Monday, August 08, 2011

An Heroic Journey

The crime of Galileo (Time reading program special edition)
The Crime of Galileo 
by Giorgio De Santillana

"But I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them."  - Galileo Galilei 

 I have read this book twice many years apart; first, as background reading in an overview of the History of Science in college and second, in a study group in recent years where a group of adults pondered the meaning and value of this seminal battle in the history of ideas.
 Giorgio de Santillana wrote The Crime of Galileo as an intellectual whodunit which traces not the life but the mental journey of Galileo on his road to personal tragedy. When Galileo was 46 years old, in 1610, he developed the telescope, secured tenure and a big raise at Padua, then went on to make all the discoveries announced in Sidereus Nuncius: mountains on the moon, the moons of Jupiter, phases of Venus, etc. By naming the moons of Jupiter after the Medici family, Galileo landed the job of Mathematician and Philosopher (meaning Physicist) to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and was able to return to his native land. 

"But what exceeds all wonders, I have discovered four new planets and observed their proper and particular motions, different among themselves and from the motions of all the other stars; and these new planets move about another very large star [Jupiter] like Venus and Mercury, and perchance the other known planets, move about the Sun. As soon as this tract, which I shall send to all the philosophers and mathematicians as an announcement, is finished, I shall send a copy to the Most Serene Grand Duke, together with an excellent spyglass, so that he can verify all these truths." 

  This move upset his friends in Venice who had worked so hard to secure his promotion at Padua only months before. Of course, Galileo’s belief that his discoveries with the telescope strongly favored the Copernican world view meant he was headed for trouble with the Church. In fact, his Venetian friends warned him that it might be dangerous to leave the protection of the Venetian state. What we have in this book is the depiction of an intellectual hero second only to Socrates. Santillana succeeds in placing this fascinating episode in the history of science in the context and logic of its own time.

"Eppur si muove." (And yet it does move.)
Referring to the Earth. According to legend, these apocryphal words were uttered to himself as he rose from kneeling after making his abjuration of heliocentricity. In a painting by B. E. Murillo (1643) Galileo is shown at his prison wall, pointing to these words with a diagram of the solar system. 

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parrish lantern said...

this is a point of interest to me, that confrontation of a dogma & new knowledge & have pondered how one would react if face with his dilemma, making this book of interest to me, thanks.

James said...

Santillana focuses more on the religious dilemma than on the science but his work remains a classic nonetheless.