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Measuring Shadows: Kepler’s Optics of Invisibility

by Raz Chen-Morris Penn State University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 264 pages
AU$59.99 NZ$63.48
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In Measuring Shadows, Raz Chen-Morris demonstrates that a close study of Kepler’s Optics is essential to understanding his astronomical work and his scientific epistemology. He explores Kepler’s radical break from scientific and epistemological traditions and shows how the seventeenth-century astronomer posited new ways to view scientific truth and knowledge. Chen-Morris reveals how Kepler’s ideas about the formation of images on the retina and the geometrics of the camera obscura, as well as his astronomical observations, advanced the argument that physical reality could only be described through artificially produced shadows, reflections, and refractions.

Breaking from medieval and Renaissance traditions that insisted upon direct sensory perception, Kepler advocated for instruments as mediators between the eye and physical reality, and for mathematical language to describe motion. It was only through this kind of knowledge, he argued, that observation could produce certainty about the heavens. Not only was this conception of visibility crucial to advancing the early modern understanding of vision and the retina, but it affected how people during that period approached and understood the world around them.



List of Illustrations



1 The New Optical Narrative: Light, Camera Obscura, and the Astronomer’s Wings

2 “Seeing with My Own Eyes”: Introducing the New Foundations of Scientific Knowledge

3 The Content of Kepler’s Visual Language: Abstraction, Representation, and Recognition

4 “Non tanquam Pictor, sed tanquam Mathematicus”: Kepler’s Pictures and the Art of Painting

5 Reading the Book of Nature: Allegories, Emblems, and Geometrical Diagrams

6 Nothing and the Ends of Renaissance Science





“Raz Chen-Morris masterfully argues that Kepler’s optics is a response to widely shared anxieties about vision in Renaissance culture. This book is the first to show why the Paralipomena was important for Kepler, and how it was a book of cultural significance instead of a response to a narrowly defined technical issue.” —Sven Dupré, Institute for Art History, Freie Universität Berlin

“Neither the disembodied mind that charted the path toward modern mathematical physics, nor the Neoplatonic magus who dreamed of hearing the music of God's celestial spheres, Johannes Kepler, in Raz Chen-Morris's erudite and multiperspectival reading, is a fully embodied early modern intellectual striving to resolve deep questions at the heart of early modern thought. Measuring Shadows is not just a new history of Kepler’s optics; it is a book about the early modern European life and preoccupations that led Kepler to his world-changing scientific achievements. As such, it is a brilliantly insightful contribution to the cultural history of early modern science.” —J. B. Shank, University of Minnesota

“Students of the history of astronomy, science historians, and graduate-level students who are involved in the study of optics and how Kepler derived his planetary laws of motion will benefit from this work. It is also a valuable acquisition for university and college libraries and major public libraries.” —C. G. Wood, Choice

“The picture Chen-Morris paints is important because it fills out the world within which the later Scientific Revolution could emerge, and presents new questions to ask about later developments in optics and natural philosophy.” —Elaine C. Stroud, Renaissance Quarterly


Raz Chen-Morris is Senior Lecturer in History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.