Science and instruments: The telescope as a scientific instrument at the beginning of the seventeenth century

Perspectives on Science 9 (3):259-284 (2001)
Abstract
: Scientific observation is determined by the human sensory system, which generally relies on instruments that serve as mediators between the world and the senses. Instruments came in the shape of Heron's Dioptra, Levi Ben Gerson's Cross-staff, Egnatio Danti's Torqvetto Astronomico, Tycho's Quadrant, Galileo's Geometric Military Compass, or Kepler's Ecliptic Instrument. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, it was unclear how an instrument such as the telescope could be employed to acquire new information and expand knowledge about the world. To exploit the telescope as a device for astronomical observations Galileo had to: 1. establish that telescopic images are not optical defects, imperfections in the eye of the observer, or illusions caused by lenses; 2. develop procedures for systematically handling errors that may occur during observation and measurement and methods of processing data. Galileo made it clear that in order to measure and interpret natural phenomena accurately, a suitable method and instrument would need to be developed. It is intriguing, therefore, to regard the Galilean telescope in this light and to discover the linkage established by Galileo among theory, method, and instrument—the telescope. Although the telescope was not invented through science, it is instructive to see how Galileo used optics to employ a theory-laden instrument for bridging the gulf between picture and scientific language, between drawing and reporting physical facts, and between merely sketching the world and actually describing it
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