Website owner:  James Miller

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Beliefs prior to Galileo

1. Rest is the natural state of a body. A body in motion will come to rest. As we look about us it is easy to understand why people would assume this. Moving bodies always do seem to come to rest. A rolling ball or a thrown stone always comes to rest. The state of motion always seems to end with rest. And it seems quite natural that this would be so.

2. Motion is caused by force. If something is moving, it is moving because it is being pushed. If we look at motion when it occurs about us in daily life it is easy to see why people would think this. Usually if something moves, it is because someone or something is moving it. Leaves move because the wind is moving them. Creatures move from their own force. However, there are problems with the assumption. What force is pushing an arrow, making it move through the air after it has been shot? What force is pushing a stone that has been thrown?

3. The heavier an object is, the faster it falls. This belief is also easily understood. It seems reasonable. It seems in accordance with observation of nature. A stone falls faster than a leaf, or example.

Ancient beliefs were based on observations of nature. Philosophers created theories and made generalizations based on observations. What happened at the time of Galileo was that thinkers started questioning the validity of old beliefs, started examining the basic assumptions more critically, started looking at exceptions and contradictions of existing belief. Galileo started doing carefully devised experiments in an effort to get to the bottom of questions involving motion. It was an age when Europeans had done great things, surpassing the ancients in various ways. Columbus had just discovered the New World. Europeans had pioneered new ground in mathematics and physics. Europeans had a new confidence in themselves and a realization that the beliefs of Aristotle were not sacred or above doubt or above challenge. It was an age of deep philosophical thought; an age of questioning, examination and challenge.

Mar 2008

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