456 years ago today, a true champion of scientific thought was born.
GALILEO GALILEI was one of the major luminaries of the Scientific Revolution. His works spurred major intellectual development and scientific growth, efforts on his part which, owing to the dark parochial periods of the time, nonetheless dearly cost him. Despite his unrelenting attempts to pursue and convey the truths of the natural world divulged through his ingenious methods and tools of science, Galileo would spend the last years of his life bedridden, blind, and confined under house arrest. Not celebrated but, rather, accused of “heresy” by his benighted contemporaries.
Galileo’s contributions to science span remarkable lengths. Today, he is described as one of the founding fathers of modern science. Indeed, he was among the first to highly advance our understanding of motion and physical bodies and to pioneer brilliant methods of empirical experimentation in regards to which his experiments uncovered great insights regarding accelerated motion and motion of projectiles. In his budding understanding, Galileo had broken away from the Aristotlean school of thought (e.g. the notion of heavier objects falling faster than lighter objects in free fall and the teleological conception of objects being “wont” to move in a straight line towards their “natural places”) and developed the law of inertia. Those were momentous developments in the physical sciences and paved tentative steps for Newton’s first law of motion. They paved the first steps for our formulation of the natural world in terms of mechanical mathematical principles rather than in terms of teleological notions of objects “striving to realise a purpose that is inherent in nature” and allowed us to look at the physical sciences in an empirical, scientific, and rational light.
But, as is well known, Galileo was also an ingenious astronomer. He is often described as “The Father of Observational Astronomy”. He built his own telescopes to study the solar system, telescopes which were quite powerful (they magnified objects 20 times greater) that the Italian navy enlisted their use for navigation. Using his increasingly powerful telescopes, Galileo observed the phases of the moon and sketched its phases. He discovered the phases of Venus, the four moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. Galileo’s observations of these extraterrestrial terrains (i.e. crater on the moon), of supernovas, and of sun spots on the sun appearing on the edge of the sun then proceeding with rapidity when they are near the centre of the sun’s disk then slowing down at the apparent edge of the disk, eventually perishing (indicative of the Sun being a spinning ball being orbited by the Earth at constant velocity), together with his discovery of superfluous moons of Jupiter and that not all heavenly objects revolve around the Earth were great developments that lead him to his momentous insights that the universe is not perfect but rather a very chaotic place and that we are not at the centre of the universe, ideas which sparked his later conflicts with the bullies of the Catholic Church.