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A Wrangler's Tale

Part II: The Fruits of Defiance

Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa in 1564, lived a life continually intertwined with the Church. Indeed, his first discovery – the isochronism of a pendulum – had its roots when, as a youngster, the gentle swinging of the church chandelier fascinated him. He correctly determined the time it takes a pendulum to swing back and forth remains the same regardless of how high up the pendulum moves. He suggested applying this fundamental finding to clocks.

More ironically, Galileo’s first papers, delivered to the Florentine Academy at the age of 23, dealt with the site and dimensions of Dante’s Inferno. By his twenty-forth birthday, “The Wrangler” became known as “The Archimedes of His Time” (primarily for his work on the center of gravity of solids).

The University of Pisa awarded him the post of Mathematical Lecturer, and Galileo began his professional career in the area he loved. It was during this tenure when he conducted his legendary gravitational experiments. Although today we doubt he actually tossed a feather and a hammer from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he was the first to show a projectile follows a parabolic path – a fact glorified ad nauseum by young video game makers.

While at the University of Pisa, he conducted the motion experiments which led directly to the discovery of the Law of Inertia (Newton’s First Law). This disproved the then widely held view that rest is the natural state of matter; thus, his life-long battle with Aristotelians began. To make matters worse, The Wrangler also derided the authorities by ridiculing University regulations. Arousing the enmity of his colleagues, Galileo resigned and took up a position at the University of Padua. He eventually received an appointment as professor at the University of Florence and as Philosopher and Mathematician Extraordinaire to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Continue with Part III - The Eyes Have It!