When Empirical Observation is Dangerous

December 28, 2016 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | HISTORY, Plays, POLITICS, RELIGION | 0 Comments |
only said I th

"Gee whiz, I only said I THOUGHT I saw Neptune..." (painting by Rubens)

28 December 1612: heretical heliocentrist Galileo Galiliei (1564 – 1642) observes the heavenly body later identified as the planet Neptune.  Twenty one years later he would be punished with permanent home detention because he would not adhere to the received wisdom that all moved around the static earth.  “And yet it moves…”

Galilei, in the play by Bertolt Brecht*, says:

I offer my observations, and they smile.  I place my telescope at their disposal so they can convince themselves, and they quote Aristotle. But the man had no telescope!…Truth is the child of time, not of authority. Our ignorance is infinite, so let us diminish it by a fraction. Why try to be so clever now, when at last we can become a little less stupid?”

(image by NASA)

(image by NASA)

[*Brecht, The Life of Galileo, scene 4.]


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