Category Archives: Galileo

The role of imagination in science

Albert Einstein may, or may not, have said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

A century ago the American philosopher, logician, mathematician and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce wrote that inductive and deductive reasoning on their own never led to a new idea. He warned us that by analyzing the past, and crunching numbers to predict the future, we are doing nothing more than extrapolation. If we stick to measuring what we can already measure, we cannot create a future that is different from the past.

Since Archimedes, we have taken comfort in following the Scientific Method; namely systematic observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the formation and testing of hypotheses and theories. What has been less understood is the role of the imagination in science.

Without imagination, science would never ever have existed. Imagination and innovation are key to achieving change.

As the past few years of the Covid-19 pandemic, a global climate in crisis, and political upheavals have demonstrated, our understanding of the world, and our role in it, needs to change. We turn to our heroes Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo Galilei to celebrate how their imagination and creativity enabled them to see things differently. They understood that everything is connected to everything else, made it possible to see the invisible, applied knowledge from one field to another to generate new knowledge, and had the courage to not give up if their experiments failed.

We have so much to learn from them.

Photo: Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary, Waikato Museum, Hamilton NZ, 2021

Critical Thinking, Science and Art

Raphael’s masterpiece, The School of Athens (1509 – 1511) is a who’s who of influential philosophers, mathematicians and scientists spanning 2000 years of Western civilisation.

With Plato and Aristotle as the central figures, the iconic fresco has come to symbolise the connections between art, philosophy and science. Framed by the impressive arch and dwarfed at the feet of the marble statues are Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy, along with a “cameo” self-portrait of Raphael himself.

Creativity and innovation require what in modern times have been separated and labelled as science and art.

Critical thinking and problem-solving are as much prerequisites in the field of arts practice as they are to scientific inquiry.

The iterative nature of the scientific method relies on the imagination. Breakthroughs in science seem to happen out of the blue, but they never are. They are the result of deep thinking, acute observation, meticulous measurement, and rigorous experimentation.

This realisation now seems revolutionary but 500 years ago Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo knew it. Galileo too couldn’t have made his breakthrough scientific discoveries without it. Over 2000 years ago Archimedes taught us the importance of inventing experiments to test hypotheses.

The School Of Athens by Raphael Sanzio da Urbino is located inside the Stanza della Segnatura on the second floor of the Vatican Palace, Rome.

Galileo’s legacy

Can you imagine what the world would be like without science, global telecommunications or modern medicine?

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) the Italian scientist, astronomer and mathematician is best known for his fearless and pioneering work in science, physics and astronomy. Considered to be the ‘father of modern science’, Galileo challenged the beliefs of the time and paid a high price.

With his powerful telescope, he was able to demonstrate the theory held by Nicolaus Copernicus and other scientists that the sun is at the centre of our universe, not the Earth. He was tried by the Roman Inquisition, forced to stop teaching and publishing his ideas which were considered heretical, and kept under house arrest until his death.

Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary is the world’s first interactive exhibition on Galileo’s groundbreaking science, influential discoveries and inspirational life. The exhibition opened at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand on 19 June.

The story of how Galileo’s discoveries four hundred years ago shaped our modern world is told through the themes of Astronomy, Simple Machines, Gravity, Motion and Time, and Military and Inventions. The section on Experimental Science is dedicated to examining Galileo’s extraordinary legacy.

Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary. Photo courtesy of Canterbury Museum, Christchurch

For details on the exhibition visit;

A night with Galileo

Italian Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei changed the world with his inventions and experiments – but his latest discovery is top secret.

Over three nights in July aspiring sleuths have the opportunity to crack the “Galileo Code”. As part of Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, NZ, visitors are invited to explore the museum at night.

Kids under 16 will enjoy solving the clues, revealing the codeword and discovering Galileo’s inventions that changed the world.

13th, 14th and 15th July 2021
6pm – 8pm

Visit Stuff NZ to take a sneak peek with Artisans of Florence Director Tom Rizzo who demonstrates and discusses some examples of Galileo’s groundbreaking science featured in the family-friendly interactive exhibition.

Image courtesy of Stacy Squires/ Stuff NZ

“The purpose of the Artisans of Florence’s exhibitions is getting people to understand the long arc of science through interacting with hands-on exhibits.”
– Tom Rizzo, Director

The father of modern science

The moon landing, space exploration, satellites and global telecommunications, telescopes, navigation at sea, medical instruments that measure heart rate and even the clock…None of these would have been possible without the discoveries of Galileo!

‘Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary’ is now open at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch NZ. There are more than 60 experiments and inventions by the “father of modern science”.

Learn how Galileo’s fearless and pioneering work in Science, Physics, and Astronomy four centuries ago has shaped our modern world. 

Installation view of Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary (2021). Photo courtesy of Canterbury Museum

The nature of genius

What do the world’s greatest thinkers, scientists, artists, and visionaries have in common?

Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei drew on the scientific knowledge of their times. They observed, measured, and imagined. They challenged widely accepted and long-held beliefs and created new knowledge. Each of them tested their hypotheses and adjusted their theories. Their discoveries changed the course of history.

We have the privilege of touring the iconic machines and exhibits based on the groundbreaking works of these geniuses. In the process of creating our exhibitions, the Artisans make discoveries of their own and unravel mysteries that bring us closer to understanding the nature of genius.

Not many of us will ever have the impact on the world that Archimedes, Da Vinci and Galilei have had, but we can learn from them.

In the words of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer:

Talent hits a target no one else can hit;
Genius hits a target no one else can see

How Galileo’s discoveries shaped us

The moon landing, space exploration, satellites and global telecommunications, telescopes, navigation at sea, medical instruments that measure heart rate, and even the clock…

None of these would have been possible without this man…

Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary is on at Waikato Museum, Hamilton, New Zealand until 7 June 2021.

Explore and experience the art of science through hands-on, interactive experiments and exhibits.

Find out how Galileo’s fearless and pioneering work in Science, Physics and Astronomy 400 years ago shaped our modern world.

Is it possible to see the world spin from Earth?

A new exhibit has been unveiled for the world premiere of the Artisans of Florence’s Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary exhibition that may be able to answer that question.

Galileo’s revolutionary ideas were well ahead of his time. His astronomical discoveries demonstrated that the Earth revolves around the Sun as it spins on its own axis and his Pendulum Laws led to the first clocks and the birth of experimental science.

Imagine Galileo’s delight if he were able to fast forward a few hundred years to the Paris observatory in 1851 to see a marvelous demonstration by French Physicist Léon Foucault. Foucault was able to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation to astonished crowds by setting an enormous pendulum in motion.

As the Foucault Pendulum swings back and forth it slowly rotates around the room, or at least that’s how it appears to us mere Earthbound mortals! In actual fact, we are not observing the pendulum rotate around the room, we are watching the Earth rotate around the pendulum!

You really have to see it to believe it! But if you aren’t able to make it to beautiful New Zealand for the world premiere of the Galileo exhibition in February 2021 you can watch this great time-lapse demonstration by Environmental Scientist Kurtis Baute.

Thank the Greeks for technology

Did you know that the word technology has its origins in the Ancient Greek word, techne?

Over 2000 years ago the Ancient Greek natural philosopher Aristotle (384–322BC) used the term techne in his teachings to describe the crafts and sciences, most notably through mathematics.

The concept of science in this ancient world view focused on the causes of change, such as the reason that metal turns red when heated or why heavy objects fall towards the Earth.

Aristotle’s science was more of a philosophy as it could not be easily measured and was based on theories made from general observations of nature. Aristotle, who was a student of Plato, had nothing against practical knowledge. He simply placed more importance on theorising than experimentation.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212BC), who many consider to be the father of science, applied techne to machines and inventions with a focus on experiments. Italian scientist, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galileo (1564-1642) was greatly influenced by the practical applications of Archimedes’ work and once said of him:

One could flow through life with ease if they could just remember the teachings of Archimedes”.

The School of Athens fresco painted by Raphael between 1509 and 1511 depicts a who’s who of the greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists from classical antiquity, shown gathering to share their ideas and learning. 

Tips from Galileo on living through a pandemic

One of the many things that history teaches us is the importance of perspective.

When a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague ravaged northern and central Italy from 1629 – 1631 Galileo, who lived in Tuscany, was forced into quarantine. A friend of Galileo’s reflected on the three year period feeling “like a thousand years.”

In 1633, Galileo book Two Systems was banned by the Catholic Church and he was accused of heresy for using science to prove the Copernican theory that the Sun is at the centre of our Solar System. His journey to Rome to attend the trial took over three weeks and included mandatory quarantine.

Galileo was found guilty of ‘suspected heresy’ and sentenced to house arrest for life. During this time his daughter Virginia, who had become a nun in a nearby convent, cared for him remotely by sending him remedies to prevent him from contracting the plague and also regular correspondence to cheer him up.

Living and working through the challenges posed by a pandemic are certainly not new, but we are able to glean some inspiration and knowledge by being attentive students of history. At the very least, we should appreciate that our struggles, and the ways to get through them, are neither new nor unique. The most effective of these now during the COVID19 pandemic, as in Galileo’s time, rely on all communities working together and supporting those who are most vulnerable and struggling the most.

Painting of Marseille during the plague. (Credit: Robert Valette/Wikimedia Commons)