Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
Published by Penguin Group/NY in 1999
Book Review by Bobby Matherne 2001

Given that the title and subject of this book is a daughter's love of and courageous defense of her father during his lifetime, I think it not inappropriate that I begin this review with the inscription my own daughter wrote in this book that she presented to me for Christmas: "To my favorite heretic, a modern renaissance man and also my beloved father - love, Maureen." Rightly understood this book is about a famous heretic, a scientist who could not do his work as a scientist without becoming a heretic. Given the choice between heresy and science, Galileo chose science. Given the choice between the Church and science, Galileo chose the Church. Some might find these positions contradictory, but there was no contradiction in Galileo's personal position because he held the view of giving to science the things that are of science and to the Church the things that are of the Church, and he did so consistently even when others might call what he did contradictory or inconsistent.

When Aristotle's teaching was the officially established dogma, you were considered to be an orthodox teacher if you taught only those things within Aristotle's teachings or doxy. Orthodoxy means right teaching. If you taught outside of the doxy, you were teaching paradox, teachings outside of the doxy of Aristotle. When the Church came along with its own particular set of teachings or doxy, if you taught things that were outside of the doxy of the Church, it couldn't be described as paradox since that word was already taken, so a new word was needed specifically to refer to teachings outside the doxy of the Church. For that word, Church scholars went to the Greek word heresein which means optional and created the word heresy to refer to those optional views that are outside the teachings of the Church.

Today it is science itself, not the Church, and anyone who teaches something that is at variance with the new religious establishment, what I would call Science, takes the risk of being treated by Science similarly to the way Galileo was treated some 400 years ago by the Church. Immanuel Velikovsky was a modern heretic of Science and during his Inquisition by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, he was held up to ridicule after being promised an open forum to present his views. Velikovsky presented 26 hypotheses in his landmark book Worlds in Collision that were ridiculed in 1952 and then later proven to be accurate before his appearance at the AAAS convention, such as radio emissions from Jupiter, and still the august body of the AAAS chose to treat Velikovsky in the 1980s as shabbily as the Church Inquisition treated Galileo in his time. Several of the scientists who called Velikovsky a crackpot used his ideas later without bothering to mention his name.

Galileo was the first one to see mountains on the Moon and the four moons of Jupiter during several nights of viewing the heavens through his newly setup telescope.

[page 6] "I render infinite thanks to God," Galileo intoned after those nights of wonder, "for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries."

Even though his observations were striking evidence in favor of the heliocentric view of the solar system of Copernicus, already extant for fifty years, no one paid much attempt to either man's optional ways of viewing the celestial sphere. They relied rather on the evidence of their senses that the Earth was solid and did not move, much less spin and orbit madly about in space as the two heretical astronomers required it to.

One interesting thing that strikes anyone who first encounters Galileo Galilei is how similar his first name and last name are to each other. Sobel tells us that the last name came from the first name of Galileo Buonaiuti, a famous doctor. (page 14)

Galileo believed that the universe was the book of philosophy, written in the language of mathematics for all to read, and read it he did. He designed a geometric and military compass which he personally constructed and sold as many as he could make. He took the simple Dutch spyglass and designed lens and their placement to create the first telescope. He established the mathematical principles that govern the operation of simple machines like the lever. He found mountains on the Moon, stars that comprised the Milky Way, and named the four moons of Jupiter he discovered after Cosimo Medici. He discovered the principles that underlying floating bodies that contradicted the fanciful views of floating bodies at the time. Plus he wrote his treatise Bodies in Water in Italian instead of the obligatory Latin of the time. He single-handedly moved science away from the Church by writing his scientific papers in the common language of the people. He described the tidal motions of the oceans as being due to the rotation of the Earth. He discovered sunspots moving across the face of the Sun and even noted from plotting the regularity of their motion that it was the Sun revolving that caused the apparent motion of these dark spots on the surface of the sun.

As he wrote about all these new things he discovered in the heavens, it upset the philosophers of the time in a way he said,

[page 67] "as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands in order to upset Nature and overturn the sciences. They seemed to forget that the increase of known truths stimulates the investigation, establishment, and growth of the arts; not their diminution or destruction. Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth, they . . . hurled charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments. . ."

All Galileo could do was to issue a call for philosophers to make "a distinction between questions of science and the articles of faith" of the Church, and the philosophers of the time, so steeped in the paradigm of the tenets of the Church as being infallible, were unable to make the distinction.

In the cosmology of Rudolf Steiner, the motion of the heavenly bodies are due to the Spirits of Motion, spiritual beings of the Second Hierarchy. "Galileo occupied a universe without gravity," Sobel writes.

[page 75] Throughout his life he ignored the true cause of the tides, which rise and fall by the pull of the Moon, because he failed to see how a body so far away could exert so much power. To him, the concept of "lunar influence" smacked of occultism and astrology. Galileo occupied a universe without gravity. As for the force that made moons orbit planets and planets orbit the Sun in Galileo's cosmology, they might as well have been pushed around by angels.

What's so amazing to me about Sobel's comment about being pushed around by angels is that simply postulating the existence of gravity only explains the orbiting of moons and planets after their motion has begun already. It does not explain the origination of the motion, only presumes that the motion must have started naturally. The adjective naturally to a true spiritual scientist like Rudolf Steiner, includes agents from both the material world and the spiritual world. Steiner liked to tell about a demonstration of the origin of the solar system from a diffuse nebula. It consisted of floating a large drop of oil on the surface of a liquid, then of turning a crank to show that the single drop separates into smaller drops which orbit the middle drop exactly as planets orbit the Sun in our solar system. Excellent demonstration, but it completes ignores the problem of the origination of the rotational force! It is easy to explain how the planets maintain their orbit due to gravity, once we simply accept their motion as a given without having to explain it. If the initial "pushing around" comes from the Dynamis or Spirits of Motion of the Second Hierarchy, it doesn't conflict with any tenets of science, but suggesting such a thing would quickly get one labeled as a heretic by the materialistic establishment of Science today.

Galileo resorted to the use of image schemata to show how silly it was to think that just because a lot of people reasoned a certain way was enough to prove the veracity of the reasoning. On the contrary, he said,

[page 93] If reasoning were like hauling I should agree that several reasoners would be worth more than one, just as several horses can haul more sacks of grain than one can. But reasoning is like racing and not like hauling, and a single Barbary steed can outrun a hundred dray horses.

Given the choice between the image schema of hauling and the image schema of racing, both of which involve horses, one must be able to choose the appropriate image schema. Here is another excellent example of his use of image schemata:

[page 107] "I believe that good philosophers fly alone, like eagles," Galileo said in the Assayer, "and not in flocks like starlings. It is true that because eagles are rare birds they are little seen and less heard, while birds that fly like starlings fill the sky with shrieks and cries, and wherever they settle befoul the earth beneath them."

One interesting point that Sobel brings up is how his frustration at calculating the tidal anomalies of the Mediterranean coast may have led to the death of Aristotle, something only a true philosopher, or lover of knowledge, could appreciate. Salviati is speaking here during the fourth day of Galileo's Dialogue:

[page 176] "Some say it was because of these differences and the incomprehensibility of their causes to Aristotle that he, after observing them for a long time from some cliffs of Euboea, plunged into the sea in a fit of despair and wilfully destroyed himself.

How did Galileo escape being burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno who also promoted mountains on the moon and the concept of infinite expanses of space in a non-geocentric universe? Mostly by dint of his wits. Note the following passage.

[page 262] He [Galileo] hoped his judges would deem his decrepitude and disabilities adequate punishment for his mistakes. "Equally," he concluded, "I want them to consider my honor and reputation against the slanders of those who hate me."

In an amusing anecdote, Suor Maria Celeste, Galileo's daughter, the eponymous subject of this book, admonished her father to take care not to over-indulge in his favorite drink, wine, that flowed so generously at the Niccolininis' table, a beverage that Galileo described as "light held together by moisture." No better description of wine comes to my mind.

Not only did Galileo have the wits to survive his Inquisition, but in spite of his age and infirmities, he wrote and published perhaps his greatest book afterward, thanks once again to one of his great friends in high places, Archbishop Piccolomini, Archbishop of Siena.

[page 287] The fact that Galileo was able to rise from the ashes of his condemnation by the Inquisition to complete another book project (and for his last work to prove his greatest original contribution) is due in large measure to Piccolomini's solicitous kindness.

Why was Galileo able to be among the very first philosophers to apply the brevity of mathematical description to the laws of physics? For over a thousand years, no one had bothered to attempt such a thing! Sobel gives us a strong hint as to the heritage that Galileo had to overcome to attempt such a thing:

[page 301] Aristotle had ruled out any such mathematical approach to physics, on the grounds that mathematicians pondered immaterial concepts, while Nature consisted entirely of matter. And Nature, furthermore, could not be expected to follow precise numerical rules.

To my mind, Aristotle was correct, Nature doesn't follow precise numerical rules, but those mathematical models that physicists are wont to use today, four hundred years or so after Galileo's introduction of the concept, have proven to be very useful in their ability to approximate Nature. And approximation allows engineers to build buildings and other useful devices in the 21st Century. To confuse the models with the territory modeled is a folly, up with which I will not put, and other physicists do so at their peril, a peril that particularly endangers their immortal souls, among other things. It does us well as individual human beings to remember these limitations of our finest models and to temper our enthusiasm with them as we read of Galileo's enthusiasm for these models when they were his new creation:

[page 302] Galileo envisioned the experimental, mathematical analysis of Nature as the wave of the future: "There will be opened a gateway and a road to a large and excellent science," he predicted, "into which minds more piercing than mine shall penetrate to recesses still deeper."

Galileo was beloved of his people, and nowhere was he more loved and respected than by his daughter and the convent at which she was a nun. She wrote him that although it commonly understand that Nemo propheta acceptus in patria sua or No one is accepted as a prophet in his own country, that he was as much beloved and esteemed as ever by the nuns at her convent.

It was amazing to me that Galileo lived in a country and at a time during which there were no standard measures or units of measurement, such as inches, feet, or meters. Even the commonly used measure of length, a braccio, about 2 feet, "differed in dimension depending on whether it was measured in Florence, Rome, or Venice." Galileo had to use his own arbitrary lineal units in order to do his mathematical data collection. "As long as these units matched one another, he could use them to establish fundamental relationships." Think of that the next time your child tells you that they can't measure something unless you buy them a ruler.

With one eye remaining at the end of his life, Galileo was able to create a method for measuring the diameters of stars, the distance between them, and to discover the librations or rocking of the Moon. When they went to remove Galileo's body from the 1674 crypt to place him in a newly built mausoleum, they found two coffins and two bodies. Not sure which one was Galileo, they opened them both and found one to a woman's body, Suor Maria Celeste, buried with her beloved father. They moved both bodies to the new crypt where to this day they lie buried together.

[page 368] Even now, no inscription on Galileo's much-visited tomb in Santa Croce announces the presence of Suor Maria Celeste. But she's still there.

This review originally appeared in Bobby Matherne's website: http://home.earthlink.net/~jeauxy/gdrvw.htm