotation that he appreciated Agrippa’s systematic presentation of a universe in which physical forms revealed the natures of beings and their relations to one another: “Physiognomy, metoposcopy [the interpretation of faces], and chiromancy, and the arts of divination from the appearance and gestures of the human body work through signs.” Agrippa’s book not only became the manual of magical practice, but it also made the formal claim that magic was a kind of philosophy in its own right…

A 16th century attempt to understand the structure of the universe: “Marked by Stars- Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy,” from @scaliger in @PublicDomainRev.

* Aristotle


As we take in the totality, we might send more modern birthday greetings to a rough contemporary of Agrippa’s, Evangelista Torricelli; he was born on this date in 1608. Even as Agrippa was trying to understand the world via magic, Torricelli, a student of Galileo, was using observation and reason to fuel the same quest. A physicist and mathematician, he is best known for his invention of the barometer, but is also known for his advances in optics, his work on the method of indivisibles, and “Torricelli’s Trumpet.” The torr, a unit of pressure, is named after him.


“A culture, we all know, is made by its cities”*…



Çatalhöyük after the first excavations


Welcome to one of the mothers of all cities, Çatalhöyük, a community on the Anatolian plane that is now part of Turkey. … [Nine thousand] years ago … Çatalhöyük consisted of attached dwellings covering 33 acres. … The city was so new back then, they hadn’t invented the street yet — or the window. So the only way you could get into your apartment was to walk over your neighbors’ rooftops. A ladder was propped against the skylight opening of your apartment.

Çatalhöyük lacked something much more significant than streets and windows. There was no palace here. The bitter price of inequality that the invention of agriculture cost human society had yet to be paid. Here, there was no dominance of the few over the many. There was no one percent attaining lavish wealth while most everyone else merely subsisted or failed to subsist. The ethos of sharing was still alive and well. There is evidence of violence against women and children, but the weakest ate the same food that the strongest ate. Scientific analyses of the nutrition of the women, men, and children who lived here show a remarkable similarity, and everyone lived in the same kind of home. … Dominating [every] room was a giant head of an auroch with massive pointed horns, mounted on the richly painted wall. The walls were lavishly festooned with the teeth, bones, and skins of other animals.

The apartments at Çatalhöyük have a distinctly modern look. The floor plan is highly utilitarian and modular, uniform from dwelling to dwelling, with cubicles for work, dining, entertaining, and sleep. Bare wood beams support the ceiling. It was home for an extended family of seven to ten people…

More of this excerpt from Ann Druyan’s Cosmos: Possible Worlds at “The First Proto-City.” (Via the ever-illuminating delanceyplace.com)

* Derek Walcott


As we appraise our antecedents, we might spare a thought for Muhammad; he died on this date in 632.  The founder of Islam, he is considered by its adherents to have been a prophet– the final prophet– sent to present and confirm the monotheistic teachings preached previously by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.  He united Arabia into a single Muslim polity, with the Quran (the transcriptions of divine messages that he received), as well as his other teachings and practices, forming the basis of Islamic religious belief.


Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. From the manuscript Jami’ al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, 1307




Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception”*…


If you’re prone to flights of depressive thoughts in the shower (who isn’t?), you’ve perhaps briefly entertained the notion that, since humans are responsible for every environmental catastrophe, maybe the planet would be better off if we all just died. While you might rid yourself of such a bleak thought by making the water scalding and moving on to thinking about something cruel you did in middle school, there is a group of extremist hippies called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT, pronounced “vehement”) that actively promotes the idea. Their philosophy is simple: Humans should stop breeding, and allow ourselves to go extinct. As their motto puts it, “Live long and die out.”…

Learn more about VHEMT at “Live Long and Die Out.”

Then, for a very different approach to extinction, consider The Long Now Foundation‘s Revive and Restore Project (of which, to tip your correspondent’s leanings, he is a supporter).

* Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God


As we sit with a Sense of an Ending, we might send lofty birthday greetings to the author of today’s title quote, Carl Edward Sagan; he was born on this date in 1934. An astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist (his contributions were central to the discovery of the high surface temperatures of Venus), he is best remembered as a popularizer of science– via books like The Dragons of Eden, Broca’s Brain and Pale Blue Dot, and the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (which he narrated and co-wrote), the most widely-watched series in the history of American public television (seen by at least 500 million people across 60 different countries).

He is also remembered for his contributions to the scientific research of extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation.

(Readers can enjoy a loving riff on Cosmos here.)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

Remembrance of Things Vast…

From the Himalayas, through our atmosphere, then dark space all the way out– that’s to say, back– to the afterglow of the Big Bang:  the American Museum of Natural History presents The Known Universe.

Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world’s most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.

For more information visit the Museum’s web site.

(ToTH to Jesse Dylan)

As we stand in the places we are, we might recall that it was on (or about, historians are imprecise) this date in 1232 that Pope Gregory IX sent the first Inquisition team to the Kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, to prosecute the Albigensian heresy.

Saint Raymond of Penyafort, who codified the Canon Law for Gregory IX

Auto-Tuning the Cosmos…

Readers who recall earlier brushes with the “voice-enhancing” software Auto-Tune (e.g.,”All That Glitters…“) will be delighted to know that John Boswell (Colorpulse Music) has turned the technology to a more universal purpose.

A musical tribute to two great men of science. Carl Sagan and his cosmologist companion Stephen Hawking present: “A Glorious Dawn – Cosmos remixed.” Almost all samples and footage taken from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Stephen Hawking’s Universe series.

As we listen to the music of the spheres, we might thank our lucky stars for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, arguably the first– and arguably the finest– Western novel. He was born on this date in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid.


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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 29, 2009 at 12:01 am