In the Italian Renaissance, artists managed to slip through censorship; but the scientists had it harder.
In the previous chapter (1) we saw that the artists managed to circumvent the iron control of the theologians, because they did not use words, but images.
Thanks to the freedom that their sponsors allowed them -some of them popes- artists overflowed the rules of classical art, daring to alter the composition, move the center, deform figures; messing up the scene permeating it with subjectivity, feelings and chaos. They opened a clearing in the woods (2), a new space that could become habitable.
That art without words came to be like this left hand of the Pieta by Michelangelo, which next to the corpse of his lifeless son, seems open to hope.
It is that art is just opening the door to the new: it presents a question that remains in the air. The “there are” of the opportunity for the word, action or rational thought to emerge.
Now was the time for the other hand to come into play: putting your finger on the sore with determination. The moment of science.
But that did not happen. Let’s see what happened with Leonardo and Galileo.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Artist and scientist? Rather, inventor. He was a character of the Renaissance: he painted the Gioconda, of mysterious emotional ambiguity impassable throughout the centuries. And the Last Supper, considered by many to be the best painting in the world. All Leonardo’s drawings seem to come alive. With them, he convinced patrons of the viability of his inventions. Ideas that were centuries ahead of their time. Although very few managed to work.
A good example is the devices he invented to fly. Leonardo studied every detail of the birds: wings, feathers, bones, muscles. As a great artist, he permeated himself with the peculiarity of the situation. I wanted to understand the essence of the flight without losing detail. And it got lost in the details. Because the essence of the flight is not in the flutter to lift the flight, but in the gliding through the air to maintain the lift of a glider.
If I had met the Australian Squirrel Glider, I would have understood. And if I had played with sheets of paper thrown into the air, too. Well, in Italy paper was used since two centuries before: a genius like him would not have managed to plan a folded sheet of paper?
But he was not interested in how easy; And he was always in a hurry. Naturally my human muscles or our bones are adapted to flutter. However, to plan, a slightly curved surface is enough to generate the lift effect by producing an air depression above. But that was too simple for him.
William of Ockham (1280-1349) had written two centuries before, that one must always choose an explanation with the least possible number of causes, factors or variables. In Leonardo, the artist’s excess details did not let the scientist think.
If Leonardo lost by excess of art, Galileo lost by excess of reasoning. He did not observe enough and, instead, reasoned too much. Because in reasoning, neither he nor anyone could defeat the theologians of the Inquisition. They had learned from Thomas Aquinas and, above all, had the power to silence anyone.
The truth is that Galileo did not have many possibilities. There are two anecdotes that explain well the world in which he lived. On one occasion, he went up with his students to the tower of Pisa for an experiment in which he showed that two weights of one and ten pounds fall at the same speed. He waited for physics professors to pass by to test in his presence. And when the teachers saw her, they said that their eyes must have deceived them, since it was impossible for Aristotle to be wrong.
Later, having observed Jupiter’s satellites with a new telescope, Galileo invited other astronomy professors to observe them for themselves. They refused, because Aristotle had not mentioned the satellites, and anyone who thought he saw them would have to be wrong.
Galileo should have learned the lesson: that it was not only theologians who wrongly reasoned on the basis of the Supreme Being, but that all their academic compatriots were prisoners of superstition by being subjected to repression. The reasoning in the wrong way, one pay it dearly.
A year before his birth, Galileo had concluded the Council of Trent, which launched the Catholic Counter-Reformation against Protestantism and any other heresy. Galileo’s demonstration that there are celestial bodies that do not revolve around the earth, directly undermined the plan of divine creation. Who questioned that truth was a heretic.
In spite of everything, Galileo published his discoveries and in 1642 he died, after several years in prison and to renounce his heresies before the Inquisition. The president of the court that condemned him was the Jesuit and saint Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, who in 1600 had sentenced Giordiano Bruno to die at the stake, guilty of teaching that the universe is infinite and that there are many solar systems like ours.
The time had come to break with Aristotle’s theories repaired by the Angelic Doctor (Thomas Aquinas). But that could not be achieved in Catholic countries, especially in Italy or Spain. In order to reason as a scientist, one had to be in England or, at least, in Germany.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
At the same time as Galileo, Kepler studied for being Lutheran pastor. In Protestant Germany, one could choose between the two competing theories: the heliocentric (the sun as the center) of Copernicus and the geocentric (the Earth as the center) of Ptolemy. As Kepler was very intelligent, his teacher allowed him to study Copernicus theory.
Kepler believed deeply in the Greco-Latin ideas of perfection of the divine Being. When the data showed him that the orbits of the planets did not have the “perfection” of a circle, he became sad; and he sought that the data fit, at least, in an ovoid orbit (an egg is not as perfect as a sphere, but it transmits life, that is, it retains some of the perfection of creation). But neither did the data confirm their wishes.
Then he had no choice but to compare his trajectory with a ellipse (which “looks like” a circle, but does not have a center, but two: what vulgarity!). However, Kepler was honest and thought: Nothing is perfect (except God). Things are as they are.
And thanks to that modern way of thinking, the following generations had the three “Laws of Kepler”. The first of which says: “All the planets move around the Sun describing elliptical orbits. The Sun is in one of the foci of the ellipse“.
As an anecdote: in 1920 it was proved – to the disappointment of the homocentrics – that there are other suns with planets and that neither our sun is the center of the universe. What Giordiano Bruno already knew and that led him to the stake condemned by a Jesuit saint. Of course it was other times…
Shortly before Galileo and Kepler were born, several interesting things had happened in England:
– In 1533 Henry VIII of England was excommunicated for divorce without papal license; In response, he also divorced the Pope. In 1558 Elizabeth I of England succeeded Henry VIII establishing the Protestant Church, independent of Rome. In 1603 James I of England succeeded Isabel I.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
– In 1561 Francis Bacon was born in England. Philosopher, lawyer, politician (Chancellor of England with James I). And author of the book Novum Organum where he criticizes Aristotle’s mistakes harshly and develops the new method of scientific and philosophical (experimental) empiricism.
Isaak Newton (1642-1727)
Philosopher, mathematician, scientist and theologian, developed classical mechanics in what we know as Newton’s Laws and infinitesimal calculus. He also discovered the color spectrum in which light decomposes.
In 1687 he published the Principles that formulated the laws of mechanical movement and universal gravitation, which are currently used in calculations for space travel.
What changed in scientific thinking?
In an earlier chapter (3) I wrote that the Greeks did not realize the value of experimenting manually with particular things and phenomena. That would have meant recognizing the importance of work in Athenian society. But they despised him as labor of slaves.
Greeks and Romans raised their societies on slavery and contempt for the subdued half of the human species. Christianity delved further into that duality by radically separating the material (and mortal) body from the spiritual (and immortal) soul. Which led us to believe that ideas existed independent of the material world and flew like angels through metaphysical heights and that humans were immortal. Meanwhile, material experience sank into the mud of despicable things.
In the 17th century European slaves remained, but society no longer depended so much on them. Now wealth came from commerce and the new thinkers were no longer ashamed for staining their hands. They had also learned it from artists, especially from sculptors like Michelangelo, a “man covered in dust” as Leonardo had said, believing that he insulted him.
The new consideration for observation, sensitive matter and the particular case, was unprecedented. In the Christianity of the late Middle Ages, Franciscans like the Englishman William of Ockham had defended inductive thinking, although they were silenced by their Dominican adversaries. But the winds were changing in the Protestant countries.
Learn from mistakes
The error in science is not a crime, either against science or against God. Science does not eliminate mistakes, but learns from them. Unlike scholastic reasoning, which followed Plato in accepting that thought descends from the absolute Being and from the general to the particular, the scientist observes particular phenomena by inductively reasoning, that is, from the particular to the general. And also, gathering many different observations, from different points of view and in different frameworks.
With these precautions, scientific theories are never definitive. Because a new factor, cause or influence can always appear in a new framework that had not been taken into account before. And so the sciences advance, adapting to new experiences.
The sciences are not dogmas
In the 20th century Einstein’s theory of Relativity showed that, at speeds close to light, Newton’s laws lead to errors, unless a new variable is introduced. Something similar happened also with quantum mechanics, when observing very small distances. The change of scale in space or time forces to update laws that, until then, were considered universal. It is what differentiates science from theology.
So began the Modern Age. Commercial capitalism would give way to industrial. And the power of the Catholic Church began to diminish after 1,300 years increasing.
But the shocks in the sciences were not over. Soon a new revolution would come. That is what we will see in the next chapter: Darwin: The Life’s Trick.
Darwin discovered the trick of Nature: bet on all possibilities and then, eliminate tickets that have not been successful. Thus nature always wins; and life makes its way (4).
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) See: Michelangelo’s trick.
(2) Clearing in the woods. Lichtung in german. It is a philosophical concept of Heidegger. A space emptied of weeds where freedom plays and can be the origin of the word. What in this essay I call pragnaz in the left hand.
(3) See: Dialectical or metaphysical thinking?
(4) Some before Darwin had at least intuition. As Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) in his Address on the dignity of man. Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494): Oration on the dignity of man.
After creating all other beings, God saw that there was no treasure left to grant the human being as inheritance. And he decided that “to whom he could not endow anything of his own, everything that had been given separately to others would be common”.
Perhaps that is why we humans have genes from other living beings, for 4000 million years.