Galileo And The Scientific Revolution

Categories: Biography


The topic that I have chosen to write this paper on is- Galileo and the Scientific Revolution. The scientific revolution refers to a period of historical changes that took place in Europe marking the emergence of modern science. It was facilitated by developments in physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy and biology, that transformed society's view about nature (Galileo 1974). The revolution took place between the end of the Renaissance period till late 18th century. While there are no definite dates about when the revolution began and ended, it is said that it began with the publication of Nicholas Copernicus's work on a heliocentric cosmos, in 1543.

It is said to have ended Isaac Newton's work on universal laws and the existence of a ‘mechanical universe', in 1687 (Hatch).

Galileo Galilei is one of the greatest scientific thinkers and mathematicians of the Renaissance period. He made multiple discoveries and inventions that mystified many people of his time. Even though not a lot of his work was readily accepted, his discoveries were a great contribution to the scientific community and knowledge.

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He was born in Pisa in 1564 and studied medicine in the University of Pisa, but soon realised that his interest lies in the field of mathematics (‘What Did Galileo Discover?'). He disproved concepts of Aristotelian physics and cosmology that predominated the sciences in Europe and became an important figure of the Scientific Revolution (Alonso 2018).

In this paper I will be talking about the scientific method, the work done by Galileo, his discoveries and inventions, their significance and contribution to the scientific revolution and scientific community.

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Scientific Method before Galileo

In the period before Galileo, people did not believe in empiricism. Philosophers like Plato did not believe in measuring things, instead, they believed that knowledge can be obtained simply through reasoning. Aristotle introduced the importance of empirical measurement to the scientific community. He believed that knowledge could only be gained by building upon what is already known. He introduced the concepts of observation and measurement and spoke about induction as a tool to gain knowledge. His ‘proto-scientific' method included making observations, to gather evidence, in order to support claims (Shuttleworth 2009).

Galileo's Discoveries and Inventions

Galileo made various ground-breaking discoveries and inventions that contributed to the scientific revolution and led to the emergence of modern science. These findings took place in areas of astronomy, physics and mathematics.

Galileo's Telescope

Galileo made multiple discoveries in the area of astronomy. Even though he did not invent the telescope, he enhanced the power and significantly improved upon the original one. In 1609 he learnt about the spyglass and started making telescopes of his own in order to make empirical discoveries. He learnt to grind and polish the lens and created telescopes with a magnifying power of 30 times. This new and advanced telescope led to him being the first person who observed and made discoveries about the surface of the Moon and planets. (Alonso 2018)

Astronomical Discoveries

Using the new and improved telescope he had created, Galileo discovered that the Moon has an uneven and rough surface that is covered with cavities, craters and mountains, contradictory to popular belief which said that the Moon has a smooth and even surface. He used shadows to calculate the height of the mountains on the Moon, in order to show their similarity to those on Earth (‘What Did Galileo Discover?') (Bellis 2018). He also observed the planets and found that Venus went through phases of changing its shape to crescent-like formations, like the Moon. After further improvements in his telescope in 1610, Galileo found 3 stars twinkling around Jupiter. Upon further observation he found out that these were satellites, now known as the moons of Jupiter, that were rotating around the planet. Along with this, he also observed spots on the surface on the Sun and that the planet Saturn has rings around it. These findings led to some of the Church's mathematicians considering Galileo's observations to be correct and valid (Bellis 2018).

Conflict with the Church

During the 15th and 16 centuries, most Christians believed in Aristotle's geocentric model of astronomy which stated that planet Earth was the center of the universe and all heavenly bodies revolve around it. In the 16th century, Nicholas Copernicus came up with another astronomical model, heliocentrism, which states that the Earth, in fact is not stationary or the center of the solar system. The Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun, which is the center of the solar system. Galileo disagreed with Aristotle's geocentrism model which led to a conflict with the Church. He hence, set out to contradict what was said in the Bible and believed by the majority and to prove and provide evidence for what was said by Copernicus (‘What Did Galileo Discover?'). Through his observations of the planets using his enhanced and powerful telescope, he discovered the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter and the rings around Saturn, which provided evidence for Copernicus's heliocentric model of astronomy. Venus cannot have phases that change its shape and Jupiter cannot have satellites rotating around it if all celestial bodies circled around the Earth. This is only possible if the Sun lies in the center of the universe and all planets, including Earth revolve around it. His discoveries transformed the view of many people and made them pay more attention to Copernicus's astronomical model of heliocentrism (Redd 2017).

Law of Falling Bodies

Modern physics and science is characterised by the works of Galileo which aim to explain everything in terms of "numbers, figures and motion" (Koyre 1943;334) One of his key contributions to physics is the law of falling bodies. Aristotle believed that heavier objects fall down faster, at a higher speed, than lighter objects. This was hence, accepted as a fact by many people. Galileo decided to test the same in order to confirm the fact. In order to do so, he decided to drop balls of various sizes and weights off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He saw that all the balls fell and touched the ground at the same time, hence, contradicting Aristotle's claim that the weight of an object affects the speed with which it falls (Bellis 2018). Instead, he found that the distance travelled by an object is proportional to the square of the time it takes for the object to reach the ground (Alonso 2018).

Law of the Pendulum

Galileo's passion for mathematics and physics is evident from his dedication to observe and discover new things, even during his daily life activities. While in a cathedral once, he noticed a lamp swinging on the ceiling. His inquisitive nature led to him using his pulse to time the duration of the swings of the lamp. He was the first scientist to discover and measure the time taken by a pendulum to to swing back and forth. He found that irrespective of size, the duration of each swing was equal since there is always the same amount of kinetic energy in a pendulum- it simply transfers from one side to another. This led to the rise of ‘law of the pendulum' which was used to design and regulate pendulum clocks, hence, making Galileo famous worldwide (Redd 2017) (Kittmer 2018).

Galileo's Thermometer and Compass

Along with these major discoveries, Galileo also invented some tools and objects that were useful during late 16th and 17th centuries. He invented a rudimentary thermometer which he called a thermoscope. It did not have a standardized scale and hence, did not measure temperature but simply a change in temperature. This invention was thus, not very successful. Along with this, he also created a military and surveying compass, made of rulers, that was used to measure the elevation of a canon's barrel in order to accurately aim cannonballs and even to calculate currency exchange rates. He later modified it to also be useful for land surveying (Bellis 2017).

Law of Inertia

Modern physics was said to be characterised by Galileo's work, especially his work on the inertial law of motion which came to be a basic and fundamental law of physics. Formulation of the concept of inertia was one of Galileo's greatest contributions to physics. The law of inertial motion states that- an object in a state of motion remains in motion until and unless an external force acts upon it. Similarly, an object at rest will remain at rest until an external force acts upon it (Koyre 1943; 334-335). This happens because an object possesses an ‘inertia' which causes it to remain in a particular state unless it is interfered with by an external force. Galileo also realised the importance of the act of friction and how that plays into the law of inertial motion. He said that if frictional forces are reduced to zero, an object in motion, at a constant speed, on a frictionless surface would continue to be in motion at that speed until an external force acts upon it. The law of inertial motion as defined by Galileo came to be popularly known as Newton's first law of motion (Garber) (‘Galileo and the Concept of Inertia'). The principle of inertia helped Galileo and his followers discover and study the science of dynamics which had made physics incredibly advanced and has contributed to the scientific revolution (Drake 1964; 601).

Mathematics and Science

Besides discovering laws of the universe, Galileo also transformed qualitative data and ‘established mathematics as the language of scientific discovery'. Before his intervention, natural philosophy, which included disciplines like physics and astronomy, was expressed and theorized in qualitative terms. He was renowned in the scientific community because he introduced the practice of experimentation and calculation of laws of nature which led to discoveries that proved the laws of Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle wrong (Kittmer 2018).

Galileo and the Scientific Method

Along with his revolutionary inventions and discoveries, Galileo also systematically developed, defined and implemented a new and improved scientific method that made a huge contribution to the scientific revolution. (Ashare). He led to the emergence of modern science and came to be known as the ‘father of modern science'. His new scientific methodology led to developments in physics, mathematics and other fields relying on mathematical concepts and theorems. His method also contributed to the conflict and split between science and religion. He brought about a standardization of measurements that made experiments falsifiable. The novel scientific method that he used to carry out scientific discovery involved rephrasing the problem or question in simple and easy terms, based on daily life experience, logic and knowledge. The terms were then analysed using simple mathematics. This method of scientific discovery is used today as well and even led to various successes for Galileo, like the law of inertial motion (Jacobs). Galileo was the first scientists to understand and introduce deduction and induction in the scientific method. He used a heavily inductive scientific method because he understood and took into account the fact that all variables can never be controlled or accounted for in an experiment. Galileo's science is considered to be based on pure unadulterated thought rather than experience or sense-perception. He believed that this was the basis of ‘new science' (Koyre 1943 ;346-347). His method of scientific testing is unique and novel, something that was not introduced by anyone else. Before him, scientists simply introduced theories, they did not conduct experiments to test or falsify them. He was the first person to introduce scientific experimentation into the field of science. His novel scientific method is widely used by scientists even today (Shuttleworth 2009).

Galilean Science

Galileo's discoveries and inventions played a huge role in the scientific revolution. Galilean science and the Galilean philosophy of nature was based on the victory of Platonism over Aristotelianism. The two philosophies differed on the basis of their appreciation of mathematics as a science and its role in the science of nature. Aristotelianism considered mathematics as an auxiliary science dealing with abstractions and thus, of a lesser value than sciences that dealt with real beings, like physics. Platonism, on the other hand, considered mathematics to also be dealing with and studying natural beings and saw it as a superior disciple. Galileo's passion for mathematics led him to believe that mathematics played as much of a role, if not more, in natural science than did other sciences. He considered mathematics to be the language of natural science and discovery and believed in studying science through mathematically conducted experiments (Koyre 1943;347-348).

Galileo's Impact and Conclusion

Galileo's ideas and findings changed the way people view science. His contributions to the scientific community have influenced the science that is studied today. His curiosity, willpower and desire to invent and discover can be seen by the fact that he did not give up on his work even when he received unending criticism from the Church. Even though his discoveries were disregarded by many people, he continued to work and experiment in order to prove them wrong. His discoveries like those about the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were original, revolutionary and undoubtedly changed the world. Galileo's discoveries were truly novel and unique considering the fact that no one had ever tried to work in or even think about the areas he made discoveries in. His discovery of the law of the pendulum and inertia have formed the basis of modern-day physics and guide the discoveries and inventions of scientists even today. His advanced telescope not only revolutionised astronomical discoveries but also had a huge impact on overall scientific methodology and helped with accurate mathematical calculations (O'Rourke 2009). Galileo's discoveries and inventions not only impacted and led to the scientific revolution, they also transformed how people think today. His ideas influenced the way we see the world and how we perceive ourselves within it. Despite his conflict with the Church, he eventually managed to strike a balance between religion and science. His work inspired many other scientists and formed the foundation of the discoveries of various scientists today. His novel method of scientific experimentation and mathematization of the sciences is the basis of scientific discovery and has helped various scientists and inventors in their work and hence, contributed to immense growth of the scientific community. To conclude, Galileo made a huge contribution to the scientific community and his revolutionary discoveries and novel methodology led to the scientific revolution and laid a path for scientists and innovative thinkers today and for generations to come (Cipollone 2010).


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Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Galileo And The Scientific Revolution. (2024, Feb 10). Retrieved from

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