Monday, February 28, 2011

Galileo Galilei

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself.”

“In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

Interlocutor: Why do you say that you cannot teach a man anything, that you can only help him find it within himself?

G: For the very good reason that mankind is the font of all knowledge. Let him who would learn, learn about himself first. Once he has the knowledge of what he himself knows, he can go on to know the world – the universe.

Has man not found the laws of the Universe without going back in time, without travelling to the edges of the universe, and yet he knows the extent of its vastness, its properties, and whence it came into being.

I: But scientists worked out all that using mathematical formulae, and not, as you maintain, by knowing something about themselves.

G: Do you not think that any man who has the ability, the creative imagination, and the tenacity to continue where few have gone, do you not think such a man knows himself intimately?

I: Why should he know himself intimately? What has he to do with the laws of the universe?

G: We better go back to basics here, I think. First, do you think, do you imagine that knowledge is merely out there in the air, and merely has to be found?

I: No, I admit it has to be proven after lengthy experimentation, scientific conjecture, and testing hypotheses.

G: And do you imagine that anyone is capable of that, or should I say, anyone at any time?

I: What do you mean by that – anyone at any time?

G: I mean that although everyone, in theory, has the potential to work though anything, we know well enough, don’t we, that a person must work towards that point at which he or she is able to assimilate the processes of reasoning at such a level.

I: I am sure that anyone who aspires to such intellectual greatness has to work hard to attain that commanding height of scholarship, yes.

G: And do you think that person is the same person who undertook to begin that arduous journey of scholarship?

I: Of course it is the same person; being instantly recognizable by any former classmates or teachers.

G: I am not referring to a person’s physical likeness – his appearance!

I: Then to what are you referring?

G: That which cannot be readily seen.

I: Which is?

G: Which is that person’s inner self; that person’s spiritual self; that person’s intellect, which, I think you will agree, cannot be readily seen merely by looking at him.

I: That is true, although I hold it is possible to see something of that by looking into the person’s eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, I think it has been said, has it not?

G: That is well said. What other portal do you think opens up onto the invisible?

I: That person’s words.

G: Again true. Written, spoken or both?

I: Written and spoken are not the same thing at all, you know.

G: Why not? If they come as the same language, why and how are they not to be considered the same?

I: Because the spoken variety is uttered, it comes out with some spontaneity, in response, let us say, to a question.

G: Whereas?

I: Whereas the written word may take some time in the forming, in the formulation, I mean to say.

G: And why is that process different? Why is the mental process that produces the spoken variety of language different to the process that produces the written word?

I: I am not a psychologist or a linguist, and consequently am unable to determine with any degree of truth whether those processes vary.

G: And yet you would be willing to admit that were an expert linguist or speech therapist or such to say that they were different, wouldn’t you?

I: Of course I would, why do you ask?

G: For the very simple reason that such experts, particularly the linguist, has no access to the workings of the human mind except through inference and supposition rather than concrete proof.

I: Then how does he know what goes on in the human mind when it forms speech or begins to put pen to paper?

G: He works by theorizing and proposing, and when he finds that his supposed explanations do not hold up, or when they are replaced by something that does fit the facts better, only then does he move on. This is the nature of revolutions that are scientific in nature; they move on, not by startling discovery necessarily, but by disproving existing suppositions and demonstrating that a new theory fits better than the old paradigm used to.

I: And so although he may not look inside the skull, as you infer, he supposes processes to be taking place.

G: Partly, yes, and in part by modern technologies allowing to look into heads and see which areas ‘light up’ when, for instance, a question is answered and when such an answer is written.

Apart from that, where do you suppose he finds his suppositions?

I: Why, from his learning.

G: Whose source is?

I: Books, primarily.

G: And from another important source?

I: Which is?

G: Himself.

I: How?

G: In his fertile, creative imagination.

I: Wait, are you saying linguists dream theories up?

G: Not at all. You have put your own interpretation on the term ‘creative imagination’, have you not?

I: I was not aware that I had. No doubt you can inform me otherwise.

G: Let me ask you a question: How is it that a man sitting comfortably in an armchair, in front of a roaring fire, smoking a briar of his favourite tobacco, how is that man quite suddenly to have what might be termed a revelation connected to his course of study?

I: Is he reading a book?

G: He is not. He is relaxing, as I said, in the warm glow of a good fire in his hearth, smoking a pipeful of good tobacco. He is the picture of contentment, and yet something is troubling him

I:What is troubling him? I thought you said he was relaxed.

G: He is very relaxed. What is troubling him is not some everyday concern over an unpaid bill or a word said out of turn in the scullery, but rather something that will not square, as we say.

Take my own subject and conjecture, if you prefer. Let us say that a young and able scientist, a scholar at Cambridge University; let us say he is pondering over the mathematics of the beginning of the Universe. He has gone over his calculations a hundred times in the last hour. Then, without warning, someone says something to him that is quite unrelated to his mathematical dilemma; perhaps it is the carriage in which he is about to travel homeward, taking a momentary backward leap before pulling out.

A lady sitting opposite says something like, “Leaving Cambridge is always different, never quite what you expect.” – a chance remark of seemingly little import to any listener other than he pondering the mathematics of the beginnings of the Universe.

All of a sudden, it hits him that he has been postulating the movement of time in one direction, to little or no avail, when he quickly and with some enlightenment, which colours his countenance and opens his eyes, and imagines time taken as moving in the absolutely opposite direction.

Upon that swift realization hangs his whole hypothesis. Yet the stimulus that propelled the thought was something on the movements of a horse drawn vehicle leaving the English city of Cambridge.

How comes that to be so?

I: I cannot imagine.

G: That is the very best, fullest answer you could have given.

I: Why?

G: For the very reason that your creative imagination is not so tuned in as you might wish.

I: Or that I was not thinking so deeply on the subject.

G: Yes, just so.
Robert L. Fielding

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