Galileo’s Magic Mirror

Galileo Galilei

“Galileo’s discovery, then, was not only the indirect mathematization of nature but also, in Price’s terms, the artificially aided perception of nature. His perception . . . stood at the forefront of the tradition of modern technologically embodied science that characterizes our own time.”1

Don Ihde discusses Galileo Galilei first in an abstract sense, following Edmund Husserl’s analysis that studiously avoids mentioning the historical Galileo—he who dropped weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he who charted the phases of the moons of Jupiter. Of primary importance here is Galileo’s method of thinking (his ability to fish) rather than his individual accomplishments (the whoppers he has caught). Ihde follows with an extended discussion of that latter episode, of Galileo’s revelation that the telescope enabled him to see the planets in detail and discover their moons, previously hidden by their vast distance. To Ihde, Galileo’s revelation of “the artificially aided perception of nature” was crucial in its ability to fuse the abstract and the empirical knowledge of the universe into a single line of seeing—Husserl’s analysis in a nutshell.2 However, I find Galileo’s telescope particularly interesting because of its affinity with the virtual world in which we live today. By delivering clear images of an otherwise invisible world, but maintaining an unbridgeable distance between viewer and subject, the telescope articulates the paradox of intimacy and vicariousness that has governed lens-based technologies (and, ultimately, screen-based technologies) for 500 years. Continue reading “Galileo’s Magic Mirror” »