“Medieval theologians described a tripartite process of ensoulment over the course of fetal development. The poet Dante Alighieri gives one of the most cogent explanations of this concept, which goes back to Aristotle, via Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, and others. Dante’s description of when God breathes life into the fetus takes place in the Divine Comedy on the sixth terrace of Purgatory. Dante’s Purgatory is imagined as an island-mountain organized according to the Seven Deadly Sins. On the terrace of gluttony, sinners circle past an offshoot of the Tree of Knowledge, which produces a delicious odor that makes them excruciatingly hungry and emaciated in appearance. Dante asks his two guides, the poets Virgil and Statius, how the disembodied spirits can become so thin if they do not need nourishment. Statius responds with a digression on sexual reproduction and embryology (Purgatorio 25.37-108) in order to account for the continuity between humans’ mortal bodies and their aerial bodies in Purgatory. He explains how the fetus takes shape and passes through three stages, first being endowed with a soul like that of a plant, and then with that of an animal, at which point the bodily organs are fashioned. Only after the articulation of the brain does God breathe into it a specifically human spirit, capable of self-reflection and speech. This new soul then combines with the two already inhabiting in the body, and after the person’s death, when the soul’s connection to the body is severed, it radiates around itself an ombra, a sort of shadow or mirror body that continuously reflects its inner condition.” —Olivia Holmes, “When was an embryo considered a person in the Middle Ages?,” Cambridge University Press, January 31, 2023 (retrieved December 30, 2023)
“In high school I read a book called Inferno by Dante Alighieri. [. . .] I want to take you through the nine circles of suffering every graduate student experiences on their journey to defending their thesis. I’m sure there are far more than nine forms of struggle that graduate students go through, but for the purpose of the analogy, we will stick with nine.
[. . .]
“Defeat is another circle that graduate students become quite familiar with. It happens so often that around the two-year mark of grad school, most of us seem to get desensitized to it. We learn to separate our self-worth from the worth of our work, and to focus on doing the best we can without letting defeat get in the way of our confidence. We build a thicker skin, and if nothing else, this circle of suffering will prepare us for a lifetime of rejected grants and harsh criticism from pesky ‘Reviewer Three.’
“This brings us to the last and probably most dangerous circle – doubt. Part of being a scientist is being a skeptic. However, if you constantly doubt yourself, your progress, or your ideas, you will inevitably make your graduate school experience a painful one. Go confidently in the direction you pursue, and if you fail – well then you’re just back at circle one.” –Kimiya Memarzadeh, “Academia’s Inferno,” McGovern Medical School (April 4, 2016)
The Radio branch of Italian Rai 3, offers a podcast exploration of Dante’s knowledge of science (called “natural philosophy” in his time) and how excellent a science writer he was, and how effectively he communicated scientific ideas in his works. (In Italian)
“Conosciamo Dante Alighieri come raffinato poeta, teorico della politica, esperto di linguistica, scrittore e filosofo. Ma forse molti si sorprenderebbero se lo definissimo anche come un grande divulgatore scientifico. In effetti le sue opere trattano molte questioni di filosofia naturale, che spaziano dalla cosmologia alla geografia, dall’ottica alla geometria. Ma Dante, da assertore di un’idea di accesso universale al sapere, tratta questi temi rivolgendosi non solo ai dotti del suo tempo, ma anche ad una platea più ampia. Lo sottolineava Pietro Greco in uno dei suoi ultimi libri, Homo. Arte e scienza (Di Renzo, 2020), e ce lo ricorda oggi lo storico della scienza Gaspare Polizzi, dell’università di Pisa. Non solo: le sue concezioni cosmologiche sono di una sorprendente modernità, come ritiene Marco Bersanelli, astrofisico all’università statale di Milano, e autore di Il grande spettacolo del cielo (Sperling e Kupfer, 2016).” —Rai Play Radio, Radio 3 scienza, March 25, 2021
Contributed by Carmelo Giunta
“Cyberspace may seem an unlikely gateway for the soul. But as science commentator Margaret Wertheim argues in this ‘marvelously provocative’ (Kirkus Reviews) book, cyberspace has in recent years become a repository for immense spiritual yearning. Wertheim explores the mapping of spiritual desire onto digitized space and suggests that the modem today has become a metaphysical escape-hatch from a materialism that many people find increasingly dissatisfying. Cyberspace opens up a collective space beyond the laws of physics–a space where mind rather than matter reigns. This strange refuge returns us to an almost medieval dualism between a physical space of body and an immaterial space of mind and psyche.” —Amazon, 2000
“Centuries after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, contemplated the relationship between science and religion, and decades after Carl Sagan did the same in his exquisite Varieties of Scientific Experience, physicist-turned-science-writer Margaret Wertheim offers perhaps the most elegant and emboldening reconciliation of these two frequently contrasted approaches to the human longing for truth and meaning.
“Wertheim is the creator of the PBS documentary Faith and Reason, author of deeply thoughtful books like Pythagoras’s Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender War and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, and cofounder of The Institute for Figuring — ‘an organization dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science, mathematics and engineering’.”
“[Wertheim:] ‘I don’t know that I believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. But my favorite book is the Divine Comedy. And at the end of the Divine Comedy, Dante pierces the skin of the universe and comes face-to-face with the love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe in Dante’s vision.'” –Maria Popova, “Dante and the Eternal Quest for Nonreligious Divinity,” Brainpickings, 2015
See the full article here.