Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Galileo Galilei

                                         Sam Smith, Vincent Thompson, Kara Stallings
             Galileo Galilei was born in Italy in 1564 and died in 1642. He was an astronomer, physicist, engineer, mathematician, and philosopher. His philosophy and work in physics was heavily influenced by Copernicus and Aristotle. One of Galileo's most important contributions to physics is his thought experiment on falling bodies or the movement of objects in free fall which originated in 1590. The falling bodies experiment eventually led to the establishment of the principle that all bodies all at the same speed in a vacuum. This conclusion differs from Aristotle’s theory of free fall which states that all bodies of the same kind fall with speeds proportional to their size. While Galileo's original experiment is not without flaw, the ultimate conclusion has made a massive impact on modern physics.

            Galileo was a man who was duly noted for his early elaboration on the physics of Aristotle. Aristotle believed that elements determined why certain resources did certain things. He believed that stones hit the ground because it was an earthy element and wanted to be close to something of similarity. He also believed the same about smoke and air. Galileo stated that an arrow kept flying through the air due to the law of inertia, and a wood block didn’t move across a table due to the law of friction. He essentially laid down the groundwork for Sir Isaac Newton with this notion.

            From this work, Galileo then expanded his studies from that beyond the realm of the Earth by following under Copernicus’s theory. This assertion was the beginning domino effect to Galileo’s conflicts with the Church. Initially, his conflict with the Catholic Church started with his defense of the concept of heliocentrism. It was previously thought and the accepted view of the church that the Earth was the center of the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus a 14th century philosopher revived the controversial argument of heliocentrism when he published “Commentariolus”. Galileo defending these views in his writing submitted to the Roman Inquisition in 1615. The bible states in certain text and scripture that “the world is firmly established and cannot be moved”. Galileo’s view on heliocentrism was deemed heretical on the premises that it contradicts the bible. He was told to abandon his idea and not to speak on it. He stated away from the controversy until he published, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” in 1632. It was an authorized publication with a few stipulations. Pope Urban VIII insisted that Galileo mention arguments for and against heliocentrism and that his personal views were included in the book. Simplio, the main character against the concept of heliocentrism voiced the words of the pope and was often portrayed in a foolish way. The pope recognized this and did not take this lightly. He lost the popes support and was sentenced to defend his writings in Rome. He was found guilty of heresy and made to recant his beliefs. He received a life sentence of house arrest. It is rumored that during his last moment before sentencing he uttered the rebellious phrase “and yet it moves”.

            Furthermore, this 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei did not only end Galileo’s career essentially but it also marked the end of the Italian Renaissance as well.

            Galileo's first instinct when noting Copernicus’s successful work was to turn to a few of his like-minded friends, one of them being monk Benedetto Castelli.  He most likely decided to keeps his opinions out of the public, writing to Castelli: "In order to convince those obdurate men, who are out for the vain approval of the stupid vulgar, it would not me enough even if the stars came down on earth to bring witness about themselves.  Let us be concerned only with gaining knowledge for ourselves, and let us find therein our consolation." To paraphrase this quote, Galileo is stating that although he agrees with Copernicus, he feels it may be best to allow the people to decide for themselves what they should believe to be true.

            However, this plan quickly succumbed to Galileo’s persistent need for the truth. He soon decided to address his arguments publically with various semi-simplistic styled writings (i.e. tracts, pamphlets, letters, and dialogues) in order to better fit his broadened audience. One of these writings just so happened to be a set of letters called “The Solar Spots” which Galileo actually published. This marked the beginning of the conflicts with the church as the Dominican friar contacted Galileo claiming that he was violating Scripture:

"So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven" or Isaiah 40:22

            Galileo later answered to this criticism with a letter of his own reasoning that the Scripture was of course correct seeing as God’s word was law during the time period. However he went on to state that some phrases within scripture should be considered more figuratively rather than actually. With this he used a brilliant example: "the hand of God" is not meant to be interpreted as referring to a five-fingered appendage, but rather to God’s presence in our selves and lives. Also, given this knowledge Galileo challenged that it would be irrational to see his writings as backing up one point over the other. "Who, would dare assert that we know all there is to be known?"

            This letter infuriated the church and they quickly deemed him as attacking God’s word altogether.  They took up the matters at a higher level and threatened to condemn his work altogether. Galileo then broke, pleading with the church in a powerful summary "do not condemn it without understanding it, without hearing it, without even having seen it." 

            The church settled with Galileo and enjoined him rather than condemning his work. He was forced to “abandon all of his opinions on the subject, sustain from teaching or defending this opinion and even from discussing it."

            This lasted for several years until a new Pope came to power, giving Galileo a newfound hope at publishing his works again. First encouraged by the new Pope who seemed open to renewed debate Galileo began work on a book that would eventually prove his undoing, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Unlike the works of Copernicus and Kepler, Galileo's Dialogue was a book for the educated public, not specialists. Galileo organized a diversity of arguments to lead his readers to one inevitable conclusion: Copernicus was right.

            This was the final stroke of Galileo with the church which led to the official surrender to the Holy Office and Inquisition. He then was imprisoned in the Inquisition building for a short time before finally being released and allowed back home where he grew blind and later died.

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