The Art of Science

The project Reality and its Double: Perspective Symmetries and Complex Numbers between the Renaissance and Quantum Physics originates from the observation that two fundamental ingredients of quantum theory, complex numbers and probabilities, are both notable discoveries of the Renaissance. Is this just coincidence? Is there a significant relationship between the symmetries of the perspectiva pingendi in figurative space and the symmetries of the mathematical formalism of quantum physics? Or between the refinement of representational space made possible by linear perspective in art and by complex numbers in science?

The aim of the conference The Art of Science is to redeem the value of science as an "art", either through the analysis of the meaning of complex numbers for quantum theory, or through a reflection on the entanglement of figurative arts and mathematics in the most vital centre of Italian scientific humanism, namely the university of Bologna between the XVth and the XVIth centuries. The peculiarity of the relationship between artists and scientists in Bologna has to do with its unusual position in Renaissance civilization: Bologna's cultural life rested more on the university than on political power, but it found its most fruitful expression outside the university, in the "cenacoli" (public gatherings of scholars, artists, local aristocracy and clergy). A Bolognese mathematician, Scipione dal Ferro (1465-1526), proposed the solution to cubic equations, which effectively led to complex numbers.

Complex numbers and probabilities are the indispensable tools of quantum theory. Their discovery - attributed to the same person, Girolamo Cardano - opened new dimensions into visual mathematical space. Cardano's science and Caravaggio's art appear particularly in tune. Whereas the Narcissus provides a perfect illustration of a double symmetry analogous to that connecting conjugate complex numbers, The Card Players is a superb illustration of the dramatic effort to tame chance. Apparently, already in the XVI century, one gambling scholar was aware of concepts and methods which would become fundamental ingredients of quantum physics. And yet, at that time, artists and scientists did not use their knowledge in the context of official science, but rather in the epistemologically looser context of "art", either the art of painting or the art of computing and gambling. Here art was able to demonstrate a "symbolic" and non-empirical reality which science still tries to accommodate.

19-20 November
Bologna, Scuola di Studi Umanistici