The Impact of Challenging Objects

The Impact of Challenging Objects


<i>MS Gal. 72</i>, folio 151 recto: Galileo's elaborations of a proof
which he mentioned in a letter to his patron Guidobaldo del Monte in

In the context of the technological development of the early modern period, certain devices, material objects and processes assumed the role of challenging objects for traditional conceptual frameworks of mechanics. Examples are the pendulum, flywheel, and projectile trajectory. The concepts of the extant theoretical frameworks of mechanics were probed by their application in the investigation of these novel challenging objects. The new results thus account for the inherent potential of the challenging objects to trigger and advance conceptual developments. This mechanism contributed decisively to the revolution of the theoretical knowledge of mechanics in the early modern period.

A central case study explores the reorganization of knowledge taking place in the course of Galileo’s research process, which is documented by a vast collection of correspondence and research notes. It has revealed the challenging objects that motivated and shaped Galileo’s thinking and closely followed the knowledge reorganization that these engendered. The problem of reducing the properties of pendulum motion to the laws governing naturally accelerated motion on inclined planes have thus been shown to have served as the mainspring for the formation of Galileo’s comprehensive theory of naturally accelerated motion. These insights have made it possible to rewrite the history of Galileo’s theory of motion as a transformation of the shared knowledge of preclassical mechanics, which is comparable to other intellectual trajectories. The focus on challenging objects has thus enabled an understanding of congruent theoretical developments—so characteristic for the period—which cannot be accounted for by oral and textual transmission alone. Another stimulus for the development of the theoretical knowledge of mechanics was the fact that the theoretical accounts given for these challenging objects often sought to mirror and account for the complex relations of these objects in their technological context to other objects and phenomena outside this context.

In Galileo’s case this led to the integration of established theoretical results that were previously considered to be unrelated. One example is Galileo’s integration of knowledge concerning the motion of fall, the pendulum and the inclined plane. This is evidently an important mechanism for the unification of mechanical knowledge. The results of the case study is now being prepared as the third book of the book series The Historical Epistemology of Mechanics, Galileo’s Challenges: The Origin and Early Conceptual Development of Galileo’s Theory of Naturally Accelerated Motion on Inclined Planes.