Galileo's Insights on Human Nature

In 1623, Galileo, one of the greatest scientists of the millennium, precisely characterized human response to new ideas in a letter written to Don Virginio Cesarini, translated by Stillman Drake, in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1957:

Galileo Quotes

That man will be very fortunate who, led by some unusual inner light, shall be able to turn from the dark and confused labyrinths within which he might have gone forever wandering with the crowd and becoming ever more entangled. Therefore, in the matter of philosophy, I consider it not very sound to judge a manís opinion by the number of his followers.


I have never understood, Your Excellency, why it is that every one of the studies I have published in order to please or to serve other people has aroused in some men a certain perverse urge to detract, steal, or depreciate that modicum of merit which I thought I had earned, if not for my work, at least for its intention. In my Starry Messenger  there were revealed many new and marvelous discoveries in the heavens that should have gratified all lovers of true science; yet scarcely had it been printed when men sprang up everywhere who envied the praises belonging to the discoveries there revealed. Some, merely to contradict what I had said, did not scruple to cast doubt upon things they had seen with their own eyes again and again....How many men attacked my Letters on Sunspots, and under what disguises! The material contained therein ought to have opened the mind's eye much room for admirable speculation; instead it met with scorn and derision. Many people disbelieved it or failed to appreciate it. Others, not wanting to agree with my ideas, advanced ridiculous and impossible opinions against me; and some, overwhelmed and convinced by my arguments, attempted to rob me of that glory which was mine, pretending not to have seen my writings and trying to represent themselves as the original discoverers of these impressive marvels....
I have said nothing of certain unpublished private discussions, demonstrations, and propositions of mine which have been impugned or called worthless....Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.

Remarks by J. Marvin Herndon

Human nature does not change on a time scale of a few hundred of years. Over a lifetime of experience in science, I have had the same experiences as Galileo, but I doubt I could have expressed them as eloquently. In light of Galileo's remarks, one must seriously question the wisdom of "secret peer-review", which dominates and controls much of modern science activity.

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