The Science Of Galileo Essay, Research Paper
THE SCIENCE OF GALILEO
The play Life of Galileo is considered a masterpiece and one of the most relevant plays of the 20th century. It addresses the social and political problems of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Brecht’s play has at its thematic core the repression of individual freedom,
contrasting the antagonistic worlds of Galileo’s inner, insatiable drive for discovery
with the brutally efficient tyranny of the Church-as-state which marches in sync
with the chilling machinery of the Inquisition. The dramatic structure has elements
of formal, classic balance, epic in its architecture. Its dominant crisis point is the
earth-shattering recantation of Galileo’s revolutionary scientific discoveries.
The play talks about the science of Galileo and its effect on society. The playwright, Bertolt Brecht, indirectly portrays some characteristics of “the human activity we call science” . In our class we have discussed some characteristics which are similar and others that are different.
One of the major characteristics is revealed when the scientific community refuses and resists the new paradigm that Galileo introduces. This is because scientists believe that he has used “wrong” methods. The new paradigm also contradicts with their religious beliefs, which is obvious when a monk says, “How can the sun stand still if it never moves at all as suggested by this heretic? Are the Scriptures lying?” Furthermore, Galileo’s ideas, if proven right, will negatively affect the professional standard of the scientists, as well as their school of thought and seniority. The scientific community of Galileo’s time failed to see that discovery is “thinking what nobody has thought” . They also refused to accept this bizarre paradigm because they believed that Galileo used unsuitable research techniques. For example, in Scene 6 one astronomer says, “He is examining it, though. He’s sitting in there staring through that diabolical tube.”
The norms of scientific behavior are portrayed in several scenes in this play. Galileo shows his determination to carry on his research, even though a deadly plague has spread throughout Florence. In Scene 5 he says, “I can’t abandon these observations. I have powerful enemies and I must collect proofs for certain hypotheses.” He also shows disinterestedness and humbleness when Father Clavius admits that Galileo’s paradigm is correct by convincing a monk that it was not him that won, “It has won. Not me: reason has won.” This can also be seen in Scene 8 when he claims that the truth will rise above falsehood if reason and reasonable people are victorious, “The only truth that gets through will be what we force through: the victory of reason will be the victory of people who are prepared to reason, nothing else.”
Later in the play, Galileo fears that he may have reached a chance event. He performs his experiments several times again to avoid running across a different observation that may result in the change of his final conclusion. In Scene 9, Galileo and his two assistants, a monk and Andrea, re-observe the sun to avoid a chance event, “Only when we have failed, have been utterly and hopelessly beaten and are licking our wounds in the profoundest depression, shall we start asking if we weren’t right after all, and the earth does go round.”
The play allows a question to arise: When is it wrong to tell the truth? Bertholt Brecht answers this question by portraying the characteristics of science that are similar to the ones that we have discussed in class. He compares the similarities between Galileo submitting to the Church’s authorities’ demand for retraction with the situation in WWII Germany in which the scientists were turning over their knowledge to aid the Nazi war effort.