Thursday, 1 December 2016

Experimental method’s most famous experiment finally proven experimentally

 

If science built the modern world – specifically, if the scientific attitude towards knowledge built the modern world – and there is much evidence to say that it did -- then it really did all begin with Galileo. Because it was with him that the experimental method really began.

For millennia armchair philosophers had just sat around and debated whether objects of different mass would fall at different rates – whether, when dropped from a height, a pound of lead or a pound of feathers would land first. For centuries, the armchair theorists had sat back and argued and had concluded, in their wisdom, that the lead would fall fastest. And then they sat back and fell again into their dogmatic slumbers.

Bugger that, said Galileo (but he said it in Italian) I’m going out to find out for myself.

And he did.

Dropping cannonballs of different weight from the Tower of Pisa (which fortunately for him was built on a lean) he could prove that no matter their weight, they would all land at the very same time.

Thus were the theorists disproven. And so was born the experimental method.

Except that the feather and the cannonball would still fall at different rates. Air resistance, you see. So despite the clear experimental evidence filled in and confirmed again over several subsequent centuries that mass played no part in the rate at which objects fall to earth, there was still a frustrating lacuna when it came to the feathers …

Until now*:

 

* Well, 2014 actually. But what’s 2 years between historians of the scientific method.

[Hat tip Azizi Hashim]

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1 comment:

  1. There is a Youtube of David Scott, one of the Apollo 15 astronauts, dropping a hammer and a feather on the moon in 1971.

    Kiwi Dave

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