November 24, 2010

Giordano Bruno, Imaginative Logic, and the Plurality of Worlds

I am gripped by a certain sense of nostalgia every time I read old books. There's something about those archaic sentences, or the fonts, which I imagine being printed by old, rusty movable types. Even more so, is that I am intrigued by the authors’ way of thinking in those early days when Science and Astronomy were in its infancy.

Thus, in the inquiry about other Worlds, what were the thinker's methods of thought in the olden days when there was no internet? How far can their ideas go when all they had were just the pure sight of Nature to power their brains?

Yesterday, I came across this book "Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science", in which the author reevaluates Bruno's contribution to the scientific revolution. We all heard about that the guy before, that pesky hooded friar who got burned at the stake for his heretical views.

Now let’s take a peek at how Bruno came up with his Philosophy and way of thinking. In one instance, Bruno “wishes to prove that opaque bodies lying between the eye and luminous bodies can easily disappear from the field of vision: a point which he illustrates by holding a matchstick between his eyes and a lighted candle."

Albeit primitive, Bruno noted the same difficulty involved in exoplanet-hunting; that it's like trying to find a firefly across the backdrop of a searchlight, as modern-day astronomers would often say. Had Bruno written that the distant star's light would be dimmed in a measurable way by an orbiting planet passing across the viewer's line of sight, he would have hinted at one of the most successful methods in Exoplanet-hunting, the Transit Method.

In his time, such an insight is not bad. Apparently, Bruno used "Imaginative Logic" (in contrast to rational logic) as his thinking method to come up with his ideas, which were considered quite radical at that time. Nevertheless, Bruno stumbled onto something bigger, an idea so true and powerful that he was willing to give up his life for it.

Today with more than five hundred known worlds on other stars, we are basking in that idea now.

The Plurality of Worlds "...constitutes the essential premise for the new cosmology of Bruno, whose universe is filled with infinite worlds, most of which are invisible to the naked eye."

"In space there are countless constellations, suns and planets; we see only the suns because they give light; the planets remain invisible, for they are small and dark. There are also numberless earths circling around their suns, no worse and no less than this globe of ours. For no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies that may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human earth."
~ Giordano Bruno, 1584

"All philosophy is based on two things only: curiosity and poor eyesight; if you had better eyesight you could see perfectly well whether or not these stars are solar systems, and if you were less curious you wouldn't care about knowing, which amounts to the same thing. the trouble is, we want to know more than what we can see."
~ Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Conversations on the Plurality of the Worlds, 1686

Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science