Nautilus

When We Were the Cosmos

Leading off this week’s chapter of Nautilus, physics writer Michael Brooks carries on a playful, imaginary conversation with Jerome Cardano, a crazy-bold 16th-century scientist, inventor, and astrologer (it was, after all, the 16th century). Brooks writes that Cardano created the first theory of probability, and discovered the square root of a negative number, something we now call the imaginary number and a part of our understanding of how the universe holds together. Cardano pioneered the experimental method of research in areas as diverse as medical cures for deafness and hernia.

We’ve revisited other amazing, iconoclastic scientists in Nautilus, notably Cornelis Drebel, who in the 1600s invented an oven thermostat, submarine, spectacular light shows, and may well have been Shakespeare’s model for Prospero, his noble sorcerer in The Tempest. The audacious Renaissance inventors got me thinking of pioneering astronomers who first wondered about the stars in the night sky and transformed science and “the human endeavor,” in the words of Edwin C. Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory.

“The experience of seeing the sun come

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus10 min readSelf-Improvement
Playing Video Games Makes Us Fully Human: No other media meets our emotional and social needs like electronic games.
I have an agonizing decision to make. Should I save a governing body that has never done a thing for me? It doesn’t even contain a single person from my race. The aliens of the galactic Council decided long ago that my people should not be trusted, t
Nautilus12 min read
Why We’re Patriotic: Whether it’s our country or our football team, we need to belong.
It started with one man quietly sipping a Tom Collins in the lounge car of the Cleveland-bound train. “God bless America,” he sang, “land that I love …” It didn’t take long. Others joined in. “Stand beside her … and guide her ...” Soon the entire tra
Nautilus5 min read
The Dr. Strange of the American Revolution
I ascribe the Success of our Revolution to a Galaxy,” Benjamin Rush wrote to John Adams, in 1812. He wasn’t invoking the astrological. It was commonplace then to associate a bright assembly of people with the starry band in the night sky that Chaucer