Galileo (1564-1642): A Victim of Academia & Hubris?

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Introduction/Synopsis

There are many that believe there is an inherent conflict between Religion and Science. Galileo’s life is frequently trotted out as an example of this supposed ongoing battle. This article attempts to show that Galileo’s primary clash was with Academia, who was resisting his paradigm shifts. It was Galileo’s inflammatory style that eventually forced the Church to take a stand against Copernicanism and convict him of heresy.

Even then, the Inquisition’s sentence was relatively benign. The house arrest at his villa in Florence removed him from the two decades long Copernican controversy that resulted in a personal creative drought. His forced isolation actually gave him the time and peace of mind to produce his best book and make some new discoveries.

Academia’s hostile resistance to Galileo’s paradigm shifts was not due to fear of the Inquisition, but instead an inherent feature of the scholarly class, then and now. Brains filled to overflowing with established dogma, there is little room for anything new. Typically it is the subsequent generations of scholars and scientists, those looking to make a name for themselves, that embrace and develop the new scientific paradigm. In this sense, Galileo’s confrontations with the academic establishment of his day were a drain on his creative energies.

 

Section Headings

 

Traditional Account omits Academia's Nefarious Role

For many observers, the Copernican revolution represents a threshold moment in the history of science. Until his time, the entrenched view for millennia was that the firmament revolved around a fixed and immoveable earth. Ptolemy developed a mathematical system that supported this fixed earth perspective. For this reason, the geocentric view became widely known as the Ptolemaic system.

Post Copernicus?

Copernicus was the first person to launch a plausible challenge to the geocentric view. He accomplished this by developing a mathematical foundation for the heliocentric perspective - a sun-based, rather than earth-based, astronomical system. What happened after Copernicus introduced his new paradigm?

Persecution by Church?

We imagine, perhaps from what we were taught in school, that the notion of a solar system was at odds with existing Church dogma. For most Christians, the special creation of mankind described in Genesis was a strong indication that the Earth was at the center of God’s Universe. We may have also learned that this new scientific idea was a challenge to Catholic authority. and consequently the Church fought back. They did so by censoring books and torturing or even burning those apostates that advocated for Copernicus and his heretical views. The moral to the story seemed to be that brave philosophers and astronomers embraced the ‘Truth’ of the heliocentric system despite the Church’s oppression.

Galileo as prime example: Traditional Narrative

Galileo is regularly trotted out as a prime example in support of this interpretation of events. According to the traditional narrative, Galileo is called before the Roman Catholic Inquisition for promoting the Copernican solar system. He recants after they threaten him with torture. The Inquisitors convict him of heresy and he is imprisoned for the remainder of his life.

However the Galileo story suffers from oversimplification and therefore misrepresents the roles of both the Church and Academia. In so doing, we overlook the mitigating circumstances surrounding the behavior of this particular Pope. We are also likely to romanticize Galileo’s behavior, and to overlook the obstructive role played by the scientific community itself.

Galileo, as we shall see, was not exactly an innocent scientist. His caustic style exacerbated a bitter battle with a dogmatic academia that produced his initial enemies. It was this class that lobbied the Church to take a stand against Galileo and his paradigm-shifting ideas. In fact, the Church was a latecomer to the controversy. Certain factions, including the Pope, actually supported Galileo, but were forced by political considerations to censure him. We suggest that his combative style both placed him in jeopardy and ultimately played a significant role in catalyzing the Church’s stand against Copernicanism.

Time to fill in Details

Let us fill in the details.

Galileo’s Creative Period

Age of 17 discovers pendulum’s equal period

Galileo did his most creative scientific work in the first half of his life. At the age of 17 in 1581, he discovered a method for measuring time that was far more accurate than had ever been possible before. No one had been able to measure time in smaller increments than an hour or a day. Galileo recognized the consistent beat of his own pulse and utilized this knowledge to measure the timing of a pendulum’s swings. Surprisingly, he found that the periods of a pendulum’s swings are consistently equal.

Measurement of Time enables Dynamics

The predictable regular behavior of a pendulum eventually became a foundation for accurately measuring smaller units of time. Quantifying time was a huge discovery. This enabled the scientific community to incorporate time into their investigations. This ability in turn opened the door to the physics of dynamic change on the earthly, rather than heavenly, plane.

The possibilities for investigation had been expanded into a new dimension. Understanding this simple phenomenon transformed a static world of length and mass into a dynamic world of time, distance and mass. This insight set the stage for Newton’s famous equation for force: Force = mass x distance/time squared. But we are getting ahead of our chronology.

1589-91: University of Pisa: first principles of dynamics

At the age of 22 in 1586, Galileo became famous throughout Italy for his invention of the hydrostatic balance. Even though a lack of funds prevented him from graduating from the university, this invention earned him a position as math lecturer at the University of Pisa. While there from 1589-91, he developed the first principles of dynamics.

Biting Sarcasm earns enemies and resignation

Galileo’s biting sarcasm roused the anger of those with opposing views and he became very unpopular. He resigned from his position and retreated to Florence. This event was a foreshadowing of the hubris that got him into so much trouble.

1591-1610: University of Padua: Force

Shortly after, he obtained a position as the chair of mathematics at Padua, where he remained from 1591-1610. He continued his work on dynamics. For instance, he was the first to conceptualize force as a mechanical agent. His solutions also suggested the interdependence of force and motion. This insight paved the way for Newton, and ultimately the development of modern science.

Primary technology of Science: math to physical problems

Galileo also introduced what became the primary technology of Science: applying mathematics to physical problems. He accomplished this by first making careful empirical observations and then subjecting these observations to precise calculations regarding the relationships between mass, time, and distance. He then transformed these concrete calculations into a mathematical abstraction, which is verbalized into a statement of theory. Finally for verification purposes, he assiduously compared his results with his stated theory.

Galileo’s tenure at Padua was definitely one of the most productive periods of his life.

Galileo’s entry into the Copernican controversy

Kepler begins (1597) & resolves (1609) Copernican controversy

Copernicus published his famous book, On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres, in 1543. The heliocentric system proposed in his book did not immediately produce the inevitable controversy. Instead both the Church and Scholars initially tended to completely ignore the idea or merely entertained the notion of a solar system as an intriguing concept.

It was Kepler’s book, Mysteries of the Cosmos, published over 50 years later in 1597 that ignited the controversy. He was the first Continental astronomer to come out publicly for the Copernican system. Yet it still remained only a debated hypothesis – unsupported by any hardcore evidence or mathematics.

Twelve years later in 1609, Kepler published his paradigm shifting work, The New Astronomy. This book provided the precise Math-Data matrix that convincingly turned the tide from speculation to scientific fact. Kepler’s mathematical system coherently integrated a confusing mish-mash of astronomical theories. It also provided better data regarding planetary position, which was particularly persuasive for both clerics and astrologers. The notion of a solar system couldn’t be ignored any longer.

Galileo Galileo: 1609 Telescope & 1610 Starry Messenger

During the period that Kepler was producing his Physics of the Heavens, Galileo was not involved in astronomy. He was instead engaged in his groundbreaking experiments that undermined the prevailing Aristotelian perspective that had dominated philosophical and scientific thought for nearly 2 millennia. Following Kepler’s lead, he was soon to enter the astronomical arena in a dramatic way.

Galileo was initially impressed with Copernicanism. However he had been deterred from expressing his opinions for fear of ridicule, not persecution, according to a letter he had written to Kepler in 1597. After hearing a rumor of a telescope, Galileo created his own, first with a magnification of 3 and then eventually 32X. In 1609, he viewed the heavens through the telescope that he had created. Amongst other things, he saw mountains upon the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, and the phases of Venus. Blown away by his observations, he wrote a small book, The Starry Messenger, that reported his findings. His direct observations convinced him that there were significant problems with the details of geocentrism.

According to the accepted Ptolemaic dogma, all heavenly bodies were perfect spheres. Yet Galileo’s observations regarding the mountains on the moon suggested otherwise. It was also accepted dogma that all heavenly bodies revolved around a fixed and immovable Earth. When Galileo observed the moons orbiting around Jupiter, he knew that this notion could not possibly be true. These visually-based insights convinced him of the inadequacy of a geocentric explanation and inspired him to believe even more firmly in the truth of the Copernican heliocentric solar system.

Problems with the Academy

Entrenched Interests oppose Galileo

Unfortunately entrenched interests opposed his stance. Who were they? The Church, e.g. Priests, Cardinals and Popes? Not at all. In a letter to Kepler, Galileo expresses his frustration with a different class.

Galileo Quote: “Remarkable stupidity of academy’s philosophers.”

“My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of the academy, who are filled with the stubbornness of an ass and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon, or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them an opportunity a thousand times? Truly just as the ass stops its ears, so do these philosophers, shut their eyes to the light of the truth.”1

Galileo discouraged by dogmatic scholarly class, not church censorship

This direct quotation from Galileo has several points of interest to us. First, it was the close-mindedness of the scholarly class that discouraged him,, rather than church censorship. Philosophers won’t even look through his telescope to see for themselves. Why? Presumably they were so committed to their ‘philosophy’ that they chose to avoid the conflicting evidence created by direct observation.

Galileo’s frustration with Academia, not the Church

Some historians believe that the book that eventually got Galileo in trouble with the Church was actually written to appeal to the public in order to circumvent the rigidity of the ‘philosophers of the academy’. It is entirely plausible that these philosophers could have been the ones that accused him of heresy to the Inquisitors, as the following narrative indicates. Galileo’s initial frustration was not with the Church but with the dogmatism of Academia.

A Pattern: Copernicus afraid of controversy with Academia

Hmmm? Seems as if we have a pattern. In order to avoid controversy with scholars, Copernicus waited until he was on his deathbed to publish his book. In fact, he dedicated his book to one Pope and another Pope encouraged him to write the book. Clearly, it was not the Church that Copernicus feared. Similarly, Kepler was taught secretly about Copernican theory because the official stance of the scholarly community supported Ptolemy.

Academia continues to shun or ignore Paradigm shifts

Nothing has changed. Academia still tends to shun or just ignore those who introduce new paradigms that challenge the old. Thomas Kuhn’s famous work, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, persuasively supports this theme. However, this institutional resistance to fresh ways of thinking often acts as a brake on an unsophisticated system’s premature acceptance. For instance, academic resistance to Copernicus inspired Kepler to take astronomy to a brand new level.

Galileo’s Arrogance brings Downfall?

Quote reveals Galileo’s eloquent & biting sarcasm

A second note of interest in the above quotation is Galileo’s eloquent and biting sarcasm. In this case, he first comments upon the ‘remarkable stupidity’ of these philosophers. He then likens them to an ass due to their stubbornness and unwillingness to confront the facts. His blunt, sarcastic style made him many enemies.

Galileo’s non-diplomatic style created many enemies

As examples, Galileo had a bitter life-long feud with a Jesuit priest, Christoph Shiener, over priority (who was the first to discover sunspots). He made more enemies at a conference where he praised Archimedes and criticized Aristotle, one of the most respected authorities from antiquity. He also wrote a book Il Saggiatore, ‘The Assayer’, that ridiculed a Jesuit priest and Brahe for their belief in comets. Galileo’s critique consisted of misguided scientific polemics where he insisted that comets were merely an optical illusion.

Rather than exercising diplomacy, he went for the throat, not caring if those who held contrary views were offended. Any of these victims of Galileo’s abrasive critical style could have betrayed him to the Church.

Friend warns Galileo that enemies are plotting against him

An artist friend warned Galileo that his malicious opponents were plotting against him. Offended by his biting comments, they were willing to use his views on the earth’s motion or anything else that would get him into trouble. They even encouraged a priest to denounce Galileo’s views from the pulpit.

1613: Galileo publishes book supporting Copernicanism, well received by Papacy

Galileo visited Rome in 1611. He was well received by the Papacy, which bolstered his confidence. He published a book in 1613 that supported Copernicanism. His brilliant exposition alerted the authorities to the discrepancies between heliocentrism and accepted interpretations of the Bible at that time.

Galileo’s unfortunate entry into the Biblical controversy

Eventually a Catholic priest denounced Galileo for his beliefs. Rather than exercising caution, Galileo entered the fray in his customary style – with impetuosity and reckless abandon. Rather than merely presenting scientific arguments in favor of heliocentrism, Galileo also employed Biblical quotes and theological arguments to defend his position. His eloquent reinterpretation of traditional doctrine ultimately precipitated a Papal decision that it would have been better to avert.

In 1615, he received a warning from Church authorities to stay out of theology and stick to science.

Cardinal Bellarmine Quote

Cardinal Bellarmine, the cleric the Vatican chose to preside over this unpleasant affair, offers words of caution to Galileo. “[Defending heliocentrism is] a very dangerous thing, likely not only to irritate all scholastic philosophers and theologians, but also to harm the Holy Faith by rendering the Holy Scripture false.”

For nearly two millennia, the position of virtually all scholars was that the earth was the unchanging center of the Universe, i.e. geocentrism.  This is the intellectual context for Cardinal Bellarmine’s warning to Galileo against ‘irritating all philosophers and theologians'.

Was Galileo’s ambition one of his motivations for challenging such an age-old and respected belief? Did his desire to make a name for himself lead to his antagonistic attitude towards the scientific community of his day? While understanding his frustration, we question his arrogant, caustic approach to the scholarly class.

January 1616: Ingoli: Galileo’s Heliocentrism not factually based

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church utilized the Inquisition as an instrument to silence critics who challenged the supreme authority of the Papacy. In 1615, the Inquisition commissioned Monsignor Francesco Ingoli to counter Galileo’s controversial claims. The high-ranking cleric wrote an essay that included 18 physical and mathematical critiques and four theological objections, which Galileo received in January 1616. Ingoli requested that Galileo only respond to his scientific challenges. Most of Ingoli’s arguments were summaries of Tycho Brahe’s critique of heliocentrism.

According to Brahe for Copernicus’ sun-based system to be true, some of the stars must be larger than our Sun and inconceivably far away. In contrast, Brahe along with astronomers from Pythagoras onwards had believed that all the stars were located in a fixed shell at an equal distance from the earth. How ironic that Brahe’s objections, which seemed so reasonable at the time, turned out to be so inconsistent with our modern understanding of the universe.

Ingoli’s objection is valid: Copernicus and Ptolemy in a stalemate

However, many scholars still find Ingoli’s most telling objection to be valid, i.e. heliocentrism lacked adequate evidence. Galileo’s position was only based on anecdotal observations, which is a far cry from providing systematic verification of his theory. According to Ingoli, heliocentrism was merely the assertion of an inadequately tested hypothesis. At that time in Italy, Copernicus’ version of the heliocentric system was in a stalemate with Ptolemy’s version of the geocentric system regarding the prediction of planetary position. Ingoli reasonably requested that Galileo must of necessity provide more concrete evidence before the authorities would accept the notion of a solar system.

It is interesting to note that Johann Kepler had already satisfied Ingoli’s primary objections. His mathematics provided powerful verification of the Copernican solar system as a scientific fact. Kepler’s theory systematically integrates the observations of Galileo (as well as Brahe) by making far more accurate predictions of planetary positions than either Ptolemy or Copernicus. An additional strength of Kepler’s approach was his ability to articulate a single mathematical principle that governed the behavior of all the planets in the solar system.  This provided a far more powerful explanation by simplifying the complex calculations required by his predecessors.

Galileo ignores Kepler achievements due to ego

As his longtime friend, Galileo must certainly have been aware of Kepler’s epoch changing discoveries. Much to his detriment, Galileo ignored these discoveries even though Kepler’s mathematical approach could have answered Ingoli’s request for more evidence to turn speculation into theory. He seemed to think that he was the sole genius of his age. He disregarded or argued against everyone else’s achievements, no matter how valid. His mental stance is reflected in the following quotation from one of his books.

Galileo quote: only I make astronomical discoveries

“It was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else.”2

1616 Inquisition forbids Galileo & bans books

In February 1616, the Roman Catholic Church via the Inquisition took their first stand against the Copernican system. They banned any books that supported heliocentrism, calling it “the false Pythagorean doctrine, altogether contrary to Holy Scripture.” The Inquisitors also addressed Galileo directly, forbidding him from “teaching, defending or discussing” Copernicanism in any way.

Galileo’s sarcastic eloquence precipitates Church stand against Copernicus

This censorship took place over 70 years after the death of Copernicus. Clearly the Church did not feel threatened by the theory of helio-centrism until Galileo entered the fray. A letter from the Tuscan ambassador to the Grand Duke suggests that Galileo’s aggressive tactics inspired the judgment against him and precipitated the Church’s opposition to Copernicanism. Galileo’s eloquent and probably belligerent defense offended scholars, theologians and the Church – the Establishment Trinity. What else could he expect?

Revised Copernican book: ‘Convenient calculations, not truth’

The Inquisition did however allow a revised version of Copernicus’ book to be published due to its utility in ‘calendrics’ (creating an accurate calendar for religious holy days). Only seven sentences from the original manuscript were changed. The words were merely tempered to refer to heliocentrism as a theory rather than as an established fact. This seems a reasonable position given the limited ability at that time to actually confirm the theory.

To minimize controversy with the official position, Copernicus’ original publisher, Osiander, employed a similar ‘tempering’ strategy. To that end, he inserted a preface into the document that stressed that the sun-based system was merely a convenient method of determining planetary position rather than a verified statement regarding the nature of the heavens. During the turbulence that followed the Inquisition’s new stance against helio-centrism, the Church regularly offered this same option to Galileo – don’t take such a dogmatic position. Yet it was impossible to quench his inflammatory style.

1623 book supporting Heliocentrism acclaimed by Authorities

After the old pope died in 1623, Pope Urban VII took over. The new pope was friendlier to Galileo, possibly even a supporter. In the same year, Galileo published another book, Il Saggiatore, and dedicated it to the new Pope. (This was the book where he erroneously maintained that comets were an optical illusion.) The work also contained a number of subtle plugs for Copernicanism. Despite these references both ecclesiastic and scientific authorities greeted his book with acclaim. .

Pope Urban VII grants Galileo permission to publish balanced view of Heliocentrism

Bolstered by this enthusiasm, Galileo may have inferred that there had been a softening of the Inquisition’s proscriptions of 1616. He proceeded to enter into some friendly discussions with the Catholic establishment. Some scholars contend that Pope Urban and the Inquisition even gave formal permission to Galileo to publish a book on Copernicanism. They claim that Urban personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in his upcoming work. He was cautioned to include Urban’s own arguments favoring geo-centrism, and not to advocate for the Copernican system.

Galileo publishes Dialogue in 1632

Galileo took advantage of Papal approval to author his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, which was published in January of 1632. It met with immediate popular success. The book takes the form of a dialogue between 3 characters. Two of the characters advocate Copernicus’ heliocentrism. The name of the character espousing the Pope’s views is an Aristotelian named Simpliticus. Throughout the work, this ’simpleton’ is presented as an intellectually inept fool.

Inflammatory Book censored

Rather than the balanced presentation that the Church had requested, Galileo’s Dialogue was highly inflammatory. The work clearly implied that the Pope’s views were emotionally driven and poorly thought out. Plus Galileo’s compelling advocacy of the heliocentric view was a flagrant violation of the Inquisition’s edict of 1616.

Given these circumstances, what choice did the Pope have? Galileo’s book forced him into a corner. His Dialogue clearly challenged the absolute authority of the Roman Catholic Church and undermined the doctrine of papal infallibility. Although the damage had been done, the book was censored and yanked from distribution in August, only a few seasons after publication.

1633 Inquisition convicts Galileo of heresy

In October, Galileo was summoned to appear before the Inquisition. He pleaded for exemption due to age and illness, but was denied. In February of the following year 1633, he arrived in Rome and was immediately detained. Inquisitors displayed instruments of torture and threatened to use them upon Galileo unless he recanted.

Faced with these alternatives, Galileo made the sensible choice. He repudiated Copernicanism and espoused the official Church doctrine, i.e. geo-centrism. According to legend4, he muttered, ‘yet it moves’ referring to the Earth, as he was led away – defiant until the end. He was convicted of heresy and imprisoned for his final decade, finally dying in 1642. Thus ends the somewhat traditional, seemingly tragic, account of Galileo’s life.

Galileo’s Imprisonment: Inspiration after a Creative Drought

Typical Galileo Narrative: Church silences Galileo for speaking the Truth?

The usual narrative of Galileo’s life seems to have been overly romanticized. He has typically been portrayed as the victim of a harsh and unsympathetic Church. The Inquisition silences a valiant scientist for speaking the truth.

Exaggerates the Church’s role

This version seems to exaggerate the Church’s role. This is not to say that the Papacy did not use its authority to suppress the free flow of information, frequently employing imprisonment, torture and execution to this end. However, this scenario does not apply to the Galileo narrative.

Benign Imprisonment enables Galileo to get back to work

As seen, his pride and arrogance were the features that initially placed him in jeopardy, not his ideas. Even after Galileo’s conviction for heresy by the Inquisition, his supposed ‘imprisonment’ was somewhat benign, as we shall see. Further the forced isolation removed Galileo from controversy and allowed him to get back to work. Let’s examine this last period of his life in more detail.

Although threatened, Galileo not tortured

Rather than playing the role of the vindictive censor, the Pope pulled some strings to assist his friend in the best way he could under the circumstances. Although he allowed Galileo to be called before the Inquisition, he stacked the panel that convicted Galileo with liberal clerics. Although heresy was the ultimate verdict, his punishment could have been far worse. While threatened, he was neither tortured, nor burned at the stake, nor was he really put in prison. Instead, the Pope arranged that Galileo be put under house arrest.

Confined in his Tuscan villa

Where was he confined? In a remote monastery? In a small, austere cell somewhere? Hardly. He spent a few months with his friend, the Archbishop of Sienna. Hmmm? A Catholic archbishop put him up for a season. Sounds like his relationship with the Church was not that inimical. After this torturous imprisonment in the lap of luxury, Galileo was escorted to his villa in Florence, where he really wanted to reside. A decade in Florence on his estate? Doesn’t sound too bad to me. Plus, friends could visit and did. He just couldn’t leave the property.

Galileo should thank Pope for forced isolation

There was another major upside to his confinement that is rarely if ever mentioned. In the successful attempt to vilify the Church and the Papacy, we are typically left with a negative impression: suppression of the truth. Yet in terms of his personal creativity, Galileo should have thanked the Pope for favoring him with forced isolation.

Feuds consume Galileo’s 50s and 60s

As mentioned, Galileo did his best work in the first half of his life. This prolific stage ended shortly after he entered the Copernican controversy. Tempted by better pay and a more prestigious position, Galileo left Padua for the University of Florence. Unfortunately, feuds consumed his next two decades, i.e. his 50s and 60s. His attempt to promote the Copernican system and his own discoveries combined with engaging in trivial conflicts drained his creative juices. Plus, his frustration with contradiction, sometimes petty and sometimes deserved, evoked an arrogant vehemence that eventually got him into his infamous troubles with the Church.

Quote: Sad middle period a creative drought

Arthur Koestler in his book, The Act of Creation, summarizes this unproductive time.

“During the tragic years 1613-33, filled with poisonous polemics, spurious priority claims, and impassioned propaganda for a misleadingly oversimplified Copernican system – in that sad middle period of his life Galileo made no significant contribution either to astronomy or to mechanics.”5

House Imprisonment freed Galileo from controversy

In this sense, house imprisonment in his villa in Florence was a blessing for Galileo. He had already made his mark. This seclusion freed him of the petty intrigues and conflicts with scholars and the Church that had plagued his life for the last two decades. After this creative drought, he finally began making important contributions again.

Writes best book 1636: Mature consolidation of life’s work

While in confinement, he wrote what many believe to be his most significant work, Discorsi intorno a due nuove Science. Finished in 1636, this discourse concerning two new sciences was a review and mature consolidation of all the discoveries he had made in mechanics.6 Published in 1638, it had a greater impact on the scientific community than all of his astronomical writings combined. The ideas regarding dynamics formulated in the book provided a major foundation for Newton’s great scientific accomplishments in the subsequent generation.

Galileo makes no theoretical contributions to Astronomy

For all the problems that the Copernican system caused him, Galileo’s theoretical contributions to astronomy were small, if any. His main additions to the discipline were mechanical, i.e. his new improved telescope, observational, i.e. his heavenly sightings in the starry firmament, and as an advocate, which got him into trouble. He never acknowledged Kepler’s paradigm-changing contributions, perhaps from ego, and made none of his own.7

Links Pendulum & Clockwork

In his forced isolation from controversy and intrigue, Galileo’s creativity reasserted itself in yet another highly significant fashion. He created a theoretical application of his discoveries made as a teenager regarding the pendulum to clockwork. Huygens realized these potentials in 1657.8

Clocks transform Global Culture

Recall that a pendulum takes exactly the same time to complete its cycle no matter how far or short the length of the swing. By connecting tiny pendulums of infinite variety to gears and springs, time could finally be precisely measured and synchronized to an entire culture and then the whole planet. These events marked the raw beginnings of timepieces, watches, and Big Ben, which were to inevitably transform humanity from a seasonal agricultural society to an hourly of even minute driven industrial society.

Galileo’s confinement a blessing rather than a curse

Rather than cursing the Pope and the Church for forcing Galileo to recant and then putting him under house arrest, we should be blessing them for concentrating and igniting his powerful creative drive. The private investigations that occurred during confinement in his Florence villa laid the scientific foundations for our technological wonderland. Isolating Galileo from controversy permanently changed human culture for what most would consider the better.

Academia always resists Paradigm Changes

Despite this long-winded exposition, it is still possible to blame the Church for Academia’s shortsightedness. You might think that the scholars were close-minded due to the Church’s influence. They were afraid to express what they truly felt because they were afraid that the Inquisition was examining their work for heresy. You suspect that philosopher-scientists would be more open to new ideas in a more enlightened time, for instance the modern era. Sorry to pop your bubble. The Church cannot take all the credit for Academia’s persistent dogmatism – its resistance to paradigm changes. As we shall see in the following discussion, this is an inherent feature of the scholarly class.

Galileo spent 20 years of his life attempting to convince Academia to change their paradigm on two fronts – from Ptolemy to Copernicus and from Aristotle to Galileo. Not only was his attempt unsuccessful, but it also earned him many enemies. We can just imagine his frustration at the close-mindedness of his colleagues. His anger probably sharpened his sarcastic tongue, which offended important scholars, who became his bitter enemies. Wanting to get even, they complained about him to the Church, which inevitably got him in trouble with the Inquisition.

We can also imagine the reaction of the 17th century scholars. “Who does Galileo think he is? He didn’t even graduate from college and he is challenging Aristotle and Ptolemy. What gall! What an ego he must have to think that his experiments have disproved the conclusions of these great minds. Why should we even bother listening to this brash upstart, when we’ve got the wisdom of the ages behind us? But he is so outspoken and rude. We must shut him up to teach him a lesson.”

Galileo was wasting his creative energy in his futile attempt to convince scholars of the truth of his fresh paradigm. He was fighting a losing battle and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Church. His failure to change any minds was instead due to Academia’s inherent resistance to paradigm changes. Scholars have possessed this common feature for centuries, if not millennia. The academic opposition to extreme change is probably good in that spurious claims are rejected and valid proposals are stabilized. Drag enables flight. But it is unpleasant when it is happening, as witnessed by Galileo’s decades long frustration.

The resistance to paradigm conversion does not just come from mid to low level scientists. Even top scientists tend to oppose paradigm changes that don’t come from them. A few examples come to mind: Galileo rejected or ignored Kepler’s astronomical paradigm change even though he could have used it to his advantage against scientific objections levied by the Inquisition. For decades, Einstein wasted his creative energy fighting against the probabilistic nature of the subatomic realm even though he had changed our paradigm regarding the notion of space and time.

Some scientific geniuses have even recognized this innate feature of Academia, as the following quotations show. At the end of his classic Origin of the Species, Darwin nails the issue on the head:

“Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume …, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. … But I look with confidence to the future, – to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.”9

Max Plank was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering that energy, rather than continuous, comes in discrete quanta. This opened the door to Quantum Physics of the Subatomic Realm. He was also the scientist who recognized the quality, albeit rough, of Einstein’s initial papers and suggested that the academic journal publish them. He offers an even more pessimistic assessment of the scholarly establishment in his Scientific Biography:

 “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grow up that is familiar with it.”10

What does this insight mean for Lehman, the author of this book? He thinks he has created a major paradigm shift. He firmly believes that he has developed the Physics of Mental Energy, which is a feature of his Theory of Attention. Rather than everything having a material explanation (the current paradigm), his research indicates that Life has a non-material component that obeys a different set of laws. Mental energy and Attention belong to what he calls the Realm of Imagery, as it is based in information-based images. The mind forms images based upon information. This realm of existence interacts with and yet is not part of the Material Realm.   

We can imagine the reaction from 21st century scholars to Lehman’s Theory of Attention. “Who does Lehman think he is? He is challenging centuries of accumulated wisdom after only 2 years of college math and science classes. What gall! What an ego he must have to think that his mathematical analysis could establish a physics of mental energy when far greater minds don’t even believe it exists. Why should we even bother listening to this old fart, when we’ve got the wisdom of the ages behind us? But he has no prestige and is so timid. We will just ignore him until he dies.”

Because their ‘minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to his’, Lehman shouldn’t waste his time attempting to convince the Old Guard to change their paradigm. The best that he can expect is that a future generation of scientists will arise “who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” And that one of these brilliant minds will embrace and champion his Theory of Attention.

Summary

So where do we stand? Galileo’s brilliance led him to challenge the existing paradigm on two fronts. The results of his personal investigations contradicted the Aristotelian dogma regarding dynamics. His personal observations contradicted the Ptolemaic dogma regarding astronomy. The scholarly class, which included philosophers and theologians, had accepted Aristotle and Ptolemy as infallible sources along with the Bible for centuries. As long as he only challenged Aristotelian and Ptolemaic dogma, he only offended the officials in the scholarly class. However when he attempted to reinterpret the Bible, he offended the Church.

Galileo’s primary opponent, as least initially, was Academia. Galileo was neither tactful, nor diplomatic, but was instead brilliantly sarcastic. It was his communication style that earned him many enemies, first with the scholarly class and then with the Church. Challenging paradigms combined with his biting arrogance resulted in his conviction for heresy by the Inquisition, not his scientific beliefs.

Rather than a battle between Religion and Science, Galileo’s real battle was with the Academia and their scholastic dogma. Rather than only his scientific beliefs, Galileo’s hubris played a major role in his censure by the Church.

Footnotes

1 Favarro, (1900, 10:423) archived at the Wayback Machine.

2 Galileo, Il Saggiatore, p.6

4 The first evidence of this statement comes in 1761, over a century after Galileo’s sentencing, which makes one question the credibility.

5 Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1964, p. 679

6 Encyclopedia Britannica, Galileo Galilei, p. 978

7 Encyclopedia Britannica, Galileo Galilei, p. 978

8 Encyclopedia Britannica, Galileo Galilei, p. 978

9 From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, The University of Chicago Press, 1962, p.150

10 From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, The University of Chicago Press, 1962, p.150

 

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