4 1. A Baker’s Dozen
of old, modern natural scientists continue to ponder observations, in
attempts to establish correlations between different sets of data.
It never ceases to surprise natural scientists that mathematics has
remained the daily bread and butter of scientists. In a widely quoted
essay, Eugene Wigner, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963,
spoke of “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natu-
ral sciences.” And Albert Einstein, throwing the Pythagorean world
view definitely overboard, asked “How can it be that mathematics,
being after all a product of human thought which is independent of
experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?” For
him, the most incomprehensible aspect about the world was that it
is comprehensible at all.
For mystical numerologists, in comparison, the going was easy.
Everything which appeared to be plausible—and there is a lot that
seems plausible to people of faith or superstition—was deemed le-
gitimate. Where these mystical numerologists fell short was in the
scientific method. They disregarded the necessity to confirm or re-
fute a theory by rigorous experiments.
Galileo (1564–1642) was one of the first natural philosophers who
refused to accept explanations of natural phenomena based merely
on their plausibility, on theological revelations, or on the arguments
of earlier authorities. He demanded that they be proven through
experiments, observations, and rational reasoning. Nature, he wrote,
is a book written in the language of mathematics. Today Galileo’s
approach is considered the only valid road to the understanding of
the world around us, but in the sixteenth century this was definitely
the exception.
One of Galileo’s contemporaries who did accept the necessity of
observations and the prevalence of mathematics, but who neverthe-
less remained caught up in mysticism and astrology, was Johannes
Kepler from Prague. In 1594, then a 23-year-old theology gradu-
ate from the University of Tuebingen, Kepler embarked on his career
as astronomer by investigating the movement of the planets known
at the time: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. His
aim was to bring numerical order to their orbits. To the young Kepler
this was of immense importance since he firmly believed in astrology.
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