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Week 4--Science's Stories

Anne Dalke's picture
Our reading this week is a play (a story? a folk tale?) about science (a story? a folk tale?), Bertold Brecht's Galileo. One interesting way to think of the reading is that it is one person's (Brecht's) story of another person's (Galileo's) creation of a new story ("the earth goes around the sun") to replace an older story ("the sun goes around the earth"). Which story most intrigues you and why? Other reactions to the play? and/or thoughts about what is similar/different about memoirs/folk tales/reflections on folk tales/science?
ashaffer's picture

Going back and reflecting

After all the discussions we've had that alluded to Galileo, I'm not sure whether I like him or not. I mean, in some ways he was just trying to convince people to consider a new version of the story of the cosmos, but the book we read made him seem like he was doing it with more of a motivation to be a pain-in-the-butt than to teach people. He also seemed a bit pompous like "I know how things really are, and you little people are just trapped in your ignorance." I think a better approach when you feel like you have a new idea to be considered is to genuinely try to educate people and help them learn (so they can better themselves). But, as I commented earlier, this is just one interpretation of how he might have been.
ErinDoppelheuer's picture

I personally like the story

I personally like the story that the earth goes around the sun because it makes the most logical sense and that is the idea that we as humans have lived with for the past 400 years.  If a new astronomer were to tell us that Galileo was wrong and that the sun really does revovle around the earth, people would be terrified because we are always scared of not knowing and of change.  I also like the idea that the earth goes around the sun because it makes the most astronomical sense.  The only other way to describe this phenomena was by epicylces, but Galileo knew better than to beleive epicyles.  Lastly I also beleive that Galileo's statement that the earth goes around the sun is true because it has been proved; over and over and over again.  If it were wrong, someone who have stood up a long time ago and changed it.  

There were certain parts of the book that made me think and were very interesting and one of them was when Galileo told a man to lok through his telescope and challenge him to deny what he saw.  Yet the man still did not fully beleive him even though the proof was right there in front of him.  Another thing that I found interesting that I didn't know about Galileo was that he actually stole the idea of the telescope.  I thought that he had actually come up with the idea, but really he only came up with the idea to point it towards the sky.  After reading this part of the story, Galileo seemed like a theif and a bit pathetic in a sense because he had to steal that idea in order to make him self money and it was off that idea that was someone elses that made him into an even better astronomer, because now he could see the sky in a whole new way.

akerle's picture

7 Basic Plots

Just thought this might be relevant:

(copy and paste it into the browser...sadly I cannot make it into a hyperlink)

akerle's picture

Class Summary

My fellow summariser is far more organized than I am and has managed to get this summary onto the forum before me. Most of what she has said is what I too had written down- but there were a couple of points that were discussed during our tuesday and thursday sessions that I will add.

On Tuesday, as Danielle said, we discussed the pros and cons of literary analysis. The debate was a lively one but many seemed to agree on the fact that in order to enjoy a piece of writing the reader had to impart both her own meaning to the text and find meaning that was already there.

It was also decided that there was a distinct difference between analysing literature for ones self and for others and that one would enhance the emotional understanding of the experience but the other might ruin it.

Thursdays class, as Danielle mentioned, initially revolved around our responses to the play 'Galileo'. Most students appreciated the fact that the play showed a more 'human' portrayal of the great scientist. The class then began to discuss the role of the church in the play- and indeed the role of any body which restricts free thought.

Some students believed that the church still had a great deal of control today- although in a more subtle way- through the relgious and conservative nature of the government. This affects what students are taught in schools and what kinds of scientific research are allowed and not allowed to happen. This of course led to the discussion on Paedophelia- wether all kinds of scientific observation should be possible.

Professor Grobstein ended our class with a few questions for us to ponder- what causes stories to change? Why is a story better or worse than another story? Is everything we do and everything we believe in simply a variation of one story?  

Anne Dalke's picture

"knowledge is only won through doubt"

During our discussion on Thursday, I'd mentioned to my section that the Wilma theater had put on a production of The Life of Galileo in Center city last spring, and that Paul had moderated a panel discussion during the run, entitled "Knowledge is Only Won Through Doubt." In case some of you want to learn more about that version of this story? folk tale? play? see some more opening thoughts and following...

The Wilma is currently mounting a production of Amadeus, and the forum Serendip is hosting about that play also asks a number of questions about the dramatic representation of truth that seem to me quite related to our current class discussions.

Danielle P's picture

SUMMARY TIME! Get psyched!

Tuesday's class discussion revolved around our fairytale analysis assignments that were due that day.  Members of the class took turns sharing opinions and difficulties that each had had with completing the aforementioned assignment.  After more discussion, the class and Prof. Grobstein concluded that there were four categories associated with the assignment:

1.  People who discovered new things about their fairytale through their own analysis

2.  People who chose not to "mess with" the original idea by over analyzing

3.  People who knew from the beginning what elements they included within the story and were going to analyze

4.  people digging for depth that wasn't actually there -  a.k.a. Made some stuff up

The discussion ran on for the entire span of the class, and we talked about pros/cons of literary analysis and whether true meaning from the text was to be derived from the reader's imagination or from the author's original intent.  In conclusion, Prof. Grobstein remarked that "writing is a way to discover new ways of thinking for yourself."


On Thursday we discussed our forum responses about Galileo.  There were many who remarked on the human side of Galileo portrayed by the play.  Others talked about the notion of theories actually being stories, which in turn led to a huge discussion about the nature of the universe itself.  later on, the discussion veered on to the subject of restriction in certain studies.  Pedophilia was used as an interesting (and disturbing) example and the class was somewhat divided over whether one could truly study any subject without crossing some boundary.  As the class ended, Prof. Grobstein left us with a few topics to think about.  First, Why do stories change?  Second, what were Galileo's motivations in making his discoveries.  Lastly, the idea of a story, within a story, within a story. 

Audra's picture

Taylor B Summary

Now, where did the class get this week? It is difficult to make any concrete conclusions, as we spent much of our class time sharing different opinions. On Tuesday, we expressed a variety of reactions to our assignment to analyze our own fairytales and agreed that each re-telling of our personal story functioned differently and presented different challenges. We also analyzed a couple of the class’s analytical papers, which prompted myriad reactions as we each read the two explicated fairytales differently. On Thursday, we discussed the pros and cons of using personal experiences as evidence, particularly with respect to some of science’s stories that modern educated society generally accepts: the earth is round, it revolves around the sun, evolution exists, etc. We then discussed Brecht’s re-telling of Galileo’s story, using the text and the leftover thoughts from our fairytales unit to supplement our arguments.

A few themes and ways of thinking highlight our progress from last week. We applied our knowledge and opinions of fairytales to interpreting a text from our new unit on science’s stories. The very personal approach that my peer highlighted in last week’s summary was pivotal to Tuesday’s conversation, but we shifted to a somewhat more evidence-based approach on Thursday. Finally, we ended the week with a classmate’s idea, supported fully by this week’s diverse discussions: “the truth is fluid.”

ashaffer's picture

Interesting Characterization

I find the story fascinating in the way that it infuses these historical characters with unique personalities (like a historical fiction). Who knows whether or not these people really said these same sort of things in the same way that the book describes them?- It's believable from the reader's standpoint, and that's enough. I don't even know if the author is trying to say "here is what these people were like" as much as "here is the story, here is a type of person that may have done this, that, etc./reacted in this way"

BTW, for my class: the terms are "exegesis and isogesis" and they mean

exegesis: to lead meaning out from the text

isogesis: to read into/put meaning into the text

(they are most commonly used to describe the interpretations of religious works, etc, but I think they are still applicable and useful in our various discussions of story telling/reading)


Paul Grobstein's picture

Galileo: a context

See Trying it Out for some connections/links to other things. And Science as Process for ways of thinking/links on science in general.
Audra's picture

More Stories

The story I found most interesting was the story I was expecting and how it differed from the story that Brecht actually told. The beginning of the play portrays Galileo as a vivacious, insatiably curious scientist and teacher; he had positive attributes by today's standards. Thus, I thought the play would present Galileo as a hero, bravely facing the powerful, corrupt church in the name of science. However, as the play progressed, it revealed more of his "ickiness": he sold someone else's invention to make money, and he sacrificed his daughter's happiness and marriage when he thought it was safe for him to begin talking about astronomy again. Ultimately, he gives in to the church because he values his own comfort over his work's potential revolutionary consequences. I think Andrea represents my views well: he kept trying to make Galileo a hero character when he wasn't in Scene 13. I believe that this story functions as a commentary on society's inclination toward hero-izing certain historical figures and glossing over thier less desireable traits. This in turn reminds me of the fairytales we just finished studying, as this polarization mirrors the simplification in the characters in fairytales.

anonstudent01's picture


I enjoyed Brecht's "tale" of Galileo and preferred it to the story of Galileo rewriting a story of science. I have heard the second story before and knew the important historical facts of Galileo's discovery and battle with the church, however Brecht gave me a fresh way of considering Galileo as a human being and not just a famous name.
 This is a work of fiction and we have established that everything is a story, but whether or not this is the true story of Galileo doesn't matter. Everything spoken or written, whether it be a play, non-fiction or fiction, is a story and I appreciate Brecht's interpretation of the life and work of Galileo. It was also interesting to see Galileo's family life, I rarely consider the home life that supported the great thinkers of history and I suppose that Galileo was an ordinary human when it came to domestic life, selfishness and expectations for those around him. His life and decisions were not entirely about science; it was kind of a shock to think that he had other motives for giving in to the church and thought very little for Virginia or his colleagues. 
The most charismatic character for me was Andrea, and the final conversation really illustrates the unwavering presence of basic human wishes and motives in every person. 
Brecht's play is a story, Galileo's scientific conclusions were effectively stories themselves, and I am writing a story now to communicate my feelings about both. 
Riki's picture

A few parts of this play

A few parts of this play stuck with me. I liked when Galileo told a man to look through his telescope and challenge him to deny what he saw. People are so keen to believe what they are comfortable with, when the truth is right in front of them, clearly presenting itself. Another part I liked (merely because I had never thought about it before) is when he said that if we were to stand on the moon and look at the earth, it wouldn't necessarily be a complete sphere. Rather, it could be a sliver or half of the earth, just as the moon isn't constantly a full moon. That's really neither here nor there, I just found it interesting.
akeefe's picture

Blood-spattered Whores

This is not the story of Arthur or Agamemnon, or some other tragic hero. This is the story of a man, for all of his faults and failures, a man. We cannot expect all those we read about and admire to graciously fall on a sword and bid farewell to everything on the account of noble aspirations, sometimes they just don’t get things done. Creation, both scientific and creative, is a deeply personal and selfish action. Galileo is not a martyr, but perhaps Brecht reevaluates what one could be, the common man’s tragedy among the stars. Andrea, whom I felt drawn to over the course of the play, had one particular fault. To him, we may only have one story. Galileo is villain or a hero. The universe is ruled by God or Physics. We are rational or blind. Is it not fair to say that you or I may produce any number of stories? That these stories will expose us and our world in any number of ways, and that the only true way of being “wrong” is failing to make the consideration of new truth, never revising, but living on convention. Perhaps this web of wisdom allows for stories to coexist, overlap, untie, unravel, and weave anew. Perhaps I am wrong …

Allison Fink's picture

Thrown from our high horse of security

      It captures my imagination to think about the implications of the discovery that the universe does not revolve around the world of humans. It’s far out to think that we’re smaller than we think we are, and that our whole system of order is not really how God sees things. It was all a construct of our minds. This leads to questions of morality. In religion, people think that it is good to suffer and that they need to have some authority above them to tell them what to do. They feel they literally need this, or they will go astray. They feel that it is what God intended. But maybe not, in Galileo’s universe.

There were some stirring quotations by Galileo that fly in the face of our sense of security in knowledge, like when he was talking about the sailors who didn’t have “the advantages of a classical education but are not afraid to use their eyes. I tell you that our dockyards are stirring with that same high curiosity which was the true glory of ancient Greece.” (Brecht 69) It may be hard to see our world as this way now, but Galileo’s world shows how stuffy and unthinking people allow themselves to be. The old monk on page 73 is literally is collapsing under the weight of his religious beliefs that define him. And it’s also true when it comes to academia. In the play, they swore by the words of Aristotle, for example, just as they would the Bible; he was an Authority Figure. A classical education, in which you read books in order merely to gather knowledge, seems to me to be superficial. It’s kind of troubling to think that you think you are learning all this knowledge, but it is really just things other people have said; you are gathering ideas, but if you are separated from the textbook, you get disoriented and totally lost, because you can’t think for yourself, and you can’t apply it in everyday life; you have actually become conditioned not to think for yourself, and feel that you can’t. Whereas, if you use your senses like the sailors, you can learn things others with all their conditioned education will miss.    

Hilary McGowan's picture

Galileo: Big man in the stars

Galileo has always been a fixture in modern day culture. Maybe not as prevalent as say, Einstein (who's name has become adjective), but quite as important. Hidden beneath layers of scholarly texts, good natured romance films, and confusion lies a man. A real person, not just a figment of our imagination that represents discovery and learning.

I feel that this play finally get's it, the Galileo who we all know, with a large dose of reality included. It's refreshing to finally read a play that is what is. The dialogue is sharp and realistic. The chronological oder of his most prevelent experiences and the surrounding world add to the play as well. The characters may appear one dimensional on the surface, but most people do at first too!

calypsse's picture

beat the truth out of a man...

first, I will begin by saying that Galileo has been one of my heroes since I was little. I personally hold a reticent position when it comes to religion, and Christianism in specific. Galileo represents to me the best example of how religion cares little for knowledge. Often ignorance is the religion's best ally, and there is great commfort in ignorance because you can't not be troubled by you do not know.

there are many beatiful frases along the play, some historical, other romanticized by Brecht, I loved the parallel stories of Brecht and Galileo, the pain of silence and the reward of it. It takes courage to speak up, but silence can be a virtue as well. You may even be forced to remain silent but that does not mean you have ceased to have your own opinion.

It's amazing how universal Galileo's story can be. Brecht related this story to his time and place, a time of political uncertainty (never-ending) and drastic change. The same can be said about Galileo's time. Change is constant, ironically permanent.

BriBell's picture

  For me, one of the


For me, one of the most interesting elements of this play is the way the church is so determined to hold to their traditional beliefs. Mainly what interested me was the fact that the church felt that Earth was the center of the universe and that if it was proven not to be, the whole structure of society would break down. I feel like this was a very self-centered way of thinking on the side of the church. For instance, at one point the little monk (when he was still first sceptical) said that it would be so terrible for the less fortunate people to realize that they are simply meaningless little creatures wondering around on a worthless star. Other members of the church then go on to confirm similar beliefs that, once the people believed they were not there for a divine purpose, all of the social structure would collapse, because people would no longer feel the need to be moral and/or work hard/go through the suffering they currently believed they were enduring for the sake of the heavens.

I see this extreme self-centeredness of the church autorities to be a sort of commentary on how the church was at the time - very much focused on control of social structures and a very narrow minded view of the world. To me, the idea that the earth revolves around the sun does not make me feel any more insignificant as does the idea the sun revolves around the earth. (Surely, this is also due to the time I have grown up in and the fact that I have always known that the sun is actually the center -- it never really occurred to me what it might mean if the earth was the center.) Still, the church refuses to seek other answers or even compromises (for instance, what if this discovery does not disprove God, simply changes the understanding of his ultimate plan?).

I disagree with the first poster who says Galileo was self-involved. He was concerned with the pursuit of truth. In a way, it may be considered a bit self-involved considering the fact that he refused to give up his argument even when his daughter's husband threatened to leave her (which in my opinion, made that guy unworthy anyway), but he only gave up the public fight in the face of death, which can be seen as only human. Even so, he did not give up his pursuit and even managed to get his work out into the world through Andrea. I think he was thinking of science more than just himself.

merry2e's picture

the importance of truth

my truth...our mind keeps drifting to how important it is for the individual to recognize and acknowledge her own truth for what it is at that moment...knowing my truth is fluid and changeable.

what is is important is that i seek to understand...not to fear what is deep within and to allow what i know to be shared with others, not fearing, accepting others and their truths, their understandings.

i found galileo fascinating. the newer vs. older story...once again, the truth is fluid. 



Hyperpuffball's picture

Harking Back to Anne Sexton

I greatly enjoyed the stanzas preceding each scene. These poems, or perhaps poem, both summarized the scene as well as added to the story. The poems reminded me of Anne Sexton's Transformations in that they give a more condensed view of the story and offer insights into the issues that are presented in each scene.

I'm especially curious about how these poems are used in an actual production of the play. Are they read aloud before the curtain opens? Are they written down and displayed before the scene, mimicing the quotes that are lowered at the end of some scenes? There are no real instructions given on how to incorporate the poems, if they are meant to be incorporated at all.

I find the poem(s) incredibly riveting based simply upon their mysterious nature and the questions surrounding their use.

jforde's picture

Galileo and history

This was one of my favorite readings for this/possibly my favorite so far. I initially thought that I would learn about science when in fact I learned more about history. I did not know how close therelationship between scholars and the Catholic church was. Bellarmin describes science as "the legitimate and beloved daughter of the church." It was interesting to see how philosophers and mathematicians shyed away from any scientific breakthroughs that went against the Catholic church when they themselves were scholars. In addition, I learned about the divide and rivalry between regions in Italy for power. This tension began in the play when Matti told Galileo that he should work in Florence.

I also noticed how the curators and royalty were more focused on war machines than scientific inventions during this era. This explains why Italy was a a super power.

Madi's picture

The part of this story that

The part of this story that really intrigued me was the Church's view that the sun goes around the Earth. Those who clung to that theory over Galileo's theory had specific reasons for doing so. They wanted very badly to believe that there was an order to the world, that God had a plan for them, that we all have a part to play. The peasants, for instance, needed to believe that there was a reason that they had to work so hard for so little while the rich reaped the benefits. The rich wanted to keep that ordained power over the peasants. Galileo's theory threatened that power. As the Ballad Singer says, "People must keep their place, some down and some on top!"
redmink's picture

I hated Galileo, but now...

Back in my high school days, my World History teacher assigned a group of students to make a play on Galileo's trial and made them act out during class. Reading this book, Galileo, I was reminded of my World History class. It was good to read the actual play.

I liked the last conversation between Galileo and Andrea. When I first encountered Galileo's trial through my friends' acting, I thought Galileo's recantation was the end. So, I had been very disappointed at Galileo before I read this book. However, it was fascinating to hear a different ending in which Galileo hands over all his books and discoveries to Andrea to secretly spread out the truth. I very liked Galileo's professionalism in that scene. My view on Galileo as a chicken with no gut has been changed to a great scientist who abides by the Truth. I feel great!


Danielle P's picture

Galileo's story is one that

Galileo's story is one that makes you think about the reasons people believe in what they do.  To people who live in today's era, it seems ludicrous to even consider that the sun goes around the earth.  What I find fascinating however, is that many, many years from now, won't people be making fun of "facts" that we discover in today's era?  Perhaps we'll find out that the sun actually revolves around something else, or that there is a whole colony of intelligent squid creatures living in the pacific ocean. 

A main characteristic of stories is that they are constantly changing and evolving as people often change and evolve.  Thus, people need to keep an open mind and realize that what may be true today might not be true in years to come.

Catrina Mueller's picture

The story that the Earth

The story that the Earth goes around the sun confuses me. I believe this story to be true, but what brought about the line of thought that the sun doesn't go around the Earth? For all I can tell, the sun does go around the Earth. I know that there are logical reasons that the sun doesn't rotate around the Earth, but the only ones I can think of all use modern technology. How would one prove this story without modern technology?

What really made me think the most was Galileo's character. He was so convinced that his story that the Earth goes around the sun was true that he stood against the church. When he was brought before the authorities, however, he broke. This kind of reminds me of the main character in the book 1984. Both the main character of that book and Galileo break and conform to "the man" quickly (or at least more quickly than I think that they should have). I wonder what the breaking of Galileo has to do with everything that was happening around the time it was written. Obviously there was a lot of stuff going on in that period, but why was Galileo, who clearly believed he was right, written to break so easily?

Allyson's picture

My thoughts about this

My thoughts about this play while Professor Grobstein described the historical context reminded me greatly of Miller's "The Crucible." The power of allegory is so considerable as it is, but when it is paired with historical events, such as Galileo's discoveries/persecution and the Salem witch trials, it becomes something that I consider practically omnipotent. Reading works like these makes one take a step back and consider the story itself, the historical context, and even current events with an interesting new perspective.  So, I quite appreciate the notion of "a story of a story of a story." 

akerle's picture

Truth is greater than fiction

This play brings me back to a discussion I had with my mother over dinner one night. We were debating religion- which is always a dangerous topic. My mother is what I like to call a 'liberal bigot'. She really, really dislikes religion. After our discussion I could see why. She said that she will not believe in something unless there has been proof- she sees no reason in trying to understand the impossible because EVERYTHING has an explanation- we just haven't gotten all the answers yet.

In class yesterday Paul asked us why we believed in Galileo's new story- rather than the old one. I know why I do. Galileo's theory has been PROVED- more than once, more than twice, as much as any theory can be. It will always be impossible for us to know the whole truth but we should never be blinded by fiction and by faith. Faith in the impossible does not mean it will happen. It merely means that we loose sight of the countless truths that stare us in the face. Faith is manipulated by those in power because humans are amazing at self denial.

Many argue that scientific discovery ruins the random beauty of the human experience. However, just because there is no ghost in the machine does not mean that the machine is any less spectacular. Galileo may not have seen 'celestial bodies bathed in the light of god' but the glimpse of the universe he had was more incredible, more wonderful because it is REAL. Or at least as real as anything can be...(but thats a whole other philosophical dilemna).

carterian's picture

What most intrigued me about

What most intrigued me about the story of Galileo was that of his daughter Virgina. She is certainly a side character, which i think reflects who she is in many ways. She almost puts her whole life to the side, and follows her father. Initially, it seems to me that she whole-heartedly believes in her father's work blindingly (perhaps this is mirroring her father's loss of sight later in the book, and then she becomes his eyes, whereas the beginning she is blind to what he is doing and he is more conscious of his work). But, Galileo basically ruins her chances of happiness, im not really blaming him, but if it were me, I would leave my father to go an be happy with a man i love. Not only this, but towards the end of the book, she doesn't even seem to agree with him anymore. she has lost faith in her father. she prayed for him to give in to the church's wants. It's a waste to spend the rest of your life following someone you have no faith in.

also, the way galileo was portrayed in this play makes him seem to be completely and totally self-involved. he was constantly thinking of himself, not of his daughter, or of his colleagues. his conversation with andrea at the end shows this. Andrea basically gives him the benefit of the doubt, but galileo admits to his purpose for giving in to the church were for purely selfish reasons and was not part of an elaborate plan.

it's definitely an interesting play that showed a different side to a person that has been revered throughout history.