Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was one of the heroes of my youth. Anyone who can run rings around authority gets my vote, especially when that authority is cruel, oppressive, backward, and consistently stands in the way of progress. If I later learned that he did not battle the Inquisition quite as I had imagined, his heroism still strikes me as real. He had no way of knowing that the Church would be far more lenient with him than it was with Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 for similar scientific views. Both men were Copernicans, believing that the earth revolved around the sun, which was considered heresy by many Church authorities in that day. For them, it went against scripture, and they didn’t buy into Galileo’s suggestion that not all scripture should be taken literally:
“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
Galileo wrote in the face of tremendous opposition during his lifetime. He practiced his scientific craft in the face of that opposition for much of his adult life. The Inquisition was after him for nearly two decades before they put him under house arrest in 1633. All for being one of the most brilliant scientists and inventors of his day.
He once said:
“And who can doubt that it will lead to the worst disorders when minds created free by God are compelled to submit slavishly to an outside will? When we are told to deny our senses and subject them to the whim of others? When people devoid of whatsoever competence are made judges over experts and are granted authority to treat them as they please? These are the novelties which are apt to bring about the ruin of commonwealths and the subversion of the state.”
The telescope: While it was not really his invention, he quickly made it his own with subsequent refinements and enhancements. The telescope was vital in his observations of planetary motion and confirmed the Copernican revolution for him. He was among the very first to use that instrument to secure astronomical proofs.
“My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?”
I also find it interesting that his father was a musician, composer and theorist. The music of the spheres. Mathematics and music. Harmony and the ratio of strings producing consonances. The sounds the stars make, the beautiful tension in all things, their aural poetry and the connection with the laws of the universe. The sounds composers imagine, their order — mathematical equations for the heart. Galileo must have been impacted by the music he heard as a youth, and the theories his father espoused. There is some suggestion that he may have helped his father with various experiments regarding weights and measures and harmony.
Falling notes. Falling objects. Do notes with different weights fall at different speeds? Can you drop notes from the leaning tower of Pisa?
A life infused by esoterica, math, physics and technology. To many in his day, everything he wrote and said was beyond esoteric. Ahead of his time, a father in many scientific fields, Galileo saw that the earth also rises and could not look away.