Galileo’s ball

Looking back now, it seems as if my life was transformed when I became aware of Galileo’s discovery of inertia, though admittedly many would think that a somewhat unlikely cause of a transformation of life.  Like most people, I suppose, I had assumed that Galileo was the first great scientist because he stopped believing in the myths of Plato and Aristotle and began doing actual experiments.  But when I started going into it I found, to my surprise, that the exact opposite was the case.  Plato was his great inspiration.  In Aristotle’s take-a -look physics things move because they are pushed.  If you throw a ball up into the air your arm pushes the air and the air pushes the ball until the impetus your arm gave to the air runs out.  But Galileo discovered that if you throw a ball up into the it will keep on going for ever – for ever – until increasing pressure of air delays it and finally stops it.  Air exercises an exactly opposite function, not as an impetus but a hindrance.  It was with something of a shock that I realized that Galileo wasn’t saying this about some hypothetical other universe but our universe.  In our actual universe things in principle keep going for ever except they never do because they are always obstructed.  Underlying the real world in which we live and move and have our being there is an even more real world that is abstract and mathematical in its nature but constantly limited and constrained, of which we only catch occasional glimpses as Galileo did in his experiments with balls rolling down shallow inclines.  This insight, that there is another world underlying our own has been hugely validated by quantum physics.  According to this physics if you drop a teaspoon to the floor the electrons in the spoon drop straight to the floor.  Well of course they do, they’re in the spoon. But because they are waves as well as particles they visit everywhere in the universe on the way, randomly re-appearing in particulated form in all sorts of odd places, the Pope’s zuchetta, Alpha Centauri, next door’s garden, some remote star trillions of light years away. Well, all one can say is it doesn’t look like it.  Once two subatomic particles have become entangled, as physicists say, that is come into some sort of relationship with each other, they can communicate with each other instantaneously even though they are now separated by the whole universe.  But according to Einstein, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light I hear you cry.  Well, yes in this upper world.  But in the strange underlying world, a.k.a. God perhaps you might think, it seems it is not so. Which brings me back to why Galileo’s discovery of inertia has been so transformative for my life.  I’ve come to think now that our whole lives are undergirded by this other dimension but we have little sense of it because the flow of our experience is constantly obstructed by our deafness and blindness, just as the ball was obstructed by the air.  But we do, nevertheless, catch occasional glimpses of this deeper dimension and when we do they bring us extraordinary happiness.  Take bird song, for example.  All my life I have been hearing the calls of birds and found them not unpleasant.  But now I am ravished by these songs of the beginnings.  Sex is another case of extraordinary happiness constantly hindered by encroaching obstacles.  What delayed me for so long`?


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