dimanche, novembre 15, 2009

King of Night Vision

I don't change my MP3 mix as often as I should -- and even when I do, I tend to keep some old faves on there.

One of these is the Indigo Girl's chestnut "Galileo" a song I continue to find delightfully quirky and fun.

Saturday I was on the elliptical machine at the Y, wishing I was outside in the park. Man, I hate to exercise indoors. Back problems -- attitude problems.

Somewhere after Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call" and "A Little of Your Time" the Girls start declaiming: "Galileo's head was on the block/crime was looking up the truth."

Black and white. Polar opposites. Pick one. That tends to be the way we humans seem to like to see reality. Only, as I raved a few posts ago, truth rarely is a single-celled organism.

Take our old pal, Galileo. His head was never "on the block" for "looking up the truth." Here's part of what the NASA writer on Galileo has to say about the trial:

"Galileo's quick wit, which he often used to ridicule his opponents, earned him a number of enemies. In 1613, Galileo wrote a letter in which he tried to show that the Copernican theory was consistent with both Catholic doctrine and proper Biblical interpretation. Some of his enemies sent a copy of this letter to the inquisitors in Rome, who sought out and punished heretics -- people who opposed church teachings. In early 1616, Galileo was summoned to Rome for a determination on the orthodoxy of his views. Although he was cleared of charges of heresy, he was ordered not "to hold or defend" the Copernican theory. That is, he could treat the theory hypothetically but not treat it as if it were true.
In 1632, Galileo published his first scientific masterpiece, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In this work, he compared the Ptolemaic-Aristotelian theory to the Copernican theory to show that the Copernican system was logically superior. Once again Galileo was summoned to Rome, this time to answer to the charge of willfully disobeying the order not "to hold or defend" Copernicus' theory. In 1633, the Inquisition found Galileo guilty of the charge, forced him to recant (publicly withdraw his statement), and sentenced him to life imprisonment."

Apparently Pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism, and not to advocate for either view.

As other writers on the subject point out, while the Catholic Church never formally (ex cathedra) condemned heliocentrism, they did hold it to be contrary to the plain sense of Holy Scripture. Or did they? That's not quite clear either.

Of course, Aristostle was wrapped up in this whole story. The church had relied on his philosophy to defend its worldview for hundreds of years. A challenge to the Greek philosopher was a challenge to one of the foundations of Catholic theology.

And, as I found out when I saw the Galileo exhibit in Philly last summer, Galileo didn't have the instruments he needed to prove his point. His contemporary, Kepler, and others moved the ball considerably forward.

In modern times, in this secular era, the role of the church is filled by other scientists, who sometimes hoot and boo those with whom they might disagree right out of the establishment. In the sciences you are free to go where the evidence takes you -- sometimes, and if you have a modern benefactor funding your research. Unfettered inquiry is a myth.

Eventually, the Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the publication of Galileo's heliocentric views. More recently, a prominent RC clergyman actually said that the controversy should be a "teachable moment" for both church and science.

I think what troubles me the most is the way we like to pit ourselves against each other -- as though either or all sides had the truth gripped between their steely jaws. Time will humble, if we allow it.

What makes you, or you, or you -- so sure?

4 commentaires:

norman pease a dit…

well, artistic license aside...this is fabulous song, and I always sing (right out loud) along. I think we should all question authority....especially our own. The old adage holds true...nothing is certain but death and taxes. All else is a matter of knowledge and prepsective.

Stoo a dit…

Are you suggesting the scientific establishment is suppressing valid theories? Anything in particular?

Offcenter a dit…

Stoo, I don't think that's what happens -- or at least, not in America. But if you don't have research funding, you don't get to do the study. The scientific establishment isn't politics-free.

The NYT is doing a fascinating series on cancer. One question is why some forms of cancer research aren't being done, and why some drugs aren't being prescribed. I don't think we always know what's going on behind the scenes at the foundations or the NIH, for example. Thus the suspicion of the new mammogram advisory.

norman pease a dit…

I wonder about the new reccomendations as well. Especially in this time of "health" reform. Could be valid science, could be Ins. industry getting something in exchange for playing a little more fairly, Could be public option folks jiggering the numbers so the numbers are a little better from the CBO. These days one never knows...heck "these" days...all through history.