Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Denmark ignored Galileo

There is a widespread my that Galileo invented the telescope, discovered heliocentrism, and was suppressed by a Pope that would not tolerate new ideas.

The respected physics historia Helge Kragh writes: Galileo in early modern Denmark, 1600-1650
The scientific revolution in the first half of the seventeenth century, pioneered by figures such as Harvey, Galileo, Gassendi, Kepler and Descartes, was disseminated to the northernmost countries in Europe with considerable delay. In this essay I examine how and when Galileo's new ideas in physics and astronomy became known in Denmark, and I compare the reception with the one in Sweden. It turns out that Galileo was almost exclusively known for his sensational use of the telescope to unravel the secrets of the heavens, meaning that he was predominantly seen as an astronomical innovator and advocate of the Copernican world system. Danish astronomy at the time was however based on Tycho Brahe's view of the universe and therefore hostile to Copernican and, by implication, Galilean cosmology. Although Galileo's telescope attracted much attention, it took about thirty years until a Danish astronomer actually used the instrument for observations. By the 1640s Galileo was generally admired for his astronomical discoveries, but no one in Denmark drew the consequence that the dogma of the central Earth, a fundamental feature of the Tychonian world picture, was therefore incorrect.
This is not surprising. The Dane Tycho invented the instruments that made the best astronomical observations in the world, and that data was used for the best models. Galileo had nothing to compete with that.

Galileo said Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe, but his telescopic observations and heliocentric arguments were not very mathematical.

Kragh concludes:
Whereas Galileo was well known and highly reputed in the first two decades of the seventeenth century, it took longer before he was discovered by astronomers and natural philosophers in the Nordic countries. Tycho Brahe was aware of him at an early date, but he was an exception. The first time Galileo was mentioned in print by a Danish scholar was in 1617, and five years later he appeared in a Swedish publication. Yet, still around 1640 there were only few references to his scientific work. What eventually attracted attention to the innovative Italian were almost exclusively his astronomical discoveries made by means of the amazing telescope. His advocacy of the Copernican world system was noted, but without making any impact. In the first half of the century there still were no Copernicans in either Denmark or Sweden. Astronomers were either Tychonians or supporters of the Ptolemaic theory.

Galileo’s international fame undoubtedly rested on his telescopic discoveries, but of course he also did pioneering work in mechanics and other branches of natural philosophy. First of all, he introduced the experimental method. There seems to be no mention in the Danish scholarly literature of the physical rather than astronomical Galileo. One looks in vain for awareness of or comments on his theory of the pendulum, his laws of freely falling bodies or his ideas about inertial motion; nor is his views on atomism, the void and the nature of heat to be found in the learned literature. These parts of Galileo’s work were foreign to Danish natural philosophers who predominantly thought in terms of Aristotelian concepts and tended to interpret the Bible quite literally. The situation in Sweden was not very different. Finally it is worth mentioning that apparently the process against Galileo in 1633 did not create much interest. It was known but not, as far as I can tell, discussed in print until much later.
Kepler's astronomy was a whole lot more important than Galileo's during this period. Galileo was the first to publish observations about the moons of Jupiter, but others made the same conclusions once they get telescopes. Kepler had a sophisticated mathematical model that was way beyond Tycho's, and Tycho's was way beyond Galileo's. There was no good reason for Danes to pay much attention to Galileo's astronomy. Galileo's confrontation with the Pope made a good story, but scientifically, it wasn't that important.


  1. RE: Denmark ignored Galileo

    Thats nothing. This guy ignores everyone.

  2. Now you've done it.

    Somebody is going to make a movie detailing how Galileo was a second rate scientist just like Antonio Salieri was a second rate composer.

    And then Italy riots and burns...all because of an obscure internet post.

  3. If Galileo "invented the scientific method" then I say whoopdee doo because today's doctrine of "shut up and calculate" has nothing to do with canned methods. t'Hooft's embarrassing 207 page "paper" is a great example of the lack of impact of Galileo neatly boxed "method". All these quantum mechanics quacks who begin their terrible books with an idealized experiment certainly violate common sense. As in how do you apply quantum mechanics in a real experimental setting? Then they drop their quantum "principles" in a big hurry and revert to statistical "methods" that simply get the right answers. All the books are way too far removed from real experimental apparatus. In experimental physics, measurement is a very complex thing far more complex than that idiot Born's rule suggests.

  4. The state of physics is that enormous fraud has been perpetuated and that a number of Nobel prizes have to be revoked. Thats why authoritarians like Motl are on the scene now. There seems to be no honest physicists like Paul Dirac around any longer. The universities are filled with hero worshippers and parroting.

  5. nice. love reading revisionistic history of science.