John Heilbron on Galileo as Experimentalist
We've just returned from Busan to Seoul on the express train, which gave me just two and a half hours to read, but I got through more of John Heilbron's biography of Galileo and found some remarks on experimental method interesting:
What has been gained [from various modern analyses of Galileo's manuscripts] is an appreciation of Galileo's skill as an experimenter. The manuscripts contain many numbers and some diagrams that suggest the experimental arrangements that produced them: pendulums, inclined planes, water clocks, free drops. Several modern Galileians have repeated these experiments and, after much cut and try, have reproduced the numbers. Their success has only enlarged the domain of mystery.I don't quite know what to make of this, but I find interesting that Galileo might have been guided not so much by theory or experiment as by taste. But how might taste guide the scientist toward the truth? I don't know.
Did experiment drive theory or theory experiment? Sometimes the one and sometimes the other, but also, and not rarely, neither. Galileo could stick to an attractive theory in the face of overwhelming experimental refutation. During his period of greatest creativity in the science of motion, from 1602 to 1609, he probably jumped from theory to experiment and from one idea to another, circled back and forth, inventing the form of descriptive mathematical physics, guided by little more than his buon gusto. The principal outcome was a somber, limited, exact science, and a few striking results, advertised as more exact than they were, to serve as a replacement for one chapter of the vast, colorful, diffuse library of Aristotelian philosophy. (Heilbron, Galileo, pages 126-127)
But maybe Heilbron does. He has some things to say about good taste in a reference to Ludovico Antonio Muratori, a scholar of good taste, in a lecture on "Physics and History: Forged in the Baroque," starting about 48 minutes and 30 seconds into the lecture and lasting about one minute.
Ever the good pedagogue, Heilbron reduces Muratori's instructions on buon gusto to three principles for ease of remembering them, but you can go to the lecture to find out what they are, for Heilbron relates them far better than I could on this blog . . .