Western Culture Global Presents

The Top 100 Heroes of Western Culture
These individuals have most contributed to replacing ignorance with knowledge, savagery with civilization, disease with health, tyranny with liberty, poverty with abundance, and despair with happiness.



#4: Galileo (1564-1642)

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer who is arguably the father of modern science.

For at least 1,200 years prior to Galileo there was limited scientific advancement. Galileo's work, however, represented such a leap forward that after him we must differentiate between ancient science (mainly science of the Greco-Roman civilization) and modern science. Modern science is built upon ancient science but features major improvements, namely the systematic use of experimentation and mathematics.

Experimentation

Throughout the Middle Ages, authority was generally viewed as the source of scientific knowledge, whether that authority be religious (namely the church) or secular (namely Aristotle). In other words, gaining knowledge was considered to be a passive process of merely having faith in the alleged wisdom of others.

As was characteristic, however, of many individuals during the Renaissance, Galileo boldly regarded the gaining of knowledge to be an active process involving first-hand observation of reality or nature and the use of one's power of reason, not uncritical and second-hand acceptance of the word of others.

Galileo's active process involved the investigating of causal relationships among variables, that is, experimentation. Indeed, after Galileo, scientific experimentation would quickly become and forever remain a cornerstone of unlocking the secrets of nature.

Mathematics

Perhaps Galileo's most important achievement involved his pioneering application of mathematics to the study of motion. Galileo did not regard mathematics to be divorced from the material world as was generally believed throughout history. Rather, he viewed math as the "language" of reality and consequently indispensable to understanding it. (Indeed, Sir Isaac Newton, born within a year of Galileo's death, built upon Galileo's achievements by developing his mathematical laws of motion and universal gravitation.)

Specific Accomplishments

Through his modern methodology, Galileo was able to significantly expand scientific knowledge. His accomplishments include establishing the laws of falling bodies as they are still formulated; demonstrating the laws of projectiles; developing ideas on motion which largely anticipated the laws of motion as finally established by Newton; demonstrating the laws of equilibrium and the principle of virtual velocities; identifying the principle of flotation; inventing a thermometer.

In addition, through Galileo's observations with the telescope (which he largely invented) he virtually proved Copernicus's theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. His observations also showed the moon and planets to be natural, like the Earth, not mysterious and inexplicable supernatural bodies; in other words, he brought the heavens down to Earth, that is, to reason and science.

Most of the immense scientific progress of the past 400 years, including the Industrial Revolution, would not have been possible without the work of Galileo. In other words, there is virtually no one alive on Earth today who has not benefited, often immensely, from his heroic contributions.



Go to #5: John Locke


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