Thursday, March 26, 2009

WYSIWYG - Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

What You See Is What You Get.

The entire humanity was limited to the amazing capacities of eyesight. In dark clear night thousands of stars of different brightness made the sky so beautiful. Constellations helped sailors in their navigation on open sees as they helped birds in their flight from one continent to another. The main planets followed their regular paths across the night sky and had been the focus of human worship in ancient times carrying the names of old gods. There was the mighty Jupiter, bright Saturn, reddish Mars, lovely evening star Venus dancing with the moon.

Ptolemy had defined the routes and movements of stars and planets on the flat sky in a way that satisfied even the most curious star watchers for over a thousand years. With only a few exceptions, they followed the - sometimes quite complicated - paths he had recorded in his book.

Galilei's telescope 1601 magnified the view 14x

Then something happened. The human race was given a device that multiplied the power of human eye.

The invention was made in Netherlands. In 1609 Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) heard that a Dutch optician Lippershey had used polished glass to see objects that are further away. Next year, 1610, Galileo had made for himself a similar device, a 1330 mm long tube made of copper, wood and paper and with two polished glasses in a simple refractor. The diameter of the lens was 26 mm and on the other end of the tube there was an eyepiece. Galilei's telescope magnified the view a whopping 14 times. Galileo prepared several such instruments in Pisa between 1610-1614 and in 1619 he invented microscope. In 1611 prince Federico Cesei named the device telescope (tele scopia, see far).

Well, most of us would probably be satisfied looking at our neighbourhood. But Galileo pointed the first telescope to the sky and made some stunning observations.

The moon was not a perfect circle completely different from good old earth. It had mountains and valleys and planes just like earth. Galileo was the first human to see four moons around Jupiter. These Galilean moons are called Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. He made accurate observations about their visibility in his book Sidereus Nuncius in order to help sailors navigating on the open seas. It is amazing what he achieved with that telescope. Children have better binoculars today. An example of the low quality of the instrument is that it did not differentiate between Saturn and its rings so Galileo suggested that the planet has strange "horns" attached to its sides.

When Galileo saw what he saw there was an ongoing scientific controversy. If Tyco Brahe and Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) were right that planets circulate Sun they should show moon faces, from crescents to full moon. With his primitive telescope Galileo was able to see that this was indeed the case!

But the big surprise waiting for this genius was the Sun. Wisely he did not aim the telescope at it and loose his eyesight. He projected sunlight through the telescope to a paper. To his amazement he not only noticed dark spots on the surface of the Sun but these were moving in a manner that indicated that the Sun itself is turning around its axis.

What You See Is What You Get.

But the church leaders of Galileo's time were not ready to look.

In 1615 during the rule of Pope Paul V Galileo Galilei was summoned to Vatican to answer for his godless claims that in the pure symbol of God, the Sun, there are imperfections, black spots. Or that the Sun would be rotating or that Copernicus was right in saying that planets have orbits around the Sun.

Galileo in the Papal Court 1615

Galileo, and his brave supporter Cardinal Foscarino tried in vain to explain that the Bible is intended to show the way to heaven, not the way heavenly bodies are moving on the sky.

The court ruled that Galileo was allowed to study the hypotheses of Copernicus but not publicly claim that they were correct. It is told that after leaving the building of the inquisition Galileo said E pur si muove- it rotates anyway. The blind faith of the believers cannot stop sun from rotating.

In 1633 Galileo was again in church court for his publications and lived the rest of his life in the shadow of the inquisition. However, Pope Urbanus VII ordered that he should be given state pension and sent his papal blessing to dying Galileo in 1642.

A bit later, during the time of the enlightened Pope John Paul II, Galileo was finally vindicated by the Roman Catholic church. Over three hundred years after his death.

Luther and Copernicus
Similarly as the Pope and his scientists and theologians also the church reformer Martin Luther ridiculed Copernicus for his claims about a heliocentric solar system. For Luther these godless and stupid claims run against Biblical revelation. For how could Joshua stop the sun and the moon for that famed battle in the valley of Ayalon if that joker Nicolaus was right?

"And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.

Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel."

Joshua 10:11-14 KJVA

As a personal comment on this matter between Luther and Copernicus I would like to tell a personal experience here in Israel. One afternoon I was driving along a smaller road in the Valley of Ayalon towards Emmaus when I saw the setting sun in west and a full moon in East. I had to stop the car and look amazed at the spectacular sight. I have never seen anything like that elsewhere in the world. The ancient war poem of Joshua tells about sun and moon stopping - so they are visible simultaneously. I could reason that this rare sight might have inspired the fighters to slaughter even more Canaanite warriors? Of course, the Bible itself says that sun and moon stopped for a long time in order to let the required massacre of enemy to happen.

This hazy photo taken elsewhere gives some idea how it looked

Similarly, the Ayalon region is known for the unusually heavy hailstones that sometimes fall causing damage to crops. In the Biblical story God joins the battle on the side of Joshua against the Canaanite people using awe inspiring signs and miracles of the nature.

HTBWYS - Hard to Believe What You See

The case of Galileo Galilei and the Church or the Bible as the ultimate guardian of truth is a classic example of religious misbehaviour by us humans. For it is sometimes very hard to believe what one sees if it goes against what all people have believed forever. Truth has an institutional and social aspect also in learned societies as any scholar with radically new theories and discoveries can witness. The colleagues are often quite offended by ideas that show they are wrong. And not just for selfish reasons - there is something in Truth that is hard to swallow.

Copernicus was observing the movements of the planets and suggested that Ptolemy was wrong and the entire solar system was not properly understood. It is quite understandable that Luther who was totally immersed in the ancient world of Bible found such ideas simply ridiculous. Living in the first half of the 16th century Luther did not have the means or methods to check for himself the complicated calculations that led Copernicus to his revolutionary conclusions.

Galileo observed with his newly invented telescope something that the entire human race had never seen before. It is quite understandable that the blasphemy of Sun, the perfect symbol of God, was hard to accept to the scholars in Vatican.

But the inquisition had an alternative to blind faith. They could have asked Galileo to bring one of those tele-scopias with him and show the black spots of Sun in the reflected image. Or to sit with him at night and look at the moons in orbit around Jupiter giving a model of how the heavenly objects in our solar system move.

They did not want to see.

We can call this "blind faith" in the bad way. Not wanting to see what is there.

In religious circles it is not limited to 17th century scientific controversies that shake religious views of the world to the root.

And "blind faith" is not limited to the sphere of religion only.

Sometimes it is HTBWYS - Hard to Believe What You See.

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