How Galileo Invented The Universe

We hear about this thing called “human nature,” and we tend to think of it as something eternal.  But actually, modern humans view the world quite differently today than they did, say five thousand years ago– or even five hundred years ago.

Two thousand years ago, for instance, the members of the Roman Senate got together and beat to death Tiberius Gracchus, Tribune of the people, because he was growing too powerful…  That would strike most of us today as a touch extreme.  And, of course, there was the sexual practices of the Ancient world, which would today be viewed as the acts of deviants, statutory rapists, and sexual predators.

As far as the realm of science goes, some of the concepts we take for granted today were actually only discovered a few centuries ago.

For instance, before Galileo “invented” Inertia it did not– in the lives of everyday people– exist.   The Law Of Inertia, as you will recall, says that an object will keep its same course and speed unless acted upon by some Force.  Humans before Galileo, as a matter of practical fact, lived in a world in which things which were set in motion would slow and eventually stop.  Nothing strange about that.  Nothing lasts forever.  Even the world– at least the Christian world– was bound to come to an end.

Galileo also invented Gravity.  Yep… didn’t exist before him.  Oh, people stuck to the ground alright, but that was just because, as Aristotle had taught centuries before in Greece, the proper sphere for humans to inhabit is the earth, so naturally we all move toward the ground.  Same goes for all solids, really.  On the other hand, Fire, according to Aristotle, had its proper place up above… that why Fire moves upward.  Air and Water occupy the squirrely, life-oozing zone between heaven and earth.

Galileo, an inventor so profound as to put Thomas Edison to shame, actually invented not just Gravity, but the whole concept of “Force.”  Before Galileo, humans lived in a world in which things only acted each upon other by touching directly– or perhaps by magic, since (to the human mind of the day) magic still existed in those days.  The only “Force” of which people conceived was one in which one something exerted a direct pressure upon some other something.

I should note that Leonardo Di Vinci was in the vanguard here, proposing before Galileo’s more accurate work that “Force is a spiritual and invisible power impregnated in bodies by motion.”  He was getting there.

Galileo’s thought was sophisticated enough that he figured out that two Forces could act on the same object, and the resultant movement of the object could be ascertained by adding the two Forces together.  He had not yet taken his notion of Gravity, Force, and motion into outer space however… it would take Newton to do that a bit later.

By inventing Inertia, Gravity, and Force– Galileo altered the angle of human consciousness.  And as any geometrist knows, a small shift at the origin of an angle can result in tremendous path changes as the lines move farther out.  Relatively soon after Galileo invents Force, Newton will define it mathematically, and a bit after that, Maxwell and Faraday will write of “Lines Of Force” emanating from magnetic and electrified objects.  Even as late as the twentieth century, physicists were still inventing new “Forces.”

Oh… Did I mention that Galileo also invented the Universe?  Yep… No Galileo, no Universe.  (Well, maybe someone else would have stumbled upon the idea eventually).

Copernicus had already invented the Solar System (a sun with planets revolving around it), but when Galileo turned his telescope heavenward and saw that the Earth wasn’t the only planet with with a moon, and that the Sun was no perfect, unblemished sphere of heavenly fire but had spots and flares… well, the idea began to percolate that maybe our Solar System wasn’t as special and perfect as it was thought to be.  Soon, people began to wonder if the two-dimensional layer of so-called fixed stars bounding the heavens might not also be balls of light spread out at various and incredible distances, and that these balls of light might also be part of their own systems.  In other words… the basic idea of the Universe was born.  Thanks, Galileo!

Lastly, I would love to give Galileo credit for inventing Time when he invented the pendulum, but that chore would be left for the brilliant Christopher Huygens to accomplish.

Huygens took Galileo’s work with the pendulum and was able to construct fairly accurate time pieces.  Before Huygens invented Time, people of course had down the concepts of day and night and the life-span and such… but as far as conceptualizing minutes and seconds– that was just cutting the cake too thinly.  There were sundials and sandglasses and water-clocks, and the sun and stars to help with timing the seasons, but as far as trying to schedule a board meeting for say, 3pm sharp– fuhgeddaboudit!  You would be lucky to get people to arrive within the same hour!

Actually, I wonder sometimes if the world might not be a better place without minutes.  A life made up of more leisurely hours and less strict appointment times sounds pretty good to me!


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