From Sight to Light

The Passage from Ancient to Modern Optics

A. Mark Smith

From Sight to Light
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A. Mark Smith

480 pages | 41 halftones, 58 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226174761 Will Publish November 2014
E-book $36.00 ISBN: 9780226174938 Will Publish November 2014
From its inception in Greek antiquity, the science of optics was aimed primarily at explaining sight and accounting for why things look as they do. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the analytic focus of optics had shifted to light: its fundamental properties and such physical behaviors as reflection, refraction, and diffraction. This dramatic shift—which A. Mark Smith characterizes as the “Keplerian turn”—lies at the heart of this fascinating and pioneering study.       
           
Breaking from previous scholarship that sees Johannes Kepler as the culmination of a long-evolving optical tradition that traced back to Greek antiquity via the Muslim Middle Ages, Smith presents Kepler instead as marking a rupture with this tradition, arguing that his theory of retinal imaging, which was published in 1604, was instrumental in prompting the turn from sight to light. Kepler’s new theory of sight, Smith reveals, thus takes on true historical significance: by treating the eye as a mere light-focusing device rather than an image-producing instrument—as traditionally understood—Kepler’s account of retinal imaging helped spur the shift in analytic focus that eventually led to modern optics. 
           
A sweeping survey, From Sight to Light is poised to become the standard reference for historians of optics as well as those interested more broadly in the history of science, the history of art, and cultural and intellectual history.
William R. Newman, Indiana University
From Sight to Light is an exciting and valuable addition to the diachronic history of science in an area of crucial importance not only to our understanding of medieval science but also to the formation of modern science itself. This is history of science at its best.”
Sven Dupré, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
“In its text-based approach, From Sight to Light offers a convincing conceptual history of optics. Well argued and based on a lifetime of close study of the primary sources, it deserves to be widely read. From Sight to Light has the potential to be a classic alongside David Lindberg's Theories of Vision.”
Robert Alan Hatch, University of Florida
“No one doubts Kepler’s contribution to optics and vision.  But here, as never before, his ancient and medieval debts are set in deeper historical context, and importantly, his dramatic departures are carefully reassessed and critically revised. Smith’s fresh interpretation of the Western optical tradition—impressive in scope and rigor, and written with remarkable clarity—will likely become a classic.”
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