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

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