Page count: 408 pages
Category: in Hungarian and English
Original price: 1560 Ft
Galilei – as he is living today
Galilei – as he is living today
On László Vekerdi’s book This is how Galilei lives
“And yet it does appear” - László Vekerdy stamped his foot vehemently at the press view of his newly published book, recalling how the project conceived some 15 years ago (titled, at the time, “This is how Galilei lived”) all but got frustrated. The peculiarity of this late appearance is that somewhere along the line it swelled to fill two books. As the author continually kept pace with the flood of latest publications of the Galilei research, his notes and conceptions have by far outgrown the limits of the original volume meant as part of a youth series.
So the Reader really is now holding two books in one volume. It is a work to be enjoyed by interested laymen and the initiated of the profession alike. The main text is a readable account even for beginners, told in an entertaining style and drawing a vivid image of Galilei, both as a man and a scientist. It renders his congenial ideas and history-shaping discoveries easy to comprehend. The footnotes attached to each chapter (at times twice or thrice the length of the main text) – could be highly relevant for practicing and prospective historians of science. Vekerdi with his incredible erudition – his knowing readers will obviously expect it from him – critically reviews and reflects on the rich, varied and contoversial Galilei literature. His stature as an autonomous researcher is betrayed by the fact that although he has read everything and the opposite of everything, virtually all that's appeared in print on the great Italian scientist by expert historians of science – he never lost his way in the maze of Galilei-interpretations, his own image of Galilei never became incoherent. But he also avoids the other extreme whereby many researchers get drifted away, namely that of putting in a pigeonhole, classifying, rendering as the idol of some fashionable "reconstruction of the history of science" the scholar living almost four hundred years away from our times.
The title This is how Galilei lives expresses, I think, very precisely what the book is all about. It demonstrates how Galilei still lives in the imagination of the profession of history of science, what kind of as yet unknown connections get revealed with the discovery of new documents such as manuscipts from the Vaticane archives after studying the trial documents of the Holy Inquisition. We can learn from the book how contemporary researcher Stillman Drake managed to reconstruct Galilei's slope experiments and to verify its results. We are also introduced to Pietro Redondi's interesting hypothesis that Galilei could have been condemned for the heresy of atomism, much more serious than Copernicanism, as it goes against the fundamental theological dogma of Transubstantiation, as opposed to Copernican heliocentric astronomy being incompatible with "but" a few passages of the Old Testament.
Furthermore Vekerdi's book also testifies that Galilei actually lives, his figure hasn't withdrawn into some kind of a park of monuments we seldom, if ever, go to, stuffed with statues of people who don't really live on within us. Galilei is still alive, a living personality, about whom and about whose work several volumes and dozens of studies are being written even today. As a matter of fact he lived at the break of a new era, since it is with him that the modern science of modern times was born, the rational, experimental and mathematical cognition of nature defeting both Aristotelian qualitative physics and Ptolemaian geostatic astronomy, as well as the irrational-mystical, so called hermetistic conception of Nature (quite widespread among 16th century thinkers) temporarily taking their place. And in physics the Pythagorean mysticism of numbers is replaced by modern mathematics relying on measurement data and mathematical idealization.
The Galilei of Vekerdi’s book is not only – maybe not even primarily – a hero and all but martyr of heliocentric astronomy, but also the founder of European scientific rationality. One who through enduring and not too conspicuous everyday labour, by means of primitive self-devised instruments attempts to carry out precise measurements in order to dispel the haze of mysticism enveloping Nature, a scholarly Sarastro to defeat the deceitful Queen of the Night. Galilei's intention was to be a faithful man of the Church, as he was a deeply pious person, but he conceived his God – both following the best traditions of scholastic rational theology and anticipating the age of Enlightenment – as embodying Design and Law-creating Reason as opposed to a magician eager to conceal the secrets of Nature from man.
The publication of This is how Galilei lives is a prominent event of the historiography of science in Hungary which signals the birth of a world class Galilei monography. In his wake, following his inspiration and assistance the process of bringing up a new generation of young historians of science can gain impetus. Vekerdi has been studying the phenomenon of Galilei for over thirty years. Since the sixties he has published a great number of papers and written a memorable postscript to the Hungarian translation of Discorsi. To the benefit of those interested in the history of science he never gave up the idea of the book despite the first frustrated attempt at its publication. How much this is a devoted work is proven, as far as I see, also by the fact that even the picture of prophet Isaiah from the glass window of the Chartre cathedral was proposed by him. For, as he said, the prophet of the picture reminds him of Galilei, with heavy angels' hands on his shoulder and his head carrying a symbolic meaning for him.