Lecture Series

Galileo Galilei: his life, his work, his time

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José Manuel Sánchez Ron

He could have become a musician like his father Vincenzi, even a philosopher (the writings of Aristoteles held no mysteries to him), or maybe an artist of the pen or the paintbrush, abilities he also possessed, but he ended up becoming a scientist: physic, mathematician, and astronomer. He believed there was no better judge than reason, an excellent good that God in his holy grace had granted to mankind (after all, he was not a bad Christian), although he ended up being a victim of the least reasonable of reasons: the force. The biography of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is not only fascinating due to his scientific achievements, but also for the way he got involved with the world -including both, people and institutions- in which he lived. A perfect example of a Renaissance man, Galileo established some of the pilars over which the Scientific Revolution was built, from where modern science emerged, exemplified above all by the work of Isaac Newton.

The first of this series of conferences will deal about the training of Galileo, his first scientific interests focused in the science of movement, about the admiration he felt for Archimedes, and how unexpectedly in 1609 a new instrument, the telescope, allowed him to see beyond the pendulums and balls falling from inclined planes he normally used. The possibility of observing the sky thanks to the technological development of an invention with several fathers, changed his life. The hidden Copernicus he had inside of him emerged to the public: what he observed could not be explained by the old (geocentric) astronomy of Ptolemy, but only with the one proposed by Copernicus (heliocentric). From his observations and thoughts a number of works were produced, like Sidereus nuncius (1610), Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari (1613), or the inmortal Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano (1632).

The second conference will deal on the consequences that Galileo suffered in his plural earthly world due to his ideas regarding the skies, its structure, and movement. He then shared his prominence in Pisa with a complex sociopolitical and religious lattice, in which although not completely absent, the scientific arguments were subject of the religious beliefs and political interests. As a result of all, we have the sad trial of 1633 where Galileo was finally condemned by the Roman Inquisition. Also, the equally famous abjuration that turned Galileo into what nobody should ever be: a "martyr", or even better, a "victim" of the denial of freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. Bertolt Brecht explained it very well in his play Life of Galileo (1939, 1955) where upon the comment of Andrea Sarti -the young son of Galileo's housekeeper-: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero", Galileo replied: "Unhappy is the land that needs a hero".

Fortunately, the earthly world is not limited to the confrontation of different opinions, but also holds phenomenons and natural processes ruled by universal laws, the topics that scientists address. In the conferences we will also speak about the contributions of Galileo to the science of movement that culminated in another one of his important books Discorsi e dimostra­zioni matemati­che, intorno à due nuove scienze attenenti alla mecanica & i movimienti locali (1638).