iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Optics

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Optics

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 01 March 2007

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of optics. From telescopes to microscopes, from star-gazing to the intimacies of a magnified flea. As Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens in the early 1600s, Kepler began to formulate a theory of optics. The new and improving instruments went hand in hand with radical new ideas about how we see and what we see. Spectacles allowed scholars to study long into the evening (and into old age), while giant telescopes, up to 100 feet long, led to the discovery of planets and attempts to map the universe.

The craze for optical trickery swept Europe with enthusiastic amateurs often providing valuable discoveries. But this new view of the world through a lens raised questions too – how much can you rely on the senses, on what you see? The further into space you can spy, the larger and more unmanageable the universe becomes. At the same time, the microscope was utterly transforming the world close at hand.

So how did these developments inform ideas of knowledge? If new methods of scientific observation support an empirical approach, what does this mean for divine, innate reason?

With Simon Schaffer, Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge; Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science and Fellow of Linacre College at the University of Oxford; Emily Winterburn, Curator of Astronomy at the National Maritime Museum

  • Further Reading

    Brian Clegg, Light Years (Piatkus Books, New Ed edition 2002)

    David Park, The Fire Within the Eye (Princeton University Press, 1999)

    Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, The Glass Bathyscaphe (Profile Books, 2003)

    Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light: A History of Discovery in Science and Art (National Academies Press, 1998)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • Science archive

    Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss