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What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific…

What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution

by Lawrence Lipking

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Lawrence Lipking’s What Galileo Saw is a demanding and interesting read. What Lipking is trying to get at is the role of imagination in the scientific revolution. What kinds of worlds did Galileo or Kepler, for example, have to imagine as a result of their observations? Can we observe their imaginations at work in detailed readings of their illustrations that accompanied their scientific writing? Lipking assumes his audience has a solid background in the history of science and familiarity with the different approaches that have been taken in recent biographies of the scientists he discusses. Most readers will have to move through this book slowly, but the effort will be repaid with new ways of understanding how imagination can lead to revolution. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Jan 11, 2015 |
Coming of age is not just about teenagers. In What Galileo Saw, Europeans begin to shed their ignorance in fits and starts. They replace ancient prejudices and common knowledge with mathematical proofs. They replace age-old stories with critical observations. Even hypocrisy takes the occasional shot across the bow. The book collects writers, artists, natural philosophers and thinkers from the 16th and 17th centuries and describes how they changed, and how they changed their world. And ours.

The transition was not sudden or clear. Both Galileo and Kepler depended on casting horoscopes to make a living. Scientific ideas infiltrated and were of course often denied or repressed. Think of computers being more and more widely accepted every year, until now when they are indispensable. At first it was thought no more than five personal computers would be needed in the world. So with these discoveries, theories, and proofs.

Lipking covers a lot of territory, quotes a lot of people, refers up and down the centuries, and tries to link the various scientists, or natural philosophers as they were called, since there was no real science. Inevitably, there are three or four compulsory references to the tiresome Foucault, which have no effect on the text whatever, other than to lengthen it. Sadly, this has become formulaic in the humanities, and lowers my opinion.

The chapters feature Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, death, Descartes, Fludd, Hooke, and end with probably the only real genius among them, Newton.

I’m not sure Lipking achieves his goal of showing how the settings changed as a result of these discoveries. There is nothing new here, other than the framework he has chosen.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Aug 26, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080145297X, Hardcover)

The Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century has often been called a decisive turning point in human history. It represents, for good or ill, the birth of modern science and modern ways of viewing the world. In What Galileo Saw, Lawrence Lipking offers a new perspective on how to understand what happened then, arguing that artistic imagination and creativity as much as rational thought played a critical role in creating new visions of science and in shaping stories about eye-opening discoveries in cosmology, natural history, engineering, and the life sciences.

When Galileo saw the face of the Moon and the moons of Jupiter, Lipking writes, he had to picture a cosmos that could account for them. Kepler thought his geometry could open a window into the mind of God. Francis Bacon's natural history envisioned an order of things that would replace the illusions of language with solid evidence and transform notions of life and death. Descartes designed a hypothetical "Book of Nature" to explain how everything in the universe was constructed. Thomas Browne reconceived the boundaries of truth and error. Robert Hooke, like Leonardo, was both researcher and artist; his schemes illuminate the microscopic and the macrocosmic. And when Isaac Newton imagined nature as a coherent and comprehensive mathematical system, he redefined the goals of science and the meaning of genius.

What Galileo Saw bridges the divide between science and art; it brings together Galileo and Milton, Bacon and Shakespeare. Lipking enters the minds and the workshops where the Scientific Revolution was fashioned, drawing on art, literature, and the history of science to reimagine how perceptions about the world and human life could change so drastically, and change forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:51 -0400)

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