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
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.