Athanasius Kircher’s Organum mathematicum

For the last few years, the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University (APUG) has been conducting, with the generous support of Fondazione Sorgente Group, a research project on the figure and encyclopedic work of the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher.

 The project involves the digitalization of Kircher’s works, the digitalization and controlled transcription of his letters, and the collaborative compilation of a universal bibliography on the life, the works and the historical and cultural context in which Athanasius Kircher has lived. This research project focuses specifically on the invention of the Organum mathematicum. The intention would be to organize a case study around this scientific tool in order to finally shed light on the historical and cultural context surrounding Kircher’s invention and, at the same time, to explain the evolutionary improbability of a machine designed to make calculations, such as that envisaged by the German Jesuit.

“Organum Mathematicum” (Inv. 2741). Museo Galileo, Florence, Italy.

Kircher’s invention comes from a century of profound social and cultural transformations which have at least facilitated, if not suggested, the idea of developing a calculating machine such as the Organum mathematicum. This context shall be investigated carefully. Like any technique in general, the Organum allowed the user to perform any computations properly without knowing why the computations were correct.

The main hypothesis of this research project is that precisely this unprecedented interaction constitutes the most obvious improbability of the Organum. Instead of training the conscience to reproduce knowledge, the user is training the machine to correctly answer his questions whenever the user has information needs to be satisfied. Evolution makes probable that improbability, thus gradually transforming it into an obviousness.

You can see the research project here.


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