January 17, 2011

Lucifer would have fallen down: How Dante's Hell inspired Galileo's science


A Mount Holyoke College physics professor, Mark Peterson, argues that Galileo Galilei‘s love of poetry and artistic impulses played a critical role in his revolutionary re-imagination of the cosmos. At the age of 24, after dropping out of medical school, Galileo gave a lecture on how the dimensions of Dante’s Inferno were structurally inaccurate–a shocking proposal to 16th-century belief systems. Paterson sees this serious engagement with the fantastical as a key element of Galileo’s genius:

In this regard, at least as Peterson sees it, Galileo has more in common with today’s quantum theorists, whose work requires mad leaps of logic, than he does with the generations of by-the-numbers physicists he inspired. The world’s first true scientist, the professor tells us, understood that it takes a man of reason to provide the proof, but only a fantasist can truly reimagine the universe.

Read the whole Boston Globe article here. Also, check out their animated video describing why Hell wouldn’t pass modern building codes.