About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 21, 2013

An Anniversary

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Posted by Derek

I wanted to repost an old entry of mine, from back in 2002 (!) It's appropriate this week, and just as I was in 2002, I'm a couple of days late with the commemeration:

I missed a chance yesterday to note an anniversary. Giordano Bruno was something of a crank, not normally the sort of person I'd be commemorating. But in his time, it didn't take very much to be considered either of those, or worse, and we have to make allowances.

He was headstrong. We can see now that he was sometimes eerily right, other times totally wrong. Either way, many of these strongly held positions were sure sources of trouble for anyone who advocated them. All living things were made up of matter, and that matter was the same across the universe - that one was not going to go over well in the late 16th century.

There was more. The stars, he said, were nothing more than other suns, and our sun was nothing more than a nearby star. He saw no reason why these other suns should not have planets around them, and no reason why those planets should not have life: "Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds."

He went on at length. And as I said, much of it was, by scientific standards, mystical rot. His personality was no help whatsoever in getting his points across. He appears to have eventually gotten on the nerves of everyone he dealt with. But no one deserves to pay what he did for it all.

Bruno was excommunicated and hauled off in chains. He spent the next several years in prison, and was given chances to recant up until the very end. He refused. On February 19th, 1600, he was led into the Campo dei Fiori plaza in Rome, tied to a post, and burned to death in front of a crowd.

Mystic, fool, pain in the neck. I went out tonight to see Saturn disappear behind the dark edge of the moon, putting the telescope out on the driveway and calling my wife out to see. Then I came inside, sat down at my computer, wrote exactly what I thought, and put it out for anyone who wanted to read it around the world. While I did all that, I remembered that things haven't always been this way, haven't been this way for long at all, actually. And resolved to remember to enjoy it all as much as I can, and to remember those who never got to see it.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Who Discovers and Why


1. Vader on February 21, 2013 10:07 AM writes...

People who are ahead of their time do often come across as difficult, headstrong, contrarian, egotistical cranks.

However, one should avoid the fallacy of thinking it follows that becoming a difficult, headstrong, contrarian, egotistical crank will put you ahead of your time.

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2. Anonymous on February 21, 2013 10:16 AM writes...

In the RSS feed (Google Reader in Chrome), your italics always quit at the first paragraph break.

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3. cisko on February 21, 2013 10:19 AM writes...

For our trip to Rome a couple years ago, we stayed quite close to the Campo dei Fiori, with its statue of Bruno, at the spot where he was burned. I love how the statue was positioned to face down the Vatican, and how the Campo is (I believe) the only major Roman piazza that doesn't include a church. I guess we have luxuries that his contemporaries didn't -- of knowing a lot more, of ignoring his mistakes, of overlooking his general cussedness. But I'm OK with indulging in those luxuries and commemorating Bruno for his insight and open-mindedness.

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4. Curious Wavefunction on February 21, 2013 10:57 AM writes...

It's interesting that more than three hundred years later in the same Campo dei Fiori, fifteen-year-old Enrico Fermi who had just lost his brother and who was looking for something to distract him from his sorrow, found a pair of physics textbooks written by a Jesuit priest.

The volumes introduced him to the world of physics and placed him on his ordained trajectory. Fermi was so engrossed by the textbooks that he didn't even notice they were written in Latin.

The site of one martyr's tragic death partially redeemed itself by launching the career of another famous son of Italy.

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5. darwin on February 21, 2013 6:08 PM writes...

I would have folded after the first skimpy meal.

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6. Sam Adams The Dog on February 21, 2013 10:11 PM writes...

Have you read Frances Yates's book, "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition"? To quote the Wikipedia article on Yates, "Yates suggested that the itinerant Catholic priest Giordano Bruno was executed in 1600 for espousing the Hermetic tradition rather than his affirmation of cosmic acentricity." (I think "cosmic acentrcity" means that the earth is not the center of the universe.)

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