Adam Gopnik in a recent New Yorker article discusses the interaction between the blog scientists favorite icon and the Catholic Church. Reading Gopnik, Galileo spent much of his life being both a brilliant scientist and a skater on thin ice. Today we lose sight of the fact that Galileo invented relativity, that is that told us how when two bodies move, the perceived velocity of each is relative to the other and we still refer to this as a Galilean frame.
The concept was disturbing in a world where the Earth was the unmoving center of all, but necessary once one adopted the Copernican view of the solar system. If the bunnies want this in denial speak, well, here we are, you are telling Eli that the Earth is rotating like crazy and moving a huge speed around the sun? That's crazy. Next thing you will tell me is that people are animals and changing the climate for worse.
Relativity was the root of Galileo's problems with the Church. His modus vivendi was one adopted by many scientists today, the best example being evolution. The Church was willing, using Gopnick's analogy to allow Galileo to put forward the Copernican system as a computational device, but he had to allow them, as it were, to "teach the controversy".
...Galileo tried to do what we sould now call basic research while simultaneously negotiating with the Church to let him do it. Eventually, he and the church came to an implicit understanding: if he would treat Copernicanism merely as a hypothesis, rather than as a truth about the world, it would be acceptable -- if he would claim his work only as "istoia" not as "demostrazione" the Inquisitors would leave him alone. . . .You could calculate, consider and even hypothesize with Copernicus. You just couldn't believe in him.But Galileo eventually went too far, and we know the rest of the story, he was forced to recant and live together with his ideas under house arrest. Many have criticized him for this, but Gopnik finds another path
So the scientist can shrug at the torturer and say, Any way you want me to tell it, I will. You've got the waterboard. The stars are still there. It may be no accident that so many of the great scientists really have followed Galileo, in ducking and avoiding the consequences of what they discovered. In the roster of genius, evasion of worldly responsibility seems practically a fixed theme. Newton escaped the world through nuttiness, Darvvin through elaborate evasive courtesies and by farming out the politics to Huxley. Heisenberg's uncertainty was political -- he did nuclear fission research for Hitler -- as well as quantum mechanical. Science demands heroic minds but not heroic morals. It's one of the things than make it moveWhich brings us to James Hansen, the forty eight who were arrested protesting the Keystone pipeline this week and Peter Gleick. Something is moving scientists and scientific organizations from the passive to the active. The dangers of man made climate change and environmental damage are now so clear that it is no longer a matter of munching a few words in return for being left alone, but those in the best position to know realize that these are matters of survival, if not for them, for their children. Increasingly scientists are driven to take significant personal risks in an attempt, yes, to save the world.
Eli wants to thank those who are risking all, Peter Gleick, James Hansen, Michael Mann and others who have said, enough. In an ethical calculus, the risks confronting humans if we continue on the path we are on, means that transgressions which in normal times would be condemned, must be assumed. Sin is relative, responsibility absolute.
Excellent summary in the comments from Chris: I don't think the ethical calculus of Gleick's actions can be understood in binary terms. For me it's a complicated mess. While I'm happy to see Heartland tanking, I wish the methods had been a bit different.That said, Eli is not sure that there was a less complicated, messy way of exposing Heartland without major changes in the tax code and laws governing such organizations. Sometimes life is messy.
That said, I'm awfully glad to see those who best understand our predicament screaming from the rooftops.