- Galileo's Telescope: A European Story by Massimo Bucciantini, Michele Camerota, and Franco Giudice
In his classic 1802 book Natural Theology, the English cleric and advocate of the argument from design, William Paley (1743–1805) compared the eye with a telescope. "As far as the examination of the instrument goes," he wrote, "there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it."1 This symbiotic association of the human eye with the tool created to increase its ability to see the world predated the nineteenth century. Robert Hooke (1635–1703), author of the richly illustrated Micrographia (1665), threaded theology through his discussion of the matter: Adam's Fall corrupted human senses. Referring to both microscopes and telescopes, these devices served, Hooke offered, as "reparation made for mischiefs, and imperfections which mankind has drawn upon itself."2 Whereas Adam saw the large and the small of the world easily with his unaided vision, postlapsarian naturalists and philosophers required artificial enhancement of their sight to view the splendour of God's Creation; even then they might not see all that lay before them. What the eye could take in and the mind make sense of, was a much-debated topic.
For centuries the matter had not troubled students of nature who accepted Aristotle's position that the eye saw the world as it truly was. As the fine work of Stuart Clark has shown, however, many in the early modern age expressed doubt that a universal reality could be seen: [End Page 315]
"between the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution," Clark explains, "vision was anything but objectively established or secure in its supposed relationship to 'external fact."'3 Did the eyes see the world as it was — therefore every observer saw the same things — or did each visual act create a unique interpretation of the world? Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) famously addressed this in Critique of Pure Reason (1781) when he stated that human senses do not merely reflect reality. Rather, reality is fashioned in the mind through perception, organization of sensory data, and comparison with what has been experienced previously. Our view of the world is as we make it; no two people see exactly the same reality.
Kant's insight is felt in the two books considered here, both of which explain how the initial reception of the telescope added an unforeseen complication to the already problematic issue of seeing and knowing in the seventeenth century. While one book explores the challenge this posed to observers in the immediate context of Galileo, who were asked to see the celestial realm as he had, the other considers the more intricate question of how historians have viewed these telescopic visions when their gaze is obscured by a distance of centuries.
In Galileo's Telescope: A European Story, Massimo Bucciantini, Michele Camerota, and Franco Giudice focus on the period between the 1608 Dutch invention of the telescope and the Jesuit Collegio Romano's 1611 acceptance that the discoveries Galileo outlined in his Starry Messenger, (Sidereus nuncius, 1610) were real observations. They begin in the present day by describing Galileo's extant telescopes in the Museo Galileo, Florence, and ask: how was it that an "essentially ugly object so radically transformed the world?" (2). The Galileo presented in this book is not Pietro Redondi's heretic, Giorgio de Santillana's criminal, or Wade Rowland's mistake-prone intellectual; nor is he erroneously believed to have gone to jail for his views.4 Here, the Italian mathematician turned natural philosopher is a leading spokesperson for the telescope. This book is about the European-wide journey of the telescope in its infant years that we have usually associated only with Galileo. One of the great strengths of the book is...