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History of Science Notre Dame cathedral, Paris - 14th century

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 8: 14th-century Science

Readings 1: Theories of the Earth and Sublunar Regions

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
2 Wednesday
11:59 p.m.

Topic 1 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The first of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

Here are the reading assignments for this unit. They provide just a few glimpses to sample the complex and innovative developments of 14th-century natural philosophy.

  1. Nicole Oresme on the Possible Rotation of the Earth

  2. Nicole Oresme and Theories of the Earth

  3. Nicole Oresme and the Mean Speed Theorem

  4. 2nd ed., 2007:
  5. 1st ed., 1992:
  6. The Black Plague and the end of the middle ages

From the Vault video text

TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, worth 2 points each.

  1. T or F ? According to medieval cosmology, the Earth was believed to be flat.
  2. T or F? In what one might call a medieval version of the Big Bang theory, Robert Grosseteste envisioned the universe beginning as a point of light that evolved into a spherical universe containing the stars and planets.
  3. T or F? After the condemnations of 1277, physicists were required to affirm that multiple worlds might exist.
  4. T or F? After the condemnations of 1277, physicists were required to affirm that space, even if empty, might exist outside the universe.
  5. T or F? Medieval cosmologists were agreed that Aristotle’s unmoved movers of the celestial spheres must be angels.
  6. T or F? Jean Buridan attributed the motions of the celestial spheres to impetus, and thus had no need for unmoved movers.
  7. T or F? In Aristotelian cosmology, four elements comprise the region below the sphere of the Sun.
  8. T or F? In Aristotelian cosmology, comets were believed to occur above the Moon.
  9. T or F? Theodoric of Freiberg explained the optics of the rainbow on the basis of refraction and reflection within individual raindrops.
  10. T or F? Nicole Oresme thought he could prove that the Earth lies motionless in the center of the universe.
  11. T or F? The sight (or sighting rule) of an astrolabe is called a rete.
  12. T or F? Each lower plate, or climate, of an astrolabe is specific to a particular latitude, and needs to be changed out in order to use the astrolabe when one travels to a location much farther north or south.
  13. T or F? Islamic astronomers such as Ibn al Haytham, Ibn Bajja, al-Bittruji, and others, tended to adopt an instrumentalist view of astronomical models.
  14. T or F? Sacrobosco’s Sphere (De Sphaera) served as a standard medieval introduction to spherical astronomy, explaining such topics as the Sun’s motion along the ecliptic and how epicycle models in principle can explain retrograde motions of the planets.
  15. T or F? The Theorica planetarum served as a standard medieval introduction to planetary astronomy, explaining specific models for each of the planets using deferents, eccentrics, and epicycles.
  16. T or F? Astrology defined as a set of beliefs about physical influences coming down upon us from the cosmos was much contested in the Middle Ages.
  17. T or F? Ptolemy’s treatise on astrology is called the Almagest.
  18. T or F? The Church sought to establish limits on the degree to which deterministic astrological influences might affect human life.
  19. T or F? In the 14th century, astrology had become an established part of university medicine.
  20. T or F? According to Aristotle, all forms are composed of substances and matter.
  21. T or F? Medieval physicists discussed the nature of minima naturalis, conceived as the smallest pieces of the ingredients of a mixture that, if divided, would still retain the properties of the mixture.
  22. T or F? Minima and atoms were basically the same thing.
  23. T or F? According to medieval physics, if one could alter the quality of an element (its coldness, wetness, hotness or dryness), then one could transform that element into a different element.
  24. T or F? Medieval achemists developed laboratory techniques such as distillation and fermentation.
  25. T or F? 14th century scholars at Merton College, Oxford, conceived and worked out the implications of the idea of instantaneous velocity.
  26. T or F? Kinematics refers to the study of the causes of motion; dynamics to the description of motion.
  27. T or F? According to the Merton scholars, uniform acceleration is the same as uniform velocity.
  28. T or F? In Oresme’s graphs of velocity and time (eg Fig 12.7b), the distance traversed by a moving body equals the area of the figure.
  29. T or F? The Mean Speed Theorem, or Merton rule, claims that a body moving with uniform acceleration (AEG in Fig 12.8) covers the same distance as a second body moving with uniform velocity (FED in Fig 12.8) when the speed of the second body is the mean (BE) of the initial (A) and final (CG) speeds of the first body.
  30. T or F? In Fig 12.8, a body accelerating with speeds from A to G covers the same distance as the body moving with constant speed F to D.
  31. T or F? Buridan used impetus theory to explain the motion of the spheres, falling bodies, and projectile motion.
  32. T or F? According to Aristotle, the heavier an object, the faster it falls.
  33. T or F? According to Aristotle, a vacuum cannot exist because a body would move through a vacuum with infinite speed.
  34. T or F? Thomas Bradwardine challenged Aristotle’s theory of motion by noting that a common mathematical formulation of it could not predict zero velocity in cases of high resistance.
  35. T or F? Aristotle and the ancient atomists developed extramission theories of vision.
  36. T or F? Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) argued that only one ray from each point in the visual field falls on the eye perpendicularly; all others are weakened by refraction and play no role in vision.
  37. T or F? Roger Bacon, John Pecham, and Witelo rejected Ibn al-Haytham’s optical theories.


"It is vain to do with more that which may be done with less." William of Ockham ("Ockham's razor")

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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