When heaven lost perfection

Published on June 26, 2018

When heaven lost perfection

Original author: Alan Lightman
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The arrival of telescopes broke our ideals associated with the night sky




I have a small book in my hand, " Star Herald " (originally in Latin - Sidereus Nuncius ), written by the Italian mathematician and scientist Galileo Galilei in 1610. The first edition was printed in a circulation of 550 copies, of which one hundred and fifty have reached today. A few years ago, at Christie's auction, the first editions of the book were valued at between $ 600,000 and $ 800,000. My paperback copy printed in 1989 cost me $ 12.

And although the history of science has not crowned "The Bulletin" with the same generous laurels, like the Newtonian " Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy " or Darwinian " The Origin of Species"I believe that it was one of the most influential scientific books ever published. In this little book, Galileo reports on what he saw when he turned his new telescope toward the heavens: clear evidence that celestial bodies consist of The usual material, such as winter ice on the islands. The result triggered a revolution in the minds that divided heaven and earth, caused a spectacular expansion of the material world and challenged the Absolute . The materiality of stars, combined with the law of conservation of energy, says that The lands are doomed to extinction. The stars in the sky, the brightest symbols of immortality and constancy, will one day end their lives and die.


The telescope of Galileo, used by him to observe the heavens in 1610. Now located in the Museum of Galilee in Florence.

Galileo was born in Pisa and grew up in Florence. From 1592 he taught mathematics at the University of Padua. Being unable to deal with his debts for just one salary - he needed to pay allowances to the sisters, as well as support the three children of his mistress - he rented accommodation and traded scientific instruments. In the late 1580s, he conducted his famous experiment with motion and falling bodies. In 1609, at the age of 45, he heard about a new magnifying device recently invented in the Netherlands. Even without seeing this miracle, he quickly developed and made a telescope on his own, and he was several times more powerful than the Dutch. Apparently, he became the first human being to send such a thing into the sky. Telescopes in the Netherlands were called "spy glasses" [English spyglass we have a “telescope” / approx. trans. ], which causes certain suspicions about their use).

Galileo polished and polished the lenses by himself. His first tool increased objects by about 12 times. As a result, he was able to create telescopes with a thirty-fold increase, and the objects in them seemed a thousand times closer than they actually were. His telescopes that survived to this day can be seen in the rarely visited museum of Galileo in Florence. His first telescope was 93 cm long and 4 wide; it was a tube made of wood and leather, with a convex lens on one side and a concave eyepiece on the other. I recently studied his cue. First, I was surprised at the smallness of the field of view, which was the size of a coin located at arm's length. And dimness. However, having squinted a little, I could see the pale pictures in this coin of dim light. And by sending a primitive telescope to a building a hundred meters away, I was able to distinguish bricks,

It is difficult to imagine the excitement and surprise of Galileo, which he probably experienced, having looked up with the help of his instrument for the first time, at the “celestial bodies” - described for centuries as rotating spheres of the moon, sun and planets. Behind them were rotating crystal spheres, holding onto the stars, and the farthest sphere, Primum Mobile, was rotated with a finger by God himself. And all this was to consist of ether, the fifth element of Aristotle, immaculate and ideal in form and composition, described by Milton in the poem " Lost Paradise ", as "the ephemeral quintessence of Heaven." And all this was in unity with the consciousness of God. In fact, Galileo saw through his little pipe craters on the moon and dark spots on the sun.

A few centuries earlier, Thomas Aquinassuccessfully married the cosmology of Aristotle with the Christian doctrine, including the ephemeral nature of celestial bodies and the idea of ​​motionlessly hanging in the center of the universe of the Earth. Only in one, Thomas retreated from Aristotle: the lifetime of the universe, infinite according to Aristotle, was finite according to Christian dogma. The imperfections of the heavenly bodies discovered by Galileo threw a serious challenge to the Church. But the telescope itself was a challenge. The Galilean meter tube was one of the first instruments that intensified a person’s feelings, showing a world that was not visible with natural eyes and ears. Nothing like this before the appearance of this tool did not exist. Many people were skeptical of him, doubting the reality of this device and in assessing the discoveries made by him. Some people thought that the strange pipe was a magic thing, something not from this world, as if someone in the XIX century saw a smartphone. Galileo himself,

It must be remembered that belief in magic, witchcraft and black magic in Europe was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries. In these two centuries alone, 40,000 people, mostly women suspected of witchcraft, were burned at the stake, hung on a gallows or beheaded. In 1597, King James VI of Scotland, who became British in 1603, complained of "the terrible number of these vile Devil slaves, witches and spellcasters who are at this time and in this country." It was believed that the sorcerers can curse, damaging a shred of hair or the nail of the victim. Was the device of the Italian mathematician witchcraft?

Others regarded Galileo's discoveries made with a telescope with suspicion, not because they smacked of black magic or contradicted the theological doctrine, but because they defied personal world views and philosophical concepts. Caesar Cremonini, a professor of Aristotelian philosophy at the University of Padua and a colleague of Galileo, rejected his claims about craters on the moon and sunspots, but he himself refused to look at the pipe. Afterwards, the words of Cremonini were quoted: “I don’t want to support statements that I don’t know anything about, and things that I haven’t seen ... and observations through these glasses cause me a headache. Enough! I don’t want to hear more about it. ” Another contemporary of Galileo, Giulio Libri, a professor of Aristotelian philosophy in Pisa, also refused to look through the pipe.Johann Kepler :

My dear Kepler, I wish we could laugh at this amazing stupidity of ordinary people. What can you say about the leading philosophers of this academy, overflowing with an asinine stubbornness, and not wanting to look at the planets or the moon through a telescope, although I voluntarily and specifically offered them such an opportunity thousands of times? Indeed, as the donkey presses its ears, so these philosophers close their eyes before the light of truth.

A small book of Galileo is dedicated to Cosimo II de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. On the title page it is written: “THE STAR HERALIST, revealing great and marvelous views, and showing everyone’s eyes, especially philosophers and astronomers, the things that were seen by Galileo Galilee, a Florentine aristocrat and a mathematics teacher from the University of Padua, using a telescope, recently developed ... "In the book Galileo demonstrates his own drawings of the moon, visible through his telescope, which shows its dark and light areas, valleys and hills, craters, mountains and mountain ranges. He even assesses the height of the lunar mountains along the length of their shadows.

When he looked at the line separating the light and dark parts of the moon, the so-called terminatorIt turned out to be not a smooth curve that could be expected from a perfect sphere from theological speculations, but curved and uneven. “Everyone will be able to understand then,” writes Galileo, “with certainty of feelings that the Moon in no way possesses a smooth and polished surface, but is rough, uneven, and, like the face of the Earth itself, is strewn with huge protrusions, deep precipices and bends” . He also reported on the observation of moons in Jupiter, which made the hypothesis about the similarity of other planets to Earth convincing. In other words, the Earth has ceased to be special. And all this confirmed Copernicus' assumption, made 67 years ago, that the Sun, and not the Earth, is located in the center of the planetary system. For such a small book it was a lot of ideas. And without any apology to Aristotle or the Church.

A couple of months after the publication of Sidereus Nuncius, Galileo became known throughout Europe - in particular, because the telescope, besides the scientific, had military and commercial value. As Galileo wrote to a friend, “from the highest bell towers of Venice one can observe sails and vessels so far that they needed two hours or more to approach the port on all sails when they could be seen without my telescope.” The rumor about the invention was spread in writing and orally.

Galileo's announcement of the presence of dark spots on the sun was an even greater challenge to the divine perfection of heaven. We now know that these spots are caused by the temporary concentration of magnetic energy in the outer layers of the sun. As they are temporary, these spots appear and disappear. In 1611, Christopher Scheiner, a leading Jesuit mathematician in Swabia (southwestern Germany) took one of these devices to himself, and confirmed Galileo’s observations of moving dark spots in front of the sun. However, Scheiner took as a basis Aristotle's unquestioned assumption about the ideality of the Sun, so he began to put forward various questionable arguments according to which this phenomenon was caused by other planets or moons moving in orbit around the sun, and was not inherent in the star itself.

As indicated on the title page of his book, Galileo was a mathematician. It was usually thought that mathematics exists in an abstract and logical world. Mathematicians helped scientists calculate and predict the "real world", but mathematics was different from this world. In particular, the systems of celestial bodies, which contradict the theological model, were used simply as convenient readings for the calculation, describing the appearance, but not the reality. Therefore, the planetary system of Aristotle and Ptolemy with the Earth in the center and the Copernican system with the Sun in the center could be equated to each other as different counting methods, since both of them gave fairly accurate results of the location of the planets. But the first corresponded to theological and philosophical beliefs, so it was believed that it reflects reality.

When Galileo’s observations became known, church representatives reacted with skepticism. On March 19, 1611, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmin , head of the Roman Collegium, wrote to his Jesuit brothers and mathematicians:

I know that your monks heard about new astronomical observations of outstanding mathematicians. I need to know, because I have heard different opinions, and you, the reverend fathers, being experienced in the mathematical sciences, can easily tell me whether these new discoveries are justified, or is it all an appearance that has no relation to reality.

Although the mathematicians of the Church were arguing about the details of the discoveries of Galileo, they unanimously accepted the reality of these observations. Nevertheless, the discoveries made by Galileo with a telescope and his support for the Copernican heliocentric model were considered an unforgivable attack on theological dogmas. For this, Galileo, a righteous Roman Catholic who once seriously considered becoming a priest, tried the Inquisition, forcing him to renounce most of his astronomical statements, and he spent the last years of his life under house arrest.

Now I would like to concentrate not on the wrong location of the Earth in the center of the universe, but on the then new concept of the materiality of heaven. It was this materialization, the trampling of the so-called celestial bodies, that violated the absolute nature of the stars. And the destruction began with the observation of craters and crevices of the moon. After 1610, many thinkers and writers began to consider the moon with planets as places where there is soil, air and water, suitable for a humanoid, albeit unusual, population. In 1630, Johann Kepler, to whom Galileo wrote about the “stupidity of ordinary people,” finished work on the very popular fantasy Somnium (Dream), in which the boy and his mother set off on a space trip to the moon called Levania. On Levania, everything surpasses the terrestrial analogs. The mountains rise much higher than the earth, the plains fall lower. In the hot zone of Levania there are living beings, monstrously large and living by one day. These animals, swimming, flying and crawling, do not live long enough to build cities or governments, but they are capable of supporting life. Since Kepler was an outstanding scientist, the scientific world took this story seriously in the XVII, XVIII and even XIX centuries.



There were many other similar fantasies. In the poem " The Elephant on the Moon " by Samuel Butler , the scientist-fan, watching the moon through a telescope and saw going out there a battle of armies, during which the moon elephant jumping from one line of soldiers to another in just a few seconds (perhaps due to the reduced gravity of the moon). In 1698, the Dutch mathematician and scientist Christiaan Huygens wrote the book Cosmotoros: Open Celestial Worlds, or Hypotheses for Inhabitants, Plants, and the Lives of Worlds and Planets. These books and poems were written for ordinary people. They give some insight into how people in the 17th century began to consider planets as being composed of ordinary matter. Elephants do not jump on the divine spheres of ephemeral quintessence.

But the greatest influence may have been the discoveries of Galileo of the nature of stars. The idea that stars could be suns was proposed by Italian philosopher and writer Giordano Bruno . In his book On Infinity, the Universe and the Worlds, published in 1584, Bruno wrote that “there can be an infinite number of other worlds (earths) with similar conditions, an infinite number of suns or fires of a similar nature.” For these astronomical assumptions and for the denial of other Catholic dogmas, Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, various thinkers pondered the idea that stars could be suns. Therefore, when Galileo announced spots on the Sun, his discoveries dramatically influenced the nature of all the stars. Stars could no longer be considered ideal objects consisting of some kind of eternal indestructible substance, unlike all earthly ones. The sun and moon looked the same as other material things on earth. In the XIX century, astronomers began to analyze the chemical composition of stars, dividing their light into different wavelengths using prisms. Different colors could be associated with different chemical elements that emit light. And it turned out that stars contain hydrogen, and helium, and oxygen, and silicon, and many other common earth elements. Stars were just materials - atoms.

As soon as Galileo and others announced the stars as simple material, their days were numbered - since all material things are subject to the law of conservation of energy. This law is a paradigm of all laws of nature, both in the grandiose field of applicability, and in quantitative and logical formulation. In essence, the law says that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy can transfer from one form to another, as, for example, when the chemical energy of a match turns into heat and the light of its flame. But the total energy in a closed system remains constant.

The star looks like a giant match. A finite amount of energy is stored in it - only in a star is this energy not chemical, but nuclear. This nuclear energy is released when the atoms undergo synthesis and create heavier atoms. But the reserves of nuclear energy in a star are limited, just like the reserves of chemical energy in a match. And in the process of "star burning" nuclear fuel, energy is emitted into space, mainly in the form of light. If we imagined that we placed a star in a giant box, then the total energy in this box would remain constant, but it would gradually flow from the star to the light in the box and to the increasing thermal and chemical energy of everything that absorbs this light.

The stars, of course, are not in giant boxes. But the principle remains. Stars consisting of physical material, according to Bruno, and Galileo, and the subsequent scientist, have a limited supply of energy. Stars radiate energy into space, spending their final stock of nuclear energy. As a result, this precious star product will be consumed, after which the stars are burned and become dark. As will happen with our Sun in about 5 billion years. After about 1000 billion years, all the stars in the sky will be cold.

And after that the night sky will be absolutely dark. And the daytime sky will be dark. The myriad stars in the sky, which was once considered the last resting place of the pharaohs, the embodiment of constancy, immortality, and other properties of the Absolute, eventually turn into cold embers floating in space.

Alan Lightman is a physicist and writer, a professor of the humanities at MIT. Excerpt from the book: In Search of Stars on the Isle of Man (c) 2018 (Searching for Stars on the Island in Maine)