Culture Global Presents
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.
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.
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.)
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
Go to #5: John Locke
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