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Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Tom McLeish

Bower, R.G., McLeish, T.C.B., Tanner, B.K., Smithson, H.E., Panti, C., Lewis, N. & Gasper, G.E.M. (2014). A medieval multiverse?: Mathematical modelling of the thirteenth century universe of Robert Grosseteste. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 470(2167): 40025.

Author(s) from Durham


In his treatise on light, written about 1225, Robert Grosseteste describes a cosmological model in which the universe is created in a big-bang-like explosion and subsequent condensation. He postulates that the fundamental coupling of light and matter gives rises to the material body of the entire cosmos. Expansion is arrested when matter reaches a minimum density and subsequent emission of light from the outer region leads to compression and rarefaction of the inner bodily mass so as to create nine celestial spheres, with an imperfect residual core. In this paper, we reformulate the Latin description in terms of a modern mathematical model, teasing out consequences implicit in the text, but which the author would not have had the tools to explore. The equations which describe the coupling of light and matter are solved numerically, subjected to initial conditions and critical criteria consistent with the text. Formation of a universe with a non-infinite number of perfected spheres is extremely sensitive to the initial conditions, the intensity of the light and the transparency of these spheres. In this ‘medieval multiverse’, only a small range of opacity and initial density profiles leads to a stable universe with nine perfected spheres. As in current cosmological thinking, the existence of Grosseteste’s universe relies on a very special combination of fundamental parameters.