Galileo Galilei


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Author : Prerna Jain

This article re-tells travails and trials of the first “real” experimental scientist, Galileo Galilei.

Introduction

As a house is built-up by bricks, so was Galileo made up of curiosity…

One of the good things about dealing with such momentous times and people is that they are full of interpretive fecundity. Galileo and and his works call for one such occasion.

Galileo, the oldest son of Vincenzo Galilei, was born on February 15, 1564, in Pisa. Moreover, when he was born, there was no such thing as “science”, yet by the time he died, on January 8, 1642, in Arcetri, “science” was well on its way to become a discipline, and its concepts & methods a whole philosophical system.

“Philosophically”, many would ask, how his mathematics related to his natural philosophy? How did his telescopic observations provide an evidence in favour of Copernicanism? Was he an experimentalist, a mathematical Platonist, an Aristotelian emphasizing experience,a precursor of modern positivist science or an Archimedean using a revised scholastic method of proof ? Or did he had no method and just flew the way geniuses do ? ….

……..In each of these cases there was some attempt to place Galileo in an intellectual context that brought out the background to his achievements.

Actually, the Galilean endeavors emphasized on the larger social and cultural history, specifically, the court and papal culture in  which he himself functioned.

This great man, was persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for  promolugation of his scientific discoveries, still, requires a re-telling of  travails and trials that he faced in his life.

How sad it was that Galileo was brought to the Vatican for questioning the use of telescope, from Netherlands, to substantiate Copernicus’ heliocentric model of our Solar System, which was highly incompatible with both popular belief and Church Doctrine. Upon being threatened and tortured, he recanted his teachings. His students were, then, shocked, by his surrender in the face of pressure from the Church Authorities.

Old and broken, Galileo lived under house arrest in Italy, and smuggled a book of his scientific discoveries, for dissemination abroad, through his former pupil Andrea…. Andrea believed that Galileo’s actions were heroic and that he just recanted to fool the ecclesiastical priestly authorities…..

He, indeed, embodied true heroism.

An insight into his scientific life :

For most people, in the 17th Century, and even today, he was and he is the “hero” of modern science. He was the first “real” experimental scientist, who advocated the relativity of motion and created mathematical physics.

In 1610, he published The Starry Messenger. He even named the moons of Jupiter  after the Medici. In 1611, he became a member of what was perhaps the first scientific society, The Academia Dei Lincei. In 1612 and 1613, he published Discourse on floating Bodies , and, Letters on the sunspots, respectively.In 1623, he published The Assayer, in which he dealt with the nature of comets, thereby, arguing that the comets are sublunary phenomena.

He changed the acceptable way of talking about matter and its motion, thereby, ushering a mechanical tradition that characterized so much of modern science and more so,  even today.

Main focus underlying in his accomplishments

He was interested in finding a unified theory of matter, a mathematical theory of the material stuff that constitutes the whole of the cosmos. He began his critique of Aristotle in 1590 manuscript, De Motu.  He even attempted to examine the properties of the percussive effect of bodies of different specific gravities. He proposed the law of free fall. From 1603 to 1609, he worked long at doing experiments on inclined planes, and, most importantly, with pendula, that exhibited “time is a crucial variable”.

Perhaps, his most unequivocal finding was his analogizing the mountains on moon to the mountains in Bohemia.

The Hero

He died in 1642. Due to his conviction, he was, obscurely, not buried until 1737.

Is seems that certain folks we hear are thought of for a while, and others are remembered for a special deed or smile. but those who stay within our hearts are very few, and that is just the kind of man I found in Galileo.

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