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 Post subject: Galileo Redux
PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2004 10:08 pm 
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Well, here we are, as promised.

Some time ago there was a discussion about Galileo. I think the thread got started because someone was looking for a good brass polish to use on a whistle they had dinged up by dropping from a high balcony. Or something like that. I guess I don't really remember. Anyway it got onto Galileo and people became pretty involved. So, knowing there were people interested in the subject, when I came across a review of two new books on the subject in the last issue of First Things I decided to make it available to everyone to read. As I said, there are two books that are reviewed:

Copyright (c) 2004 First Things 139 (January 2004): 53-57.
From Myth to History and Back

Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius. By William R. Shea and Mariano Artigas. Oxford University Press. 211 pp. $20.

Galileo’s Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church. By Wade Rowland. Arcade. 298 pp. $26.95.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Barr

The reviewer, Stephen Barr, seems to have good credentials:

Stephen M. Barr is a theoretical particle physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware. He is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press).

Actually the review itself isn't really that long, so perhaps I'll just copy it over here in it's entirety. What I'll do is to bold a few of the things that I found interesting. Here's kinda my take on it all. Galileo happened to be right in his conclusions, although his reasoning was later found to be flawed. The Church officials who had to deal with him were intelligent, well educated and well intentioned men, and the last thing they wanted was a confrontation. The fact is, Galileo was probably theologically correct as well--and this time for basically correct reasons, although how deeply he understood that I'm not sure. This is all laid out in the review of the first book. As you'll see, the second book is something else entirely. It appears that the author has read Thomas Kuhn and has drunk deeply at the PC well.

One interesting thing that the author doesn't bring out is the philosophical background to Galileo's thought. Galileo appears to have been convinced that mathematics alone could explain all reality. This was a fundamentally Platonic attitude, adopted by Descartes as well, but quite different from Newton's approach. This philosophical background may explain why it was that Galileo was so bull-headed about what was, ultimately, still theory during his lifetime. In that sense, Bellarmine and Urban and Tycho Brahe as well probably had the more correct scientific attitude, even though their conclusions turned out to be incorrect. All in all, no one came out looking their best.

My apologies in advance if this goes over ground that has already been covered. However, these are two new books on the subject, and the author of the review is a pretty knowledgeable fellow, so I thought people might enjoy reading it. Here's the review article:

********************************************************************************

For centuries the trial of Galileo (1564-1642) was the stuff of myth: Galileo tortured by the Inquisition; his defiant words after recanting (“e pur se muove,” “but it does move”); the infallible Church proclaiming the dogma that the Sun goes round the Earth. None of these details is true, but that did not seem to matter much to those who exalted Galileo as a martyr to truth.

Fortunately, the twentieth century saw a movement away from such polemical accounts. Anticlerical prejudice is still evident in Giorgio de Santillana’s The Crime of Galileo (1955). However, through the work of such scholars as Alexandre Koyré, Stillman Drake, Jerome Langford, and Richard Blackwell, a more accurate understanding of the case began to emerge and take hold. Langford’s Galileo, Science, and the Church (1966) is still the best introduction to the subject, especially in explaining the scientific and theological issues, and its main conclusions have held up well.

The new book by William R. Shea and Mariano Artigas, Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius, represents the finest in modern Galileo scholarship. Shea holds the “Galileo Chair” in the History of Science at the University of Padua, where Galileo was once professor of mathematics. Artigas, a Catholic priest with doctorates in physics and philosophy, is Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the University of Navarra. Their book tells the story of the great founder of modern science from the viewpoint of his six visits to Rome, the first as a twenty-three-year-old job seeker, the last as an old and fearful man summoned to appear before the Inquisition. Shea and Artigas offer no strikingly new theories, but that is to their credit. Rather, their aim is to let us walk in the footsteps of Galileo and see afresh and in vivid context the events of his rise and fall.

Galileo became a celebrity in 1610 when he turned his telescope to the heavens and made a series of remarkable discoveries. These were quickly confirmed by the leading astronomers of the day, including the Jesuits of the Roman College. Galileo’s most critical telescopic discovery was that Venus had phases like the Moon. These phases revealed that Venus and Earth were sometimes on opposite sides of the Sun, a configuration impossible in the Ptolemaic theory.

While proving Ptolemy wrong, these discoveries did not prove Copernicus completely right, for there existed a compromise proposed by Tycho Brahe. Tycho agreed with Copernicus as far as the relative movements of the celestial bodies were concerned, but he assumed, like Ptolemy, that the Earth was at rest. The Jesuit astronomers embraced Tycho’s theory because it reproduced all existing observations just as well as Copernicus, while not raising sticky scriptural issues.

Galileo, on the other hand, was convinced of the full truth of Copernicanism, and became increasingly outspoken for it. When accused of contradicting Scripture, he penned the famous Letter to Castelli, in which he argued that Scripture in describing nature spoke according to appearances, not literally. It was this exegetical foray that spurred the Holy Office into action. While many factors were involved in the opposition to Galileo, not least an entrenched Aristotelianism, it is clear that the critical issue for Cardinal Bellarmine and the Roman Inquisition, which he headed, was the interpretation of Scripture.

Bellarmine laid out his views with great lucidity in a letter to Paolo Foscarini, a friend of Galileo. The Council of Trent, he noted, prohibited interpreting Scripture in matters of faith and morals contrary to the Church Fathers. While the motions of the Sun and Earth are not of the substance of the faith, he admitted, they are matters of faith incidentally, since Scripture makes assertions about them. Therefore the strictures of Trent apply, and one must follow the Fathers, who understood the relevant passages literally.

Logically speaking, Galileo’s position was not inconsistent with Trent. If astronomical matters do not pertain to the faith, then the Father’s interpretations do not necessarily have to be followed, according to Trent. And if the Fathers’ naïve literalism on these matters is not followed, there is simply no reason to assume they pertain to the faith. However, the Holy Office failed to see this. On February 26, 1616, Galileo was secretly enjoined from defending “in any way” the motion of the Earth or immobility of the Sun. Eight days later, the Congregation of the Index prohibited books that maintained the truth of Copernicanism.

Bellarmine was reasonably well informed about astronomy. He knew that heliocentrism had advantages as a calculational method for predicting the appearances of the heavens, but he sharply distinguished this from the claim that the Earth actually moved. He conceded to the latter only a bare possibility. “If there were a true demonstration [that the Earth is moving],” he wrote to Foscarini, “it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would have to say that we did not understand them rather than declare something false which had been demonstrated to be true.” However, he had “grave doubts” that such a demonstration was possible, and “in a case of doubt, one may not depart from the holy Fathers.”

Galileo had a friend, admirer, and protector in Maffeo Cardinal Barberini; and when Barberini ascended the papal throne as Urban VIII in 1624, Galileo saw a chance to rehabilitate Copernicanism. Galileo had developed a brilliant theory of the tides, which he believed was the needed “demonstration” of the Earth’s motion. Urban, unaware of the secret injunction that bound Galileo (Bellarmine had since died), encouraged him to write, thinking that Galileo would discuss Copernicanism “hypothetically” rather than maintaining its truth. Galileo, badly misjudging the situation, published his great Dialog on the Two Chief World Systems, in which he not only vigorously argued for Copernicanism, but also lampooned one of Urban’s own pet arguments. (Urban’s argument was that no matter how well a theory explains effects, one cannot know that the theory is true, since an omnipotent God has the power to produce the effects in some other way. Taken to the limit, of course, this line of reasoning would strike at the root of all empirical knowledge.) Urban, thinking himself betrayed and held up to public ridicule by a man he had protected, was enraged. The long-forgotten injunction against Galileo was discovered at this point in the files of the Inquisition. Galileo was forced to abjure and sentenced to house arrest for life. He lived in reasonable comfort, was allowed to receive visitors, and continued to publish on scientific matters until his death.

It is one of the great ironies of scientific history that Galileo’s proofs of the Earth’s motion were invalid and his theory of the tides mistaken. Many of the issues involved in the question of the Earth’s motion could not be resolved without the theoretical breakthroughs of Newton, who was born the year Galileo died. The first real observational evidence that the Earth moved did not come until 1724, when the phenomenon of aberration of light was seen.

Wade Rowland, author of another new book on the Galileo case, Galileo’s Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church, holds a chair of Ethics in Communications at Ryerson University in Toronto. He is not a historian, philosopher, theologian, or scientist, at least to judge from the rather gross errors he makes in all those fields. It is remarkable that one so ill equipped should undertake a reinterpretation of so complex an episode in history. What is most remarkable about the book, however, is its thesis, which is essentially that Galileo had it coming.

It required decades of patient scholarship to advance from Galileo myth to Galileo history, but in one long stride Wade Rowland takes us back again. The new myth that he proposes is just the old one turned on its head. He accepts the discredited notion that the Catholic Church was hostile to scientific truth; however, rather than blaming the Church for this he praises her, for he is pretty hostile to scientific truth himself.

In Rowland’s view, science has not made life happier or better; it has merely turned men into materialists and consumers. While it has cured diseases and produced abundance, it has also created pollution and nuclear weapons. The knowledge it gives does not make men wiser, but probably more foolish. Its arrogant reductionism seeks to abolish all meaning, purpose, and transcendence from the world. Of course, one can answer such complaints by distinguishing truth from the uses to which it is put. However, what Rowland objects to in science most of all is precisely its claim to tell us the truth about the physical world:

Here in concise form is . . . “Galileo’s mistake.” . . . It is simply not correct to assert, as Galileo did, that there is a single and unique explanation to natural phenomena, which may be understood through observation and reason, and which makes all other explanations wrong.

Of course, a sane man would not say that because one explanation of a thing is correct all other explanations are wrong. He would say, however, that all contrary explanations are wrong. And that is certainly what Bellarmine, Urban, and Galileo all said. They all agreed that, since Scripture is right, anything contrary to it must be wrong, just as they agreed that anything contrary to what has been demonstrated by reason and observation must be wrong. When it came to the Earth’s motion, they all believed that there was a fact of the matter; they just disagreed on what it was.

Rowland, however, employs all the standard postmodernist stratagems to attack the notions of scientific truth and fact. “All scientific knowledge,” he writes, “is culturally conditioned. None of its laws or facts [is], strictly speaking, objective.” Science is “rooted in consensus” and “socially constructed.” “Scientists do not discover laws of nature, they invent them.” Indeed, “reason is a human invention, . . . a process that takes place according to rules of logic that we make up. . . .”

Experiments cannot provide objective verification of theories, he claims, because experiments are interpreted using those same theories. “[T]heory and experiment are inextricably tied up together in a kind of recursive loop.” Science’s “basic method is in this way circular. . . .” The subjectivity of science explains “why, from time to time, there are ‘revolutions’ in science that overthrow one complete set of assumptions in favor of another.” Physics does not give us truth about the world, but only yields mathematical “models” that more or less “work” or are “useful.”

Is there anything to this critique? Very little. It is true that scientific knowledge is “socially constructed” in the sense that it is acquired through the cooperative efforts of a community of scholars, but this in no way implies that the reality thus known is constituted by those efforts. (Some reality, of course, is socially constructed in the postmodernist’s sense, namely social reality, or aspects of it.) And science does, of course, depend a great deal on consensus, but it is the apprehension of truth that brings about such consensus (if scientists are objective), not consensus that makes things true.

The widely discussed dependence of experiment upon theory does lead to a kind of circularity, but only the harmless kind that was involved in, say, the making of maps. Maps were made by explorers; and explorers had to rely on existing maps. That circularity obviously did not prevent better and better maps from being made. Nor does it prevent better and better theories of the physical world.

The “revolutions” that occur in science hardly ever involve the overthrow of a “complete set of assumptions” as Rowland asserts. To use his example, Newtonian mechanics was not entirely overthrown by relativity; it is, indeed, the one and only correct limit of relativity theory when velocities are small. Moreover, most of the fundamental insights and concepts of Newtonian physics remain valid in relativity theory, including Newton’s three laws of motion. What Einstein did was supply crucial insights about the structure of space-time that were missing from the Newtonian picture. Newtonian physics was not annulled, but sublated in a higher viewpoint. So it is with almost every great scientific advance.

All the postmodern tomfoolery in which Rowland indulges has nothing to do with the Galileo case. All the principals in that case believed in “the natural light of human reason.” It is true that Galileo’s contemporaries failed to appreciate what the physicist Eugene Wigner famously called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in understanding the physical world. With few exceptions, they did tend to think of mathematical theories in merely instrumental terms, as convenient calculational tools that worked but could not be of much help in getting at the essence of things. However, theirs was an excusable ignorance; they lived before Newton.

Galileo made mistakes, both political and scientific, but the fact remains that he was the one forced to abjure the truth. Why did the Church authorities rush to judgment? Oddly enough, it was from a desire to be cautious. They observed all around them the dreadful consequences to which novel interpretations of Scripture could lead: Christendom lay shattered, the Thirty Years War raged. Their mistake was in thinking it cautious to condemn, when true caution in the case of Galileo lay in forbearance. They were blindsided by the Scientific Revolution, but at least, unlike the postmodernists, they were not willfully blind.

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Last edited by elendil on Sun Jan 25, 2004 8:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2004 10:27 pm 
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Thanks, interesting reviews, especially the first.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 1:18 am 
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The quote above is taken from the following link:
http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0 ... /barr.html
(and with no bold emphasis)

The thing to keep in mind, if there's really much interest in going over all this again, is that people in ecclesiastical positions should never be allowed to have authority over science, or over the souls of men who discover, study, and interpret science. It's simply not their area of expertise. And besides, there's little, if anything, they can share with us to further our knowledge of the heavens or the earth. Science, by it's very nature, is entitled to freedom from religious and political influences.

The Church would do well to just stay out of the heavens. If science finds a place in outer space that's suitable for ecclesiastical authorities, you can rest assured we'll let them know where and when, and it won't be imaginary.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 12:22 pm 
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I'm not going to get sucked into the discussion this time. :sleep:


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 12:37 pm 
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*ties up Elendil hand and foot and throws him in the river*

Enough with the trolling already. Sheesh!

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 1:30 pm 
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Oh, actually there's no real sucking or trolling going on here. You should know by now that I can do better than this if I'm just trying to create controversy. :wink: Actually, that's not true either--I'm usually the one who gets sucked in! I'd much rather learn from others.

I will say this (again), though. The thread I really wanted to get people involved in was the Skepticism and Freedom one, which, sad to say, was basically stillborn. :sniffle:

This one is more a take it or leave it thread, from my point of view: read the link/article if you're interested, no comment necessarily called for--purely informative.

Partly I got interested in this, besides simply noticing the article in the first place, because I had just finished a book called "The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science," which was quite a slog for a non-science guy like me. It's by E.A. Burtt and, after many years, is still pretty much a classic, I guess. It's far too complex for me to adequately summarize off the top of my head, but I was very struck by the contrast between the Continental scientists, Galileo and Descartes, who were very Pythagorean-Platonic in their orientation and philosophy (the "real world" for them was basically mathematical) and the English scientists (preeminently Newton, of course) who, while using math as a basic tool, were far more empirical in their approach and therefore were very careful to draw distinctions between hypothesis and proof. If I recall, the Continental approach was steeped in geometry, while Newton, of course, used the new calculus. Doggone book took me, like, two weeks or so! Burtt's approach actually has a fair amount in common with Etienne Gilson's, in that they both stress the application of one method to diverse realities as characteristic of some of these scientists (not all of whom spent a lot of time thinking about method, per se). Anyway

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 2:01 pm 
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I think the Catholic Church, Lorenzo, is sympathetic
to the spirit of what you said above (though of course
there is concern about the souls of all people,
including scientists). Bellarmine spoke for the
Catholicism of his day when he said that if there
was decisive scientific evidence for Copernicanism,
the right response must be that the Church
hadn't understood the scripture. But there wasn't
such evidence yet, and the Church made a mistake
(one it has admitted) in interpreting scripture
so that it conflicted with Copernicanism, rather
than taking that scripture to be describing appearances,
so that it was agnostic about astromical theory,
as Galileo suggested. Not a mistake it's
about to make again. Best


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 3:50 pm 
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Because of having remained unchallenged, Jim, at least so far in their history, the Church was still (tho not by God) presuming/assuming authority and control over the whole person. Galileo is an example of how religious power, when unchecked, is used to squelch the advancement of science, or anything that is seen as contrary to so-called "unerring" interpretation, regardless of later apologies.

It has taken humanity thousands of years to advance to the point where there is freedom in the natural world to explore, research, test through experimentation, publish the findings, and teach the way things really are without being hindered by some superior who is unqualified to be in control.

BTW, I'm curious if a Catholic has ever been invited to serve as Chaplain in the US Cogress, and if not--why not, or what took them so long?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 4:59 pm 
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Galileo is an example of how religious power, when unchecked, is used to squelch the advancement of science.

Well, we disagree, but we've been over this before. Best


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 5:16 pm 
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The first time I read this topic I read:

Gastric Reflux :boggle:

Sorry.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 5:50 pm 
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I have some sympathy for Rowlands view. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go through life with blind ignorance, blaming the events around us on the supernatural (faeries, gods etc.). Life would be a little more fun than it is, knowing how everything works. Not practical I guess, but I'd like to see a little more magic in the world.
Take care, Johnz

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 5:52 pm 
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Because of my other hobby (amateur astronomy) the Galileo story is one I've often heard discussed. A couple of my friends, in particular, have a huge number of books on the subject (I've read exerpts from one or two, and listened to discussions - I don't put myself up as an expert).

But the one thing they (mostly) agree on was that although the whole Galileo controversy was tragic, it wasn't the clear Church vs Science argument it's often presented at, but a more tawdry (and more typically human) bit of political infighting.

To put it bluntly (and cut out a most of the details) Galileo had a truly abrasive personality, and made a large number of political enemies. Who, when he offered them a chance to get back at him, grabbed the biggest stick they could to beat him with. Many, perhaps most, of those who convicted him would accept (in private) that Copernicus might be right. or at least wasn't necessarily wrong. But it was the biggest, most obvious, thing they could use as a weapon against Galileo, so that's what they used.

Still wrong - but more the kind of political infighting we see going on today on the national stage than anything peculiar to the church.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 6:24 pm 
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The universe revealed by science isn't magical,
I reckon, but it's certainly weird, which is
the next best thing, I suppose.

About post-modernism:

A decade ago I attended a philosophy of science
conference in Sri Lanka, where my wife and I
were spending the summer. We were the
only Westerners. It was awful.
People went on and on about how there is no
objective truth, science is socially constructed,
especially Western medicine, which only appears
to work better than naturopathy and vedic medicine
because Western scientists have contrived
to view it in terms of 'paradigms' that
favor it.
I had lived for three years in Asia, seen
naturopathy and vedic medicine at work,
and I had to restrain myself from saying:
"Don't you see? If it wasn't for Western
medicine, the germ theory, sanitation,
surgery, none of us would have been born,
or, if we had, we would be dead by
now.' Driving about Sri lanka I had
seen people whose lives
had been saved by heart surgery,
by the way.

I said nothing. My wife and I tried
to freeze our faces in the expression 'Western
scholars amazed and delighted at what they
are learning from their Asian colleagues.'

There was lots of tea served at the conference,
which went on for days,
and wonderful meals in beautiful places,
some of them served outdoors. I noticed
that these dreary, prejudiced, and dogmatic
people became, at meals, witty, friendly,
and interesting, quite delightful.

Finally the scales fell from my eyes. The point of
the conference was the meals and the tea.
The talks were between-meal handwaving
that had to be done to get to the meals.
Why not post-modernism? You don't have
to think hard to mouth that stuff,
nothing to give you a headache,
as does serious scholarship.
Nobody cared about any of it but food,
tea, and social conversation, the real
people were revealed there. These were, in
fact, wise men and women, I realized,
and I forgave them. Best


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 7:34 pm 
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Quote:
The first time I read this topic I read:

Gastric Reflux


Actually, the first time I read the article that's what I thought it was about, too. Like I said, I'm not really a science guy. :)

And then, ya never know where these threads are gonna go.

Interesting, Jim. It sounds like the post-modern speak was another thing they picked up from the West. Talk about a Trojan horse! Perhaps we can afford to have smart people fool around with that stuff because we have enough other smart people taking care of the important things, but Sri Lanka probably can't afford that sort of "luxury."

DCrom, I suspect your friends are pretty correct, and not a pretty picture. However, there's usually a reason why a person's personality leads them in certain directions. The Burtt book talks about how the Copernican theory won initial interest from astronomers simply because it was simpler, not because it explained anything any better or because it was based on observation. That was because of a philosophical presumption in favor of the simpler explanation. It eventually led to the correct explanation, but not without some twists and turns. That's still the way a lot of creative science gets rolling, except that nowadays I think most scientists (although not all) are more self-conscious about how scientific progress works. For example, many theoretical physicists will state quite unabashedly that they are looking for "beautiful" or "elegant" solutions because they think that will lead to true solutions. I personally think they're onto something deeply metaphysical--beautiful being one of what the scholastics referred to as the "transcendentals." I.e., One, True, Good and Beautiful are convertible with Being. Here on our Chiffboard, Ridseard has recounted aesthetic experiences associated with mathematics. I never got beyond HS algebra, but I distinctly recall feeling that way at times about Euclidean geometry (the one math course I truly enjoyed).

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2004 8:46 pm 
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Elendil, as a philosopher I'm a bust. And beyond the classes needed for an engineering degree, (and reading on my own after college) a physisist I'm not - I love to read about the newest findings in physics (really, astrophysics - I thought long and hard before going into engineering instead of astronomy; what decided me, really, was finding out that modern astronomers *don't* get to peer through their telescopes).

But I do think I'm a middlin' smart soft of guy - and one thing I've learned over the years is to trust Occam's Razor most of the time. The simplest explanation isn't always the correct one - but that's usually the way to bet.. What convinced most astronomers wasn't anything philosophical (or the pure Copenican theory, which posited circular obits) but the simplicity of the Copernican/Keplerian/Newtonian model (nice eliptical orbits instead of all those messy epicycles). A model (with minor adjustments to allow for Special Relativity) that still serves - because it's simpler than the other available models.


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