Both sides of history: Some thoughts on a history of science cliché

Earlier in the yeary, University of Edinburgh historian of mathematics, Michael Barany, used the expression “the wrong side of history” whilst live tweeting the university’s conference on Charles Piazzi Smyth the nineteenth century English astronomer and pyramidologist. This oft repeated cliché somehow struck a chord and I asked on Twitter what people actually thought it meant. I received quite a lot of answers spread over a fairly wide spectrum. Some though of it as a moral judgement, others on a similar wavelength viewed it as purely political, listing the well-known villain of history, Hitler, Stalin et al. But the view that really interested me, and the reason Michael Barany had used it, was its use in the history of science to designate people, who had strongly defended a theory or hypothesis that was later proved to be false. I think its use in this way is largely inappropriate, as it paints a much too black and white picture, whereas the history of science is, in my opinion, mostly various shades of grey. I would like to illustrate what I mean with some historical examples; this is not a systematic study but some musings provoked by my initial reaction to the phrase.

Copernicus is something of an icon in the history of astronomy, as the first Early Modern European astronomer to suggest that the cosmos was heliocentric and not, as had generally been believed, geocentric, so that puts him very much on the right side of history. However, although we actually know very little about his motivation, we do know that his main concern was to remove Ptolemeaus’ equant point in order to make astronomy conform with the so-called Platonic axioms i.e. all celestial motion takes place in uniform circular motion around a common centre. This desire of his to maintain the Platonic axioms places him firmly on the wrong side of history.

Tycho Brahe rejected heliocentricity both on astronomical and on religious grounds landing him on the wrong side of history but revolutionised observational astronomy delivering vast quantities of new astronomical data of an unheard of accuracy; you guessed it, right side of history.

Johannes Kepler, however, not only strongly propagated heliocentricity but using Tycho’s new data abandoned the Platonic axioms completely, replacing them with his three laws of planetary motion, still valid today, right side of history with a vengeance. Unfortunately the extremely devote Christian believed in a closed, finite cosmos with God as the sun, Jesus as the fixed stars and the Holy Ghost as the space in between; you can’t really get further on the wrong side of history than that.

In the popular imagination Galileo Galilei is considered to be one-hundred pre cent on the right side of history but was he really? The book, that most people know is his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which is a polemic for heliocentricity and because we actually live in a heliocentric system it is assumed that what Galileo has to say is correct; unfortunately this assumption is far from the truth. Firstly the two systems he discusses Copernican heliocentricity and Ptolemaic geocentricity were both out dated when he wrote the book, Copernicus displaced by Kepler’s elliptical system and Ptolemy refuted by the discovery of the phases of Venus. Galileo simply ignores the true contemporary contenders, Kepler and some form of geo-heliocentric system. So he is very much on the wrong side of history. Even worse his supposedly crowning argument, his theory of the tides, presented on the fourth and final day of his dialogue, was already contradicted by the available empirical evidence. He even goes so far as to rubbish Kepler’s correct assumption that tides are somehow caused by the moon. Galileo did many things that were in fact on the right side of history but his sally into the astronomical/cosmological debate of the period was anything but.

For modern scientists astronomy is an honourable and ancient science, whereas astrology is merely occult mumbo jumbo. However, all three of our early modern astronomers, Tycho, Kepler and Galileo, were practicing astrologers, who genuinely believed in it. Distinctly wrong side of history there.

Moving to the other end of the seventeenth century we meet Isaac Newton. Like Galileo, Newton is venerated as a scholar firmly on the right side of history. However, beyond his achievements in mathematics, astronomy and physics, as every Newton aficionado well knows, he held views on religion and alchemy that make life very difficult for his rational fans. They like to argue that his science has nothing to do with his non-scientific activities but any analysis of his work shows that the various fields of his thought scientific and non-scientific were thoroughly integrated with one another. So which side of history do we place him on?

I briefly mentioned astrology above, which today is without doubt regarded, as being on the wrong side of history but astrology was one of the major driving forces behind the evolution of European astronomy from its beginnings in the Fertile Crescent sometime in the third millennium BCE all the way down to the end of the seventeenth century. Although, he was not a believer even Newton learnt his astronomy from books written by astrologers.

An eighteenth century theory that gets mocked by believers in right and wrong sides of history, as truly beyond the pale is the phlogiston theory in chemistry. It is of course viewed with hindsight stupendously and wonderfully wrong. However, what those, who mock it ignore is that scholars such as Joseph Black, Daniel Rutherford, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish working within the framework of the phlogiston theory discovered, isolated and identified the properties of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and the structure of water amongst other things; these researchers laid the foundations of modern chemistry. All on the wrong side of history, really? Some go so far as to attribute the discovery of oxygen to Lavoisier and not to Scheele and Priestley because unlike Priestley he didn’t believe it to be dephlogisticated air and was thus on the right side of history. But was he? Lavoisier named the gas oxygen from the Greek for sharp or acid believing it to be the element that makes all acids acidic, a belief that was just as false as Priestley’s dephlogisticated air.

Like Galileo and Newton in the seventeenth century, Albert Einstein is an icon of twentieth century science. Einstein is criticised and said to be on the wrong side of history because although he, together with Max Planck, founded the quantum theory, for which they both won Nobel Prizes, he refused to accept the indeterminate model of quantum mechanics created by Niels Bohr, based on the theories of Schrödinger, Heisenberg et al. Einstein was a determinist and was in this case shown to be wrong in the long run but Bohr himself said that Einstein contribute as much as anybody else to the development of quantum mechanics through his astute criticism.

I hope I have brought enough clear examples to show that categorising scientist or developments in science, as either on the right or wrong side of history is actually complete rubbish. Every scientific scholar, who has ever lived, has got some things right, some wrong and quite a lot, sort of half right. Science advances by others correcting the wrong and the half right bits. Also theories that in the end proved to be totally wrong, such as astrology, the phlogiston theory or alchemy, can, and in fact did, generate important results that furthered the evolution of science. The evolution of science is not categorised by clear black and white situations but as I said above consists of multifarious shades of grey. The right/wrong side of history concept is actually nothing more than a veiled version of presentism i.e. only acknowledging those aspects of the history of science that we consider to be right from our current standpoint.

I firmly believe that the concept of right or wrong side of history together with presentism and the expressions ‘father of’, ‘greatest’, and ‘first’ belongs in the rubbish bin and should never ever be applied in anything that purports to be serious history of science.

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 Comments

Filed under History of science, Myths of Science

40 responses to “Both sides of history: Some thoughts on a history of science cliché

  1. Todd Timberlake

    That individual scholars got some things right and some things wrong seems so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but when people persist in categorizing individuals as being on the right or wrong side of history I guess it needs to be pointed out, so thank you. I think the subtler, and in some ways more important, point is that even ideas cannot clearly be categorized in this way. As you note, astrology was a major motivating factor in the development of astronomy. You also allude to Newton’s alchemical work influencing his physics. Kepler’s Mysterium must seem like hogwash to any modern scientist and yet his “discovery” regarding the Platonic solids and the planetary orbits strengthened his commitment to heliocentricity and drove him to seek a cause for planetary motions in a force from the Sun. Perhaps history is really a Moebius strip: what at first appear to be two sides turn out to be joined together as all one side. More likely it is something like a chaotic system, where a change in initial conditions can lead to a very different outcome. How would astronomy have turned out if Kepler had not had his moment of revelation concerning the Platonic solids? We might be tempted to say that would have made no difference, but i’m not sure. Perhaps we would never have gotten Keplerian astronomy, and in that case would we have gotten Newtonian physics? Likewise, there may be other ideas that historically were dead ends but could have proved productive or influential if they had been carried further or combined with other ideas in the right way. Some ideas may have such immediate and terrible consequences that they should not be pursued regardless of their future possibilities (these are the Hitler-like cases) but most ideas are only partly bad and have some potential for being good or productive.

  2. I agree with most of Todd’s reply and the original post but would just add that there is no such thing as the “wrong side of science” either.
    Even astrology (and alchemy as Todd points out) yielded information, back in the day. The modern focus of astrology as puporting to predict human affairs was tested and found wanting, which is exactly what science does.
    When I was a child it was still thought, even by the researchers on Salisbury Plain, that you could catch a cold by getting wet. We know now that it is all about a virus and varying levels of personal immunity, but we dont call the old ideas mumbojumbo, just science waiting to be done and ideas tested to destruction.
    That is the scientific method, and it would be lovely in today’s rather miserable political climate, if more people understood that. Greta Thunberg made a similar point this week, about climate science and the accusations by deniers that it isnt proven hard fact. Good for her.

  3. araybold

    A more charitble interpretation of the phrase is that only with hindsight can we see which ideas were the most right. It is probable that popular outlines of history will inevitably gloss over the amount of uncertainty and confusion present at the time of its making, but at least we should stop judging peoples’ competence and even character on the basis of what only became clear later.

  4. From my perspective, you are taking the expression “wrong side of history” too seriously. I tend to see it merely as a phrase used to add color to a description. So I see it more like an example of poetic license.

  5. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe;
    the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways;
    I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by
    the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience.
    And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

    🙞 Theodore Parker

    I think we are dealing with the scientific analogue of the moral figure above.  To inquire is to act as if inquiry pursued far enough will end in truth.  It’s a regulative principle, not a dogma, but a regulative principle is akin to a leap of faith.  Here we have a parting of the ways between those who think the end is near what we think we know already and those who think it’s more likely further down the road.  The two camps sort past and present ideas according to their guess as to what the future holds.

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  8. Mike from Ottawa

    Without the original tweet, I can only say the phrase is being taken as too all-encompassing. I do not think it is reasonable to take “Copernicus was on the right side of history.” to mean that he got everything right, that every thought he had was vindicated. The reasonable interpretation is that on the big thing he’s known for, he was indeed on ‘the right side of history’ as geocentrism was vindicated. The way I’ve understood it, when said of someone in the past, is that, well, it just didn’t turn out the way they expected. Not that what they said or did was somehow reprehensible. There’s an element of it being a matter of misfortune rather than malfeasance, and in that it departs from the judgemental.

    At least that is how I’ve used the phrase and generally seen it used.

  9. Claire Quinn

    I just recently finished Kepler’s “The Dream,” which is supplemented by his scrupulous notes. Kepler was no believer in astrology. If I had the book on me, I would be able to quote directly, but there are multiple instances of him directly noting the ridiculous nature of astrology.

    • You have walked into one of the most notorious traps in the history of astrology and astronomy. There are literally hundreds of quotes that would seem to indicate that Kepler rejected astrology and in one sense he did but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Although he worked most of his life, very successfully, as a professional astrologer, Kepler personally rejected traditional Greek horoscope astrology. However, as he famously wrote, one shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. He believed in celestial influence the fundament of astrology, and developed his own system, which rejected the star signs and everything based on them and was instead entirely based on the aspects, that is the angular relationship of the planets to each other, even adding a set of new aspects to the existing ones. Kepler’s system found no takers and so got quickly forgotten and a lot of historians ignored it, quoting only his attacks on conventional astrology in order to present him as an opponent to astrology.

  10. It is not true that Einstein was a determinist. Einstein was basically right and Bohr was basically wrong.

    • Leaving aside the second sentence, on what do you base your first claim?

      • The Bell passage does not show that Einstein wasn’t a determinist, just that he had another philosophical preoccupation of equal or greater importance to him.

        Namely realism, as expressed in the famous quote, “Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, …. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation.” Or his question to Bohr, “Do you really believe that the moon doesn’t exist when you are not looking at it?”

        If you read the Bell passage carefully, you’ll see he nowhere claims that Einstein didn’t believe in strict causality. Just that (a) the EPR argument doesn’t depend on it, and (b) Einstein didn’t make determinism a criterion for the admissibility of a theory. Well of course—Einstein was a master of statistical arguments. He never said that statistical theories couldn’t be useful, just that they couldn’t be the final answer, the true nature of the universe.

      • The article clearly says that Einstein did not require physical theories to be deterministic. If that doesn’t contradict the statement that Einstein was a determinist, then I don’t know what it means to be a determinist. As for the moon, Einstein did believe it was there when nobody looks, as does every sensible person. Einstein thought Bohmian Mechanics too cheap, i.e., too simple. The other popular “interpretations” of quantum mechanics require observers, are unprofessinally vague, don’t explain where tables and chairs are in the theory, and/or say that cats can be both alive and dead at the same time. Too much nonsense. Read Bell’s book and Professor Goldstein’s papers. Here is a short article to start with: http://math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/papers/OnBohmianMechanics.pdf . The following article reports experimental evidence that photons follow Bohmian trajectories:

        Observing the Average Trajectories of Single Photons in a Two-Slit Interferometer
        Sacha Kocsis et al.
        Science 332, 1170 (2011);
        DOI: 10.1126/science.1202218

        It is true that Einstein thought the world was local, but he didn’t have Bell’s Theorem, so I give him a pass on that.

      • I’m certainly not going to say “Einstein was not primarily a determinist” unless someone defines what it means to be a determinist. If it means the person sometimes proposes deterministic theories and sometimes doesn’t, then why not just say that? Since Bohmian Mechanics is deterministic, the world is mostly deterministic. Particle creation and annihilation is probably stochastic. As for Einstein’s opinion of Bohmian Mechanics, he thought it was too simple, e.g, for the electron in the hydrogen atom ground state to not be moving. That’s pretty insignificant compared to his criticisms of the Copenhagen interpretation. The fact remains that his EPR paper is basically correct except for his assumption that the world is local. On the other hand, the Copenhagen interpretation and the many-worlds interpretation lead to such nonsense as cats being alive and dead at the same time.

      • The article doesn’t contradict Einstein being a determinist, it just claims he wasn’t primarily a determinist. In the list of his philosophical prejudices, realism ranked higher than determinism. We can infer that he would have abandoned determinism in exchange for a realistic interpretation of QM. Please note that he did not regard Bohmian mechanics as filling the bill!

        I have read most of Bell’s book (really a collection of papers). He had his own philosophical predilictions, hardly dispositive. Your mini-diatribe against the other interpretations really amounts to nothing more than “I don’t like them.”

        I haven’t studied the Kocsis et.al. experiments in any detail, but my understanding is that they do not detect individual photon trajectories, just statistical ensembles. As such, they are consistent with the other usual interpretations. At least that’s how I read it.

      • One should not dismiss cogent arguments and statements of fact as “philosophical predilections” and “diatribes”. Saying cats can be alive and dead and the moon is not there if no one looks is nonsense, even if famous people have said it. Bohmian Mechanics is not an “interpretation”; it is a completely specified theory that explains the facts in an understandable way. For those of you who are interested in this subject, you should also read the book “Making Sense of Quantum Mechanics” by Jean Bricmont. Since the Copenhagen interpretation says there are no particles, I don’t know what someone who supports that interpretation thinks the Kocsis experiment is showing pictures of. If you wish to deny the world exists, you have quite a lot of leeway in what you believe.

      • But you haven’t presented any cogent arguments or statements of fact, just lobbed insults (“unprofessional”, “nonsense”) at your caricature of other interpretations of QM.

        I have owned both of Bricmont’s books (“Quantum Sense and Nonsense”, along with “Making Sense”) for a couple of years, and dip into them from time to time. I find him persuasive that Bohmian mechanics is a reasonable interpretation, but not in the least that it is the only reasonable one.

        The Kocsis et.al. experiment (coming out of Aephraim Steinberg’s group) does not contradict standard QM. As a review of the result in Nature put it (Cartlidge, E. A quantum take on certainty. Nature June 2, 2011), “Steinberg stresses that his group’s work does not challenge the uncertainty principle, pointing out that the results could, in principle, be predicted with standard quantum mechanics.” The “trajectories” can be interpreted as patterns formed by a large ensemble of measurements—just like the usual two-slit interference pattern. (See the paper by Bliokh, Bekshaev, Kofman, and Nori (arXiv:1304.1276).)

        At present, the Bohmian interpretation still deserves the name: a layer on top of the standard computational rules of QM, experimentally indistinguishable from the other interpretations. Arguing over which one is “factually correct” is like arguing over which flavor of ice cream is “factually the best”.

        Finally, history. Einstein’s objection to Bohmian mechanics was that it was not realistic enough. To quote Del Santo quoting Einstein, “The fact that they all relied on a wave-function living in a configuration space, made them despicable to Einstein, in so far as they clearly did ‘not smell like something real’.”

        I thought I was pretty clear what I meant by calling Einstein not “primarily a determinist”. Nothing about the universe being sometimes deterministic and sometimes stochastic! Rather, he believed that the universe was both realistic and fully deterministic. However, if push came to shove, he’d abandon the second assumption if it would buy him a realistic theory reproducing the results of QM. But as we know, he worked till the end of his life towards a theory that would satisfy both requirements.

    • Your second statement is a quite extraordinary claim, on what do you base it?

      • On Einstein and determinism, see “Bertlmann’s socks and the nature of reality” by John S. Bell, reprinted in the book “Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics”, second edition, by John S. Bell; in particular, see pages 143-144. For Einstein being right and Bohr wrong, you can start with John S. Bell’s book, Sheldon Goldstein’s papers (http://sites.math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/), and “The Sokal Hoax: At Whom Are We Laughing?” by Mara Beller (https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Sokal-Hoax:-At-Whom-Are-We-Laughing-Beller/069eae43fbfeae0719ff71104de6383fa526ad07).

      • Ah, I see you’re a fan of the Bohmian interpretation of QM. It seems peculiar though to propose this as proof that “Einstein was basically right, Bohr was basically wrong.” First, it doesn’t get rid of nonlocality, one of Einstein’s major beefs with QM. Second, it just pushes the challenge back one step. On what basis do you claim that this interpretation is superior to any of the other QM interpretations? It still looks like personal preference.

        Finally, I’m not aware that Einstein ever endorsed the Bohm interpretation. Do you know otherwise?

      • Poking around a bit turned up this paper: “Striving for Realism, not for Determinism: Historical Misconceptions on Einstein and Bohm”, by Flavio Del Santo. It includes this Einstein quote (in a letter to Born):

        have you noticed that Bohm believes (as de Broglie did, by the way, 25 years ago) that he is able to interpret the quantum theory in deterministic terms? That way seems too cheap to me.

        So Einstein was not a fan of Bohm’s theory. Del Santos remarks,

        Einstein was surely in favour of determinism, but this was definitely not a fundamental requirement to him.

        Quite different from saying that Einstein was not a determinist. If you want to say, not primarily a determinist, no quarrels with that.

      • Sometimes discussion of how to interpret the equations of Quantum Mechanics reminds me of those supposed medieval discussions about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Personally I think that, had he he known about it, Einstein would found the Transactional interpretation most appealing because it replicates his position in the Einstein-Ritz debate where he considered the advanced wave solutions to Maxwell’s equations to be equally physical as the well-known retarded wave solutions. Unfortunately, although Einstein would have known about the Feynman-Wheeler absorber theory, its development into the Transactional interpretation by J G Cramer came about some 30 years after Einstein’s death.

        I recommend Chapter 29 of Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality” for its discussion of the measurement paradox in Quantum Mechanics.

      • One theory says there are particles that move and gives equations for the motions of the particles. Another theory says there are no particles, but gives a formula for the results of certain experiments using a wave on abstract space that changes discontinuously according to a bunch of poorly-defined rules. Since the first theory gives equations, it doesn’t have a measurement problem. Some people prefer the second theory, but I don’t know why. The calculations that people who believe the second theory do can be justified using the first theory.

        I haven’t read Penrose’s “The Road to Reality”. However, his “The Emperor’s New Mind” claimed that Gödel’s Theorem shows that consciousness is not algorithmic. Several logicians tried to explain his mathematical error to him (if you have taken a graduate course in logic, you can see his error). Rather than admit his error, he wrote a sequel, “Shadows of the Mind”.

    • Just to be clear: It is incorrect to say that Einstein’s disagreement with Bohr was because Einstein insisted on determinism. It is incorrect to say that Einstein was shown to be wrong.

    • “Dipping” into a book may not be the best way to understand it. If one reads some of the references that I provided, one may compile a list of the advantages of Bohmian Mechanics. Here are some of the advantages: it does not require observers; it does not need or have measurement postulates; it does not have a “measurement problem”; cats are either alive or dead, never both; it does not require separating the world into quantum and classical objects; it does not require an interpretation; it does not require philosophy; it contains equations for the trajectories of particles (which should be a requirement for a theory called “Mechanics”); it is clear what the ontology is, i.e., what the things are in space that the theory is about; it predicts trajectories for electrons that are similar to the trajectories reported for photons; it explains why things sometimes act like particles and sometimes live waves; it can be made Lorentz invariant (http://math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/papers/RBM.pdf); it can probably be extended to include particle creation and annihilation (http://math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/papers/bohmIBC180926.pdf).

      • I was well aware of all these arguments, both from dipping and from having read other discussions of Bohm’s theory over the years.

        I will say simply: (a) Saying that “cats are alive and dead” is a misrepresentation of both the Copenhagen and Everett interpretations; (b) Your comment is rife with unacknowledged philosophical presuppositions, no doubt because you regard them as self-evident. Why is the absence of observers an advantage? Why should trajectories be a requirement, just because classical mechanics had them? Why is its ontology any clearer than that of the other QM interpretations? Etc.

        This is really no different from arguments over which TV show was the greatest of all time.

        All that said, the Bohm interpretation has as much going for it as any of the others.

      • Michael Weiss wrote, “Your comment is rife with unacknowledged philosophical presuppositions, no doubt because you regard them as self-evident.”: Not true. There are answers to all your questions (assuming they weren’t rhetorical), in the literature that I referenced. Interested readers may look there.

  11. Michael Bycroft’s post Different kinds of Whig history are wrong (or right) for different kinds of reasons has thoughtful things to say about presentism. As he puts it, “The main lesson of this list is that some forms of history are unfairly tarred with the Whiggish brush.”

  12. Jim Harrison

    The right side of history bit strikes me as either a tautology or a somewhat dishonest way of making an assertion. There’s an old argument (Aristotle, De Interpretatione, chapter 9) about how you might think that everything is fated because if you make a prediction about, say, a sea battle, and the sea battle eventually happens on the day you say it would, your prediction will have always been true. Similarly, if you bet that the Sun is in the middle back in 1600, it will always have been true that you were on the right side of history. Thing is, this piece of reasoning doesn’t help you figure out whether there will be a sea battle or if you’ll turn out to be right about the Sun until there is a sea battle or definitive evidence for heliocentrism. And if you claim that you somehow know that you’re on the right side of history about a current prediction or novel scientific proposition, you’re just stealing in your mind by intimating an unearned sense of inevitability. Two hundred years of Marxists have been using this rhetoric. I get special kick out of lefties who routinely talk about late capitalism as if they know it’s on its last legs. Of course the Left doesn’t own the patent. Liberals and conservatives use this lingo too and so do scientist who assume that science will inevitably advance so that Creationists and anti-vaxers and climate change denialists are on the wrong side of history. (I hope they’re right, but as Rimbaud wrote long ago, “Science marches on. Why shouldn’t it march back?”)

  13. Andrea Ettore Bernagozzi

    You wrote: “Tycho, Kepler and Galileo, were practicing astrologers, who genuinely believed in it”. Even if I am not a professional historian of astronomy, I know that Galilei made horoscopes. But I read that, especially in the second part of his life, he thought that astrology was a hoax with no basis at all.

    The Italian book “Oroscopi e cannocchiali” (“Horoscopes and spyglassess”) by Andrea Albini, 2008, quoted many documents to prove this, commenting that Galilei was reluctant to state publicly his position as to avoid more troubles and opponents. You can read about this publication here, https://www.cicap.org/n/articolo.php?id=273791, and here, https://www.galileonet.it/galileo-astrologo/, both in Italian.

    I know that there’s an ongoing debate about that in scientific literature, especially after the publication in 2017 of the book “Le Opere di Galileo Galilei. Appendice. Volume III”, with a section devoted to the horoscopes made by Galilei both for money and for free. However, I read that the horoscope for Cosimo II (https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/l-oroscopo-galileiano-cosimo-ii-de-medici-AEsmQumD, in Italian), in establishing the importance of Jupiter for the birth of the ruler of Florence, is considered a way to streghten the link between the noble man and the astronomer who was dedicating the satellites of Jupiter to the Medici.

    Thus, is it correct to write that he *genuinely* believed in astrology for his whole life and scientific career?

    Thanks in advance for your answer and comment. Season’s Greetings from Italy!

    • As with Johannes Kepler you can find diverse and often contradictory statements in Galileo’s writings about astrology, however he cast horoscopes for himself and for his two daughters, which he annotated and updated throughout his life. These were private, unpaid and never published and would seem to indicate a strong belief in astrology.

  14. Are there watersheds in the history of science? Is there a continental divide between basins of right and wrong ideas? I was pondering these questions when one of my favorite passages from Leibniz came again to mind.

    Now that I have proved sufficiently that everything comes to pass according to determinate reasons, there cannot be any more difficulty over these principles of God’s foreknowledge. Although these determinations do not compel, they cannot but be certain, and they foreshadow what shall happen.

    It is true that God sees all at once the whole sequence of this universe, when he chooses it, and that thus he has no need of the connexion of effects and causes in order to foresee these effects. But since his wisdom causes him to choose a sequence in perfect connexion, he cannot but see one part of the sequence in the other.

    It is one of the rules of my system of general harmony, that the present is big with the future, and that he who sees all sees in that which is that which shall be.

    What is more, I have proved conclusively that God sees in each portion of the universe the whole universe, owing to the perfect connexion of things. He is infinitely more discerning than Pythagoras, who judged the height of Hercules by the size of his footprint. There must therefore be no doubt that effects follow their causes determinately, in spite of contingency and even of freedom, which nevertheless exist together with certainty or determination.

    🙞 The Present Is Big With The Future

    Right or wrong side of history?

    On the one hand it envisions a thoroughgoing determinism. On the other hand it foreshadows latter-day ideas about a holographic universe. And it does all this while laying out its own theory of history, whose core idea is the germ of the differential calculus.

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