Join us on Monday, November 19th for Dr. Al Coppola’s talk “Invisible Visibilities: From Newtonian Mathesis to the Santa Fe Institute,” at the Sherman Centre, Mills Library (first floor), from 2:30 to 4:00 pm.
Al Coppola is an Associate Professor of English at John Jay College, CUNY, and the past chair of the Columbia University Seminar in Eighteenth-Century European Culture. His first book, The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford 2016), is a critical study of science in—and as—performance. His current book project, Enlightenment Visibilities, studies the 18th century innovations that structure 21st century modernity by bringing previously unimaginable or imperceptible phenomena into the domain of perception and knowledge.
In this talk, which is co-sponsored by the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship, Professor Coppola explores how Eighteenth-century philosophy transformed medical theory and practice by producing the quantified body as a new object of knowledge. He focuses on the epochal discovery of an all-but-unknown Irish physician, Bryan Robinson, in his Treatise of the Animal Oeconomy (1732). Robinson approached the body as a problem in fluid geometry to be worked out mathematically. With his insight that the duration of the resting pulses of all bodies are “as the biquadrate roots of the cubes of the lengths of the bodies,” he formulated the first invisible visibility to structure the microcosm of the body, just as Newton’s calculus had structured the macrocosm of the heavens. This talk explores the surprising afterlife of Robinson’s insight, which returns in the work of theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, whose work exhibits a faith in mathesis and rage for system that betrays the deep ideological ties that continue to bind our culture of big data analytics to the Newtonian moment.