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Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa ✸ 1 1 Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa Although many writers dismiss this tall tale as apocryphal, some writers, teachers, and physicists still claim that Galileo Galilei carried out experiments on gravity by dropping objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here is an old and dramatic version of the story: Members of the University of Pisa, and other onlookers, are assembled in the space at the foot of the wonderful leaning tower of white marble in that city one morning in the year 1591. A young professor [Galileo] climbs the spiral staircase until he reaches the gallery surmounting the seventh tier of arches. The people below watch him as he balances two balls on the edge of the gallery, one weighing a hundred times more than the other. The balls are released at the same instant, and are seen to keep together as they fall through the air until they are heard to strike the ground at the same moment. Nature has spoken with no uncertain sound, and has given an immediate answer to a question debated for two thousand years. “This meddlesome man Galileo must be suppressed,” murmured the University fathers as they left the square.“Does he think that by showing us that a heavy and a light ball fall to the ground together he can shake our belief in the philosophy which teaches that a ball weighing one hundred pounds would fall one hundred times faster than one weighing a single pound? Such disregard of authority is dangerous and we will see that 1 it goes no further.” So they returned to their books to explain away the evidence of their senses; and they hated the man who had disturbed their philosophic serenity. For putting belief to the test of experiment, and founding conclusions upon observation , Galileo’s reward in his old age was imprisonment by the Inquisition, and a broken heart. That is how a new scientific method is regarded by guardians of traditional doctrine.1 A different writer claimed, “Galileo’s older colleagues knew nothing of experiments. The very idea implied to them a sort of hideous witchcraft —a profanation of the sanctity of the Aristotelian doctrine.”2 Likewise , another account stated,“The Aristotelians ridiculed such‘blasphemy ,’ but Galileo determined to make his adversaries see the fact with their own eyes.”3 Most recent historians do not believe this elaborate, dramatic story because it is not based on any evidence; it is mainly the product of writers’ lively imaginations. Still, plenty of books and teachers still echo its basic elements.4 Therefore, fair questions remain: What fragments of the story are true? How did this story grow? In a book of 1935, Aristotle, Galileo, and the Tower of Pisa, Professor Lane Cooper boldly denounced the story as false: he argued that Galileo did not drop objects from the tower. Nevertheless, some later historians have disagreed. For example, an expert scholar on Galileo, Stillman Drake, argued that the core of the story might be true, although Drake had no contemporary accounts stating that Galileo ever dropped anything from the tower of the cathedral at Pisa.5 The story about Galileo and the LeanFigure 1.1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. 2 ✸ Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa ing Tower first appeared in a biography of Galileo written by Vincenzio Viviani, the young secretary who served him in his final years of blindness and home imprisonment, from 1639 until Galileo’s death in 1642. Viviani, who apparently drafted his account sometime between 1654 and 1657 (although it was not published until 1717), described events that allegedly happened six decades earlier,but which he did not witness: At this time [ca. 1590] it seemed to him [Galileo], that the investigation of natural effects necessarily require a true cognition of the nature of motion, there being a philosophical and popular axiom: ignorance of motion, ignorance of nature, he gave himself entirely to contemplate it: and then with great discord from all the philosophers, by means of experiences and good demonstrations and discourses he convinced them of the falsehood of many conclusions of Aristotle himself on the topic of motion, which up to that time were held as most clear, and indubitable , as among others, that the speeds of unequal weights of the same material, moving through the same medium, did not at all keep the proportion of their heaviness, assigned by Aristotle, but instead, these all moved with the...


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