The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages

The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages

The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages

The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages

Excerpt

One radiant morning in the spring of 1591, so the story goes, a young, impertinent professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa assembled a throng of professors, undergraduates and townsmen in the cathedral square to witness an experiment. He was determined to put an end to a controversy which had long raged between himself and the older professors. The aged savants of philosophy scoffed; undergraduates were hilarious, and the townsmen curious about the whole demonstration. Before their eyes the young Galileo climbed the spiral staircase of the near-by Leaning Tower, carrying with him two balls of lead, one a hundred times heavier than the other. When he had reached the uppermost gallery, he carefully balanced the two balls on the parapet and rolled both over the edge simultaneously. To the astonishment of all assembled the two weights reached the ground with a single thud. In that fall Aristotle and the aged Aristotelians were henceforth discredited and the birth of modern science was heralded throughout Europe.

According to another story the same professor, who by this time had accepted a professorship at the famous University of Padua, contrived to make a simple eyeglass, or telescope, whereby he could study the movement of the moon, planets and stars. Turning his homemade telescope towards the sun, he excitedly noticed that this celestial body was covered with dark spots which gradually narrowed as they approached the edge of the disk. He hurriedly invited an Aristotelian professor of philosophy to see for himself that the celestial . . .

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