The Limitations & Possibilities of Sight: Euclid’s Optics

Louis Petrich + Michael Grenke

What are the limitations and possibilities of perception—and what do ancient mathematics and modern literature have to say about this question? Written in 300 BC, Euclid’s Optics is a foundational work of mathematics on the geometry of vision, while Swann’s Way, the first book in Proust’s multi-volume Remembrance of Things Past, published in 1913, states: “Even with respect to the most insignificant things in life, none of us constitutes a material whole. Even the very simple act that we call ‘seeing the person we know’ is, in part, an intellectual one; we fill in the physical appearance of the individual we see with all the notions we have about him, and of the total picture that we form for ourselves, these notions certainly occupy the greater part.” These works are the jumping off points for a conversation between Annapolis tutor Michael Grenke and host Louis Petrich, on the limitations and possibilities of perception.

In this Episode

  • Guest Michael Grenke

    Michael Grenke is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is reading Thucydides in freshman seminar, exploring Newton in junior mathematics, and pondering natural selection in senior laboratory.

  • Host Louis Petrich

    Louis Petrich is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is exploring Euripides in freshman seminar, teaching Pascal in freshman laboratory, and leading a philosophy and theology tutorial in the Graduate Institute.

Featured Release

The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host Louis Petrich and tutor Erica Beall delve into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful and war potentially beautiful, invites us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.

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Executive Producers Welcome

Continuing the Conversation was funded through the philanthropy of donors to St. John’s College. If you’d like to give to the college’s Annual Fund, your gift will go to support the kinds of inquiry and conversation that comes to life at St. John’s College. It also frees up money for creative projects like this one, which brings great conversation and great books into homes across the world.


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