Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Galileo Affair in a Limerick poem

Yes, the whole Galileo affair is a bit confusing. If you've had difficulty following all of the details, try this poetic route. Here is a fantastic (and very funny) Limerick about Galileo (thanks to Kate Wellspring for forwarding the poem).
Limerico di Galileo©
by Martin J. Murphy

While watching a cannonball's motion,
Galileo conceived of the notion
That natural laws,
Not a mystical Cause,
Ruled the physical world's locomotion.

Though its own view was mostly confused,
The Church was not greatly amused
With this flaunting of Deo
By old Galileo
And ordered it quickly defused.

So the Pope sent some priests who inquired
If it wouldn't be best he retired?
"Undoubtedly you know
What we did for Bruno;
Do you also wish to be fired?"

He asked an old Cardinal's opinion:
"Pray tell me, Your Grace, if you will then,
Does this mean what I think?
That henceforth I must shrink
From discussing my clever perception?"

Said Bellarmine, "No, it is not a ban;
If you want to keep teaching of course you can.
They merely have said
To take care where you tread
And smile when you say thing Copernican."

Unbeknownst to our venerable dissident
The records said something quite different.
When the Pope saw the note
The inquisitors wrote
He lost what remained of his temperament.

The message the Vatican sent
Was blunt in its stated intent
"Recant all this heresy
Quick or we' harass thee,
Now 'til your life has been spent."

In facing the dread inquisition,
Few men could defend their position;
So it shouldn't surprise
When we are apprised
Of old Galileo's decision.

"Explaining celestial motion
Needs more than just faith and devotion.
But to save my poor head
I'll recant what I've said
(Though I'll secretly keep to my notion)".

So our friend the illustrious Florentine
Spent his last years in Vatican quarantine,
Locked up in his home
By the prelates of Rome
For being a cosmical libertine.

The Church caused a major imbroglio
By correcting Copernicus' folio
Yet it couldn't discern
The abuse it would earn
In forbidding the whole Dialogo?

By killing Sidereus Nuncius
For the news that their views were defunctus,
The renaissance ended
And darkness descended
Upon the Dominican dunces.

In spite of the Vatican's dissuasion
Galileo still rose to the occasion.
Though once deemed heretical,
He proved more prophetical
Than those of a clerical persuasion.

13 comments:

ungtss said...

You're trading truth for anticlericalism.

The debate between Galileo and the Church was not about naturalism vs. supernaturalism. Both sides believed in a Creator. The debate was over whether the Earth revolved around the sun or VV.

More importantly, the geocentric model current at the time originated with Ptolemy, a pagan. It was also based on very sophisticated observation and mathematics, not "mysticism."

More importantly still, the ptolemaic system was more accurate than the copernican/gallilean system, until Kepler accounted for changes in velocity. In other words, Gallileo's science was inferior in its description of reality to that of Ptolemy.

Fictionalizing reality hurts your credibility. The Gallileo affair was bad enough as it was. Let's not make $hit up, shall we?

ungtss said...

As a sidenote, Kepler had already figured out the eliptical motions of the sun when Gallileo was just a boy -- but Galileo dismissed the ideas as a "useless fiction," because, he believed, circles were "more perfect." He also dismissed Kepler's "absurd" idea that the tides were caused by the moon, insisting they were caused by the sun, and ignoring the inconvenient fact that there are two high tides per day, not just one.

Seriously. All these facts are available. Are we gonna run around saying everybody thought the Earth was flat before Columbus, too?

Salman Hameed said...

ease up -- its just a poem.

ungtss said...

You start the poem off with:

Yes, the whole Galileo affair is a bit confusing. If you've had difficulty following all of the details, try this poetic route.

While you present the poem as a route to learning the details of the galileo affair, in fact it badly distorts its subject, for an obviously anticlerical end.

It's okay to be anticlerical. I am too. But let's maintain some grip on reality, eh? There wasn't an ounce of "natural laws vs. mystical cause" in the whole "galileo affair." Only in subsequent fictionalizations.

Marina said...

Hilarious. I can't say I've ever tried rhyming "defunctus" with "dunces" before, but as a whole it was pretty well done.

ungtss said...

That's the great thing about lying through poems and jokes, I guess. Make your lie cute or funny and then when somebody calls you on it, you can accuse them of not having a sense of humor. Say the same $hit in prose, and you have nothing to hide behind.

Salman Hameed said...

Make your lie cute or funny and then when somebody calls you on it, you can accuse them of not having a sense of humor. Say the same $hit in prose, and you have nothing to hide behind

Yes, I admit it. The whole blog is dedicated to propagating the lie about Galileo through poetry and humor, and yes, I agree that prose leaves nothing to hide behind - as is clearly evident from my earlier post about the Vatican.

ungtss said...

You're using Straw Man to avoid the point.

Nobody said anything about your whole blog being dedicated to anything.

All I'm asking for is an explanation as to why you presented this poem (which is so desperately wrong on nearly every point) as a means to learn about galileo's life.

Seems to me it's an ideologically motivated fiction, like "medievals thought the Earth was flat" and "all people were superstitious in 4,000 b.c." and "science has proven common descent" and "Intelligent design is just religious indoctrination in the guise of science." Stupid, demonstrably wrong ideas that get passed along by people who wish they were true because the alternative causes cognitive dissonance.

What's the story, man?

Salman Hameed said...

What's the story, man?

Simply because it was well written and funny. I did take into account that poems usually simplify facts, and that is the reason I had provided a link to the Wikipedia entry to the Galileo Affair (it provides decent information on the topic). In addition, I didn't expect people to literally learn their history from a Limerick poem :) I'm equally likely to post a song about the structure of the Sun - saying that you can take a poetic route to learning about nuclear fusion. Oh... and here is one (from They Might be Giants):

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

The sun is hot
The sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on Earth there'd be no light
Without the light it gives

We need its light
We need its heat
The sunlight that we see
The sunlight comes from our own sun's atomic energy

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

The sun is hot
(The sun is so hot that everything on it is a gas
Aluminum, copper, iron, and many others.)
The sun is warm
(If the sun were hollow, a million Earths would fit inside.
And yet, it is only a middle-sized star.)
The sun is far away
(about 93 million miles away, and that's why it looks so small)
But even when it's out of sight
The sun shines night and day

We need its heat
We need its light
The sunlight that we see
The sunlight comes from our own sun's atomic energy

(Spoken)
Scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-smashing machine.
The heat and light of the sun are caused by nuclear reactions between hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and helium.

(Singing)
The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

ungtss said...

But there's one important difference between this limerick and the TMBG song: The TMBG song is actually true. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas. It does turn hydrogen into helium at temperatures of millions of degrees.

This limerick isn't a simplification of truth -- it's an untruth.

While watching a cannonball's motion,
Galileo conceived of the notion
That natural laws,
Not a mystical Cause,
Ruled the physical world's locomotion.


That's simply not true. He neither denied the existence of a mystical cause, nor did anyone at the time dispute the idea that the universe was guided by natural laws.

Though its own view was mostly confused,
The Church was not greatly amused
With this flaunting of Deo
By old Galileo
And ordered it quickly defused.


This is also false. The church did not subject Galileo to the Inquisition based on his belief that the physical world was moved by physical laws. They preferred one secular astromical theory (originated by the pagan, Ptolemy, which was incorrect) to another astronomical theory (articulated by a Christian, Copernicus), which was less accurate in its description of the movement of celestial objects, because it assumed the orbits were perfect circles and constant speeds, which they are not.

If the poem were just wrong, it wouldn't be a big thing. But this poem is dishonest. It hits the old cliche myth of the "ignorant anti-science church oppressing the scientific approach in favor of mysticism."

This whole "science versus religion" myth depends on serious distortions of fact to maintain its hold on people.

Copernicus' selection of heliocentrism was due just as much to his own aesthetic biases than math, if not more. Check out Copernicus on the topic:

"At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For, in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. The Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles' Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it." Book 1, Ch. 10

His argument was more aesthetic than scientific, because his circular orbits were actually inferior in their description of the observed facts of the universe than was the ptolemaic system.

Since you're an academic in this area, I'm sure you've read Kuhn's Copernican Revolution. That breaks this stuff real nice, I think.

The point is that this point is not just a simplification -- it's a lie with a destructive and dishonest agenda. Otherwise I'd just chuckle along with everybody else.

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Anonymous said...

Excellent writing. I enjoyed the poem!

And Mr. Ungtss, a desperate thanks for trying to save us all from taking every word from this piece of art as fact. It looks like you have spent many hours on this page! You know, you could have spent that time re wording this poem to make it historically accurate. You could have spent all that time playing with your kids. Or writing a thank you note to a friend. Instead you ungraciously take stabs at Salman.
Don't be such a d-bag, and don't spend anymore time defending how high and mighty your knowledge of this topic is. Any retaliating from you is simply humorous. Being so strong behind a computer screen reveals your true character, anyway.

ungtss said...

Anon:

Art can be deceptive. Much more so since people can hide behind deceptions with claims of "It's art! Lighten up you d-bag!" Meanwhile the art is still portraying a deceptive view of the past which people come to take as fact.

As to your claims about my character, they don't go anywhere. You know nothing about my "true character" except what you project.