Galileo Galilei





The scientific revolution of the Renaissance had its beginning in the heliocentrism of Copernicus and its culmination, a century later, in the mechanics of Newton. His most distinguished representative, however, was the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. In the field of physics, Galileo formulated the first laws about movement; in that of astronomy, he confirmed the Copernican theory with his telescopic observations. But none of these valuable contributions would have such far-reaching consequences as the introduction of experimental methodology, an achievement that has earned him the consideration of the father of modern science. On the other hand, the inquisitorial process to which Galileo was submitted for defending the heliocentrism would end up elevating his figure to the status of a symbol: in the gross error committed by the ecclesiastical authorities it has been wanted to see the definitive rupture between science and religion and, despite the outcome of the process, the triumph of reason over medieval obscurantism. Similarly, the famous phrase attributed to it after the forced retraction (Eppur si muove, 'And yet the Earth moves') has become the emblem of the uncontainable power of truth against any form of established dogmatism. Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa on February 15, 1564. The little that, through some letters, is known of his mother, Giulia Ammannati di Pescia, does not make her a very flattering figure. His father, Vincenzo Galilei, was Florentine and came from a family that had once been illustrious; a vocationist musician, the economic difficulties had forced him to dedicate himself to trade, a profession that led him to settle in Pisa. Man of broad humanistic culture, he was an accomplished interpreter and a composer and music theorist; his works on music theory enjoyed a certain fame at the time. From him Galileo inherited not only the taste for music (played the lute), but also the independent character and fighting spirit, and maybe even the contempt for blind trust in authority and the taste to combine theory with the practice. Galileo was the firstborn of seven brothers of whom three (Virginia, Michelangelo and Livia) would end up contributing, over time, to increase their economic problems. In 1574 the family moved to Florence, and Galileo was sent a time to the monastery of Santa Maria di Vallombrosa, as a student or perhaps as a novice. Academic youth. In 1581 Galileo entered the University of Pisa, where he enrolled as a medical student at the will of his father. Four years later, however, he left the university without having obtained any degree, although with a good knowledge of Aristotle. In the meantime, there had been a determining factor in his life: his initiation into mathematics (apart from his university studies) and the consequent loss of interest in his career as a doctor. Back in Florence in 1585, Galileo spent a few years dedicated to the study of mathematics, but also interested in philosophy and literature, which showed his preferences for Ariosto versus Tasso; from that time his first work on the barycenter of the bodies (which he later recovered, in 1638, as an appendix of what would be his main scientific work) and the invention of a hydrostatic balance for the determination of specific weights, two contributions located in the line of Archimedes, whom Galileo would not hesitate to describe as "superhuman." After giving some private math classes in Florence and Siena, he tried to get a regular job in the universities of Bologna, Padua and in Florence itself. In 1589 he finally got a place in the Pisa Studio, where his dissatisfaction with the poor salary he received could only be revealed in a satirical poem against academic dress. In Pisa, Galileo composed a text about the movement that he maintained unpublished, in which, even within the framework of medieval mechanics, he criticized the Aristotelian explanations of the fall of bodies and the movement of projectiles. The experimental method. In continuity with that criticism, a certain historiographical tradition has forged the anecdote (today generally considered implausible) of Galileo materially refuting Aristotle by the process of throwing different weights from the top of the Campanile of Pisa, before the contrary views of the Peripatetics. Almost two thousand years earlier, Aristotle had claimed that heavier bodies fall faster; According to this legend, Galileo would have demonstrated the falsity of this concept with the simple procedure of simultaneously dropping bodies of different weight from the top of the tower and seeing that they all reached the ground at the same time.