Off-topic. Finally some Czech gold in Sochi: a women's snowboard cross event. It is a violation of the rules to inject testosterone into the veins but a few years ago, a rookie and saxophone player named Ms Eva Samková found out it is perfectly legal to paint a nationally colored mustache above her lips and it has worked; she has won every stage of the competition. The only other duty she had was one during the ceremony – she had to dress the jacket inside out and use the golden liner the designers hid on the other side from the white cloth. So far, Facebook has failed to include "mustache woman" among the 10 officially recognized sexes. :-) Czechia is now 15th with the 1-2-1 medal tally; our Slovak brothers have 1-0-0 thanks to "their" biathlete Nastya Kuzmina who said she was grateful for the Slovak passport (after she was thrown away in her homeland) but Slovaks shouldn't get carried away because despite the passport, she's obviously still Russian! ;-) Due to the excess shame, I chose not to discuss the results of the Czech and Slovak ice-hockey teams.
Incidentally, another cute Czech snowboarder Ms Šárka Sharky Pančochová deserved a medal as well – according to virtually all observers – but the referees screwed it. A journalist and ugly, stuttering, favored spoiled brat Mr Pavel Novotný suggested that Sharky shouldn't whine. So Sharky offered you a prize: if you slap the spoiled journalistic brat into his face and if you record the well-deserved punishment and send it to Sharky, you will get a new snowboard from her including her signature and "thanks". Good luck; similar journalists should be beaten approximately 24 hours a day. ;-) You will need to be fast because lots of Sharky's fans have already found the address of the son of the famous host and comedian.
Galileo Galilei, the father of science, the scientific method, physics, modern physics, and astronomy, among other things (including 2 daughters and 1 son, all of them out of wedlock), was born on February 15th (unadjusted Julian calender i.e. Old Style), 1564 in Pisa, a town in the Duchy of Florence.
That's exactly 450 years ago today. Congratulations, Galileo!
His father Vincenzo Galilei was an achieved lutenist (like an obsolete guitar player) and music theorist and the family was doing fine. Nevertheless, this father needed lots of money for some dowries and extra expenses required by Galileo's younger brother Michelagnolo Galilei (another lutenist, one who never earn any real bucks with his music). Despite the relative wealth and fame, one could say that Galileo (who became a lutenist himself) needed extra income and many of his early inventions were actually motivated by the thirst for extra money.
Despite his prestigious background, I would count him as a self-made man who shared many of the typical character features with great folks who come from poor families.
When he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he would study why the pendulum had a constant period and how it depended on the length/geometry. He created a thermoscope (a father of the thermometer), studied hydrostatic balance, and was hired as the boss of the maths department in Pisa, before he moved to Padua to teach mechanics, geometry, and astronomy. He would study the acceleration by freely falling objects from the tower of Pisa. Does the velocity increase by the same amount per unit time or unit length? He was able to settle this question in the scientific way. Yes, it's per unit time.
He wrote not only Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems but also other masterpieces of the polemical literature. At some moment, he would become a staunch heliocentrist who wasn't afraid to point out that the Pope was an idiot. Some people tried to resist this insight; see Galileo as the tragic hero for comments about the trial as well as Galileo vs Benedict XVI.
Some of his testing questions that helped him to understand early physics better were concerned with the tides (it was in the pre-Newtonian era so there were still some major technical mistakes in his answers: for example, he couldn't understand why the tides have two periods per day and not just one); the 1604 Kepler's supernova (he could show that it was a distant star – no parallax – which contradicted some bizarre Aristotelian dogmas about the immutability of the heaven – the heaven is defined as the things that are "infinitely far" and those should never explode); the Milky Way (he appreciated it's there and what it is probably made of); and observations of other planets and their moons, some of which he observed for the first time with his telescope that was one of the first good ones. He was not necessarily the guy who invented telescopes with all of their know-how but much like great IT industrialists today, he knew how to put these ideas floating around to work.
Aside from the telescope, he invented a geometrical and military compass and lots of various gadgets for sea navigation etc.
Galileo's battle for the heavens, 1:49:00. I hope that some readers will find the time to watch it! I have watched it. Galileo's daugher Maria Celeste and her relationship to her father is given a lot of time. A tragic story. Even though it could have been realistic, I found the actor starring as a senile, old, ill, unintelligible Galileo annoying and excessive; he actually wrote the most accurate works as a very old man. For the last 4 minutes, see the Italian version.
There's way too much to say about Galileo Galilei so I gave up any plans to be comprehensive at the very beginning. But I want to say the following thing. Galileo Galilei wasn't infallible and his comments about particular questions in physics and astronomy weren't always 100% right. However, he was right about the key things and more importantly, he pioneered the very scientific method that allows us to be increasingly right and accurate. In a sense, the scientific method mimics Galileo's own life. It isn't producing flawless results from the very beginning; it is a process to gradually eliminate the flawed hypotheses and – with the help of observations and experiments – converge closer to the correct ones. This methodology to learn about the truth was revolutionary and, to a large extent, new – even though it looks obvious to us today. By finding this method, he established a new religion of a sort, one that actually works in its goal to make progress.
The reason why he couldn't get as far as Isaac Newton almost a century later was that unlike Newton, Galileo was no ingenious mathematician. His knowledge of maths was "standard" at most and he didn't make any major breakthroughs in maths. And this does slow down everyone who would like to become a revolutionary in physics. In maths, Galileo became famous for childish insights of recreational mathematics such as the observation that the set of perfect squares has the same number of elements as the set of integers, despite their being subsets of one another ("Galileo's paradox"). That's too little relatively to, say, Calculus.
Although Galileo's contributions had to look formidable even during his lifetime, he was often harassed for having contradicted some dogmas, stereotypes, and the authority of the lesser minds. He was tried as a possible heretic and the verdict was a life in (home) prison. He was arguably lucky not to be executed. Centuries later, the Catholic Church and others were gradually rehabilitating him.
Indigo Girls: Galileo. Warning: the song isn't necessarily historically and scientifically accurate.
While Galileo played a key role in the birth of science (or modern science) or physics as we know it and even though he was clearly versatile and extremely skillful and smart in many different ways, I would say that the bulk of these achievements depended on his unusual courage, self-confidence, political influence, and his ability to provoke rather than his being one of the smartest men of all time. In particular, the very fact that he could get away with this self-evident heresy (according to the traditions at that time) was very important for the Western civilization that could suddenly notice that some important ideas may arise from corners that aren't fully endorsed by the church's group think. This "relative victory of a heretic" brought lots of meritocracy – desire to find independent-of-religion, new methods to judge the validity of claims – into the smart folks' thinking. Don't get me wrong: he was extremely intelligent. But the intelligence was nowhere near Newton's. But that doesn't matter for us; he has still done amazing, unprecedented things and it was up to him how to achieve those things.
Deja vu doesn't necessarily prove that you live in the Matrix.