If ever there was a great thinker who challenged the conventional wisdom of the day, it was Galileo Galilei (1564-1642.) Galileo was born in Pisa, Italy, into a well-to-do family in 1564, his father being a noted musician and scholar. Galileo displayed a lot of interest in the arts and science as a child, becoming a very fine lute player in his own right. In 1583, Galileo entered the University of Pisa to study medicine, but he soon realized that his interests lay in mathematics and physics. During this time, most conventional wisdom followed a train of thought developed by Aristotle known as “Aristotelian natural philosophy.” This discipline sought to explain the natural world by using philosophic reason. Galileo, like many students, accepted this reasoning as being gospel. However, Galileo began to question these assumptions after he began a career in a faculty position at the university. He began conducting numerous experiments with falling objects, determining the strength of various materials, among other observations. This led to the development of concepts of motion, acceleration, inertia, parabolic trajectories, and other mechanical properties that could be explained using mathematical formulas. After Galileo published reports that described these physical properties in mathematical terms, he lost his position at the University because these theories opposed the traditional wisdom of the day.

Credit: - Justus Sustermans

Upon losing his position at the University of Pisa, Galileo was appointed as the Dean of the Mathematics department at the University of Padua. It was here that Galileo improved upon some of the technologies of the day to produce a superior compass for military applications, a precursor to the thermometer, known as the “thermoscope,” and he greatly improved the design of a telescope, producing instruments that had three times, then 30 times the magnifying power. Using the 30 power telescope enabled Galileo to scan the night skies and develop as an astronomer. Galileo is credited as the first person to describe the surface of the moon, view the four moons of Jupiter, discover the planet Neptune, view the rings around Saturn, and describe sun spots. As an astronomer, Galileo championed the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun, along with the other planets in our solar system. This once again clashed with the conventional wisdom that the sun and other planets revolved around the earth. For his inability to follow conventional wisdom, Galileo was called to Rome to answer for his blasphemy, and ultimately placed under house arrest for eight years. It was during this phase of his life that Galileo published the book, “Two New Sciences.” This book, which was first published in Holland, is considered to be the first book of Physics. In addition to expounding on many physical properties from a mathematical perspective, Galileo outlined the modern scientific method, whereby theories were tested by experimentation. Despite Galileo’s status as one of the great thinkers of the day, many of his theories were not accepted during his lifetime. However, time would prove many of his theories to be correct, as the world emerged into the modern age. As a result of “Two New Sciences,” and his other publications, many of the great minds throughout history consider Galileo to be the individual who ushered in the age of modern science.

Article by FCFCDB