Monday, February 15, 2010

Yet it Moves

The bearded fellow above is one Galileo Galilei born this day 1564 in Pisa, Italy. The son of a famous music theorist, he was the oldest of six children. After seriously considering the priesthood, he enrolled in University of Pisa to pursue a medical degree. He did not complete this degree, instead deciding to study mathematics. He was appointed to a chair of mathematics in 1589 at Pisa, but in 1592, after the death of his father, he moved to the University of Padua teaching geometry, astronomy, and mechanics until 1610. It was in 1610 that he published one of the works that was to get him into so much trouble with the church. His observations of the moon of Jupiter led him to argue in favour of a Sun-centered universe. This was in opposition to the prevailing theory of the time, and the church was not amused. He was called to Rome to answer for his "heresy," and was enjoined from teaching the Sun-centered theory. He was tried for that heresy, and found guilty, being placed under house arrest with his movements restricted by the pope. The story goes that as he was found guilty he muttered words to the effect that say what you want "yet it moves," (speaking of the Earth that was supposed to be non-moving at the centre of the universe). However, that story has no scholarly evidence to support it, but if he did say it then good for him. The famous experiment showing him dropping balls of different weights off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that outside a vacuum they would fall at the same rate also probably did not happen in real life, but was more of a thought experiment. He has been called the father of modern science, and Stephen Hawking has said that "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science." That is pretty high praise from a pretty impressive source. This little post hardly scratches the surface of his contributions to the world of knowledge, and I encourage you to read about him further for yourself. Whether he made that rebellious statement or not really does not matter. It is the idea that he had the balls to take his observations to the church, and say "you fellows are making a cock-up of the universe thing, and this is the truth." For that courage, and for all the other contributions to the world of science, Galileo Galilei (February 15th, 1564-January 8th, 1642, at the age of 77), you are my (174th) hero of the day.

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