Galileo Galilei

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I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 - 8 January 1642) was an Italian physicist and astronomer.

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Letter to Christina of Tuscany

  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.
    • As quoted in Aspects of Western Civilization: problems and sources in history (1988) by Perry McAdow Rogers, p. 53

Letter to Kepler

  • I have for many years been a partisan of the Copernican view because it reveals to me the causes of many natural phenomena that are entirely incomprehensible in the light of the generally accepted hypothesis. To refute the latter I have collected many proofs, but I do not publish them, because I am deterred by the fate of our teacher Copernicus who, although he had won immortal fame with a few, was ridiculed and condemned by countless people (for very great is the number of the stupid). (Quoted in Hermann Kesten, Copernicus and His World, trans. by E.b. Aston and Norbert Gutterman, NY, Roy Publishers, 1945, p.349, emphasis added)

Letters to Fr. Vincenzo Renieri (1606-1647)

  • After the publication of my dialogues, I was summoned to Rome by the Congregation of the holy Office, where, being arrived on the 10th of February 1633, I was subjected to the infinite clemency of that tribunal, and of the Sovereign Pontiff, Urban the Eighth; who, notwithstanding, thought me deserving of his esteem. (A Selection from Italian Prose Writers, pp. 145-146)
  • I am certainly interested in a tribunal in which, for having used my reason, I was deemed little less than a heretic. Who knows but men will reduce me from the profession of a philosopher to that of historian of the Inquisition! But they behave to me in order that I may become the ignoramus and the fool of Italy... ( Selection, p.244)
  • I was obliged to retract, like a good Catholic, this opinion of mine; and as a punishment my dialogue was prohibited; and after five months being dismissed from Rome (at the time that the city of Florence was infected with plague), the habitation which with generous pity was assigned to me, was that of the dearest friend I had in Siena, Monsignor the Archbishop Piccolomini, whose most agreeable conversation I enjoyed with such quite and satisfaction of mind, that having there resumed my studies, I discovered and demonstrated a great number on the mechanical conclusions on the resistance of solids…after about five months, the pestilence having ceased, the confinement of that house was changed by His Holiness for the freedom of the country so agreeable to me, whence I returned to the villa of Bellosguardo, and afterwards to Arcetri, where I still breathe salubrious air near my dear native-country Florence. (Selection, pp.251-253)

Letter (1624) to Francesco Ingoli (1578-1649)

  • Whence do you have it that the terrestrial globe is so heavy? For my part, either I do not know what heaviness is, or the terrestrial globe is neither heavy nor light, as likewise all other globes of the universe. Heaviness to me (and I believe to Nature) is that innate tendency by which a body resists being moved from its natural place and by which, when forcibly removed therefrom, it spontaneously returns there. Thus a bucketful of water raised on high and set free, returns to the sea; but who will say that the same water remains heavy in the sea, when being set free there, does not move?
  • I tell you that if natural bodies have it from Nature to be moved by any movement, this can only be circular motion, nor is it possible that Nature has given to any of its integral bodies a propensity to be moved by straight motion. I have many confirmations of this proposition, but for the present one alone suffices, which is this. I suppose the parts of the universe to be in the best arrangement, so that none is out of its place, which is to say that Nature and God have perfectly arranged their structure. This being so, it is impossible for those parts to have it from Nature to be moved in straight, or in other than circular motion, because what moves straight changes place, and if it changes place naturally, then it was at first in a place preternatural to it, which goes against the supposition. Therefore, if the parts of the world are well ordered, straight motion is superfluous and not natural, and they can only have it when some body is forcibly removed from its natural place, to which it would then return by a straight line, for thus it appears that a part of the earth does [move] when separated from its whole. I said "it appears to us," because I am not against thinking that not even for such an effect does Nature make use of straight line motion. [A note on this quote is included by Stillman Drake in his Galileo at Work, His Scientific Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1981; and is as follows. Galileo adhered to this position in his Dialogue at least as to the "integral bodies of the universe." by which he meant stars and planets, here called "parts of the universe." But he did not attempt to explain the planetary motions on any mechanical basis, nor does this argument from "best arrangement" have any bearing on inertial motion, which to Galileo was indifference to motion and rest and not a tendency to move, either circularly or straight.]

Letters to Giovanni Battista Baliani (1582-1666)

  • It now remains that we find the amount of time of descent through the channel. This we shall obtain from the marvelous property of the pendulum, which is that it makes all its vibrations, large or small, in equal times. This requires, once and for all, that two or three or four patient and curious friends, having noted a fixed star that stands against some fixed marker, taking a pendulum of any length, shall go counting its vibrations during the whole time of return of the fixed star to its original point, and this will be the number of vibrations in 24 hours. From the number of these we can find the number of vibrations of any other pendulums, longer or shorter, at will, so that if for example those counted by us in 24 hours were 234,567, then taking another shorter pendulum with which one counts 800 vibrations while another counts 150 of the longer pendulum, we already have, by the golden rule, the number of vibrations for the whole time of 24 hours; and if we want to know the time of descent through the channel, we can easily find not only the minutes, seconds, and sixtieths of seconds, but beyond that as we please. It is true that we can pass a more exact measure by having observed the flow of water through a thin passage, for by collecting this and having weighed what passes in one minute, for example, then by weighing what passes in the time of descent through the channel we can find the most exact measure and quantity of this time, especially by making use of a balance so precise as to weigh one sixtieth of a grain.
  • If I shall have sufficient strength to improve and amplify what was written and published by me up to now about motion by adding some little speculations, and in particular those relating to the force of percussion, in the investigation of which I have consumed hundreds and thousands of hours, and finally reduced this to very easy explanation, so that people can understand it in less than half an hour of time.

Letters to Elia Diodati (1576-1651)

  • I have been in my bed for five weeks, oppressed with weakness and other infirmities from which my age, seventy four years, permits me not to hope release. Added to this ( proh dolor! ) the sight of my right eye – that eye whose labors (dare I say it) have had such glorious results - is for ever lost. That of the left, which was and is imperfect, is rendered null by continual weeping. July 4, 1637. The private life of Galileo, p.278
  • Alas! Your dear friend and servant Galileo has been for the last month hopelessly blind; so that this heaven, this earth, this universe, which I by my marvelous discoveries and clear demonstrations had enlarged a hundred thousand times beyond the belief of the wise men of bygone ages, henceforward for me is shrunk into such a small space as is filled by my own bodily sensations. Jan. 2, 1638, The private life of Galileo, pp.278-279.
    • Commenting on the above passage, Allan-Olney goes on to say that “when his blindness was known to be without earthly remedy, then complaint ceased, and, instead of enlarging on his misery of mind and body, he only desired his friends to remember him in their prayers.” P.279.

Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences (Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno à due nuove scienze)

Translations below are by Crew and de Salvio unless otherwise noted
  • See now the power of truth; the same experiment which at first glance seemed to show one thing, when more carefully examined, assures us of the contrary.

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632)

  • I cannot without great wonder, nay more, disbelief, hear it being attributed to natural bodies as a great honor and perfection that they are impassable, immutable, inalterable, etc.: as conversely, I hear it esteemed a great imperfection to be alterable, generable, and mutable. It is my opinion that the earth is very noble and admirable by reason of the many and different alterations, mutations, and generations which incessantly occur in it. And if, without being subject to any alteration, it had been one great heap of sand, or a mass of jade, or if, since the time of the deluge, the waters freezing which covered it, it had continued an immense globe of crystal, wherein nothing had ever grown, altered, or changed, I should have esteemed it a wretched lump of no benefit to the Universe, a mass of idleness, and in a word superfluous, exactly as if it had never been in Nature. The difference for me would be the same as between a living and a dead creature. I say the same concerning the Moon, Jupiter, and all the other globes of the Universe. The more I delve into the consideration of the vanity of popular discourses, the more empty and simple I find them. What greater folly can be imagined than to call gems, silver, and gold noble, and earth and dirt base? For do not these persons consider that if there were as great a scarcity of earth as there is of jewels and precious metals, there would be no king who would not gladly give a heap of diamonds and rubies and many ingots of gold to purchase only so much earth as would suffice to plant a jessamine in a little pot or to set a tangerine in it, that he might see it sprout, grow up, and bring forth such goodly leaves, fragrant flowers, and delicate fruit? It is scarcity and plenty that makes things esteemed and despised by the vulgar, who will say that there is a most beautiful diamond, for it resembles a clear water, and yet would not part from it for ten tons of water. These men who so extol incorruptibility, inalterability, and so on, speak thus, I believe, out of the great desire they have to live long and for fear of death, not considering that, if men had been immortal, they would not have come into the world. These people deserve to meet with a Medusa's head that would transform them into statues of diamond and jade, that so they might become more perfect than they are.
  • (speaking as Salviati)...In the long run my observations have convinced me that some men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads. Such arguments in support of their fixed idea as they hit upon themselves or hear set forth by others, no matter how simple and stupid these may be, gain their instant acceptance and applause. On the other hand whatever is brought forward against it, however ingenious and conclusive, they receive with disdain or with hot rage--if indeed it does not make them ill. Beside themselves with passion, some of them would not be backward even about scheming to suppress and silence their adversaries. (translated by Stillman Drake, 2001 Modern Library Paperback Edition, p. 322).

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  • All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
  • Mathematics is the key and door to the sciences.
  • Eppur si muove
    • "And yet it [the earth] moves" or "but it moves" is a comment he is alleged to have made after his recantation before the Inquisition. Giuseppe Baretti was apparently the first person to record the story.
  • I never met a man so unknowledgeable, I could not learn something from him.
  • If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.
  • In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
  • My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?
  • Names and attributes must be accommodated to the essence of things, and not the essence to the names, since things come first and names afterwards.
  • Philosophy is written in this grand book— I mean the universe— which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth (1623)
  • The great book of nature is written in mathematical symbols.
  • The Bible tells us how to go to the heavens, not how the heavens go.
  • What has philosophy got to do with measuring anything?
  • Wine is "light held together by moisture."
  • You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it for himself.
  • Surely, God could have caused birds to fly with their bones made of solid gold, with their veins full of quicksilver, with their flesh heavier than lead, and with their wings exceedingly small. He did not, and that ought to show something. It is only in order to shield your ignorance that you put the Lord at every turn to the refuge of a miracle.
    Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
  • Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.

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