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.
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.
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
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”.
Have you ever wondered why a boat made of steel floats in water while a solid bar of steel sinks? You might also wonder how the measurement of heat is related to buoyancy.
At the start of the 17th Century, scientists wracked their brains to find a way to accurately detect the temperature of a body, air, and liquid. The thermometer was the answer. The principle of buoyancy on which it is based was discovered by Archimedes of Syracuse however, Galileo developed experiments to prove that the density of a liquid changes in proportion to its temperature.
The earliest design of these instruments attributed to Galileo is known as a thermoscope and dates back to 1597.
Many instruments designed by the Accademia del Cimento, Europe’s first society exclusively dedicated to Science, are on display at the Galileo Museum in Florence.
As we know today, temperature measurement is important for medical practice, manufacturing, and scientific research.
Photo: A very delicate glass spiral thermometer designed by the Accademia del Cimento, of which Galileo was a member, is on display at the Galileo Museum in Florence.