on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei

on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei

on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei

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Standing on the Shoulders of Invisible Giants

Sir Isaac Newton, the famous English scientist, once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Of course, Newton wasn’t literally standing on the shoulders of giants. Newton was explaining that his ideas didn’t come from him alone. He relied on the ideas of those who came before him. When Newton used the word giant, he meant people who were giants in the scientific community. These were the people who, before him, made big contributions to our knowledge. Newton, even though he was a genius himself, knew that he couldn’t have come up with his scientific breakthroughs on his own.

That’s probably not a surprise to you. But what you might not know is that some of those giants came from the Islamic world. And that might be surprising because Newton was a European scientist. The Renaissance—and the Scientific Revolution, which came later—started in Europe, so many assume that’s where all the scientists were. But many of the ideas that developed in Europe during the Scientific Revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were influenced by the work of earlier scholars in the Islamic world and elsewhere.
We often hear about the medieval period as a “dark age,” but that’s not quite accurate.
From the eighth to the thirteenth century, a golden age of culture and scientific thinking flourished in the Islamic world, which stretched from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) to India. Of course, these scholars also stood on the shoulders of giants from Greece, India, and China. Yet despite the giant innovations of Islamic scholars, they have often been left out of the story, making them invisible. So let’s look a little closer at what these “invisible giants” can show us.

This film is one of the Inventors’ Specials, an award-winning series designed to introduce children to great scientists and inventors. The story centers on a fictionalized presentation of the relationship between Galileo and his student, Cosimo de Medici II, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Major events in Galileo’s career are also depicted in the film.

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The movie describes many of the important scientific advances made by Galileo, including the discovery of inertia and that the motion of bodies can be the result of two different forces acting on them simultaneously. Galileo was also the first to observe that bodies of different weight fall to earth at the same speed. He improved the telescope and pioneered its use for astronomical investigation.

on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei
on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei

Collective learning

When Newton spoke of standing on the shoulders of giants, he was talking about collective learning—our species’ unique ability to share, preserve, and build upon knowledge over time. It’s a key part of what makes us human. Our creative abilities depend on learning from the work of others—just like Newton did. You rely on collective learning when you learn by reading a book or listening to your teacher. When you use these ideas in a school project, you make your own contribution to collective learning by sharing your ideas with others. In that way, you become a part of the chain of collective learning.
Sometimes it’s easy to see how collective learning moves from one thinker to another, or one community to another. For example, we know that the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus directly influenced two other famous astronomers: Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler. If we think of Copernicus as a giant, we can say that Galileo and Kepler stood on his shoulders to reach greater heights. And our friend Newton stood on their shoulders to reach even higher. These thinkers lived in different times and places, but we can imagine collective learning as a kind of conversation they had across time and distance. They might never have met, but the transfer of their ideas across time and space allowed science theories to be built, questioned, and refined.

These conversations aren’t exactly easy to spot. Historians of science have to work hard to find the evidence that connects one thinker to another. We know about some of these links because historians pieced together the story from a variety of documents. One of the things that makes this so hard is that these documents are located in different countries and written in different languages. Some are better preserved than others. Collecting and translating is already a big challenge, but then historians must put them together and make arguments. These documents are sometimes incomplete or missing, which makes the job even harder.
on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei
on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei


1999 First Place “Gold Camera Award” from the U.S. International Film and Video Festival; 1998 KIDS FIRST! Endorsement from the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media; 1999 Emmy Awards: Outstanding Sound Mixing; 1999 Emmy Awards Nominations: Outstanding Children’s Special; Outstanding Performance in a Children’s Special; Outstanding Single-Camera Editing; Nominated for two 1999 Golden Sheaf Awards at the Yorktown Short Film & Video Festival; Nominated for the 1999 Banff Rockie Award.

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“Galileo: On the Shoulders of Giants” will acquaint children with Galileo Galilei, his discoveries, and his time. It is chock full of delightfully presented lessons in physics, astronomy, the scientific method, and history.


Tell your child that Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) is regarded by many as the founder of modern science. Before his time, knowledge of the physical world was based on the teachings of religion and the observations and untested theories of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. Galileo insisted on verifying theory with experiments. and He recognized that mathematics was the language through which nature could be explained. also He improved the telescope and turned it to the heavens, which had been previously thought of as the realm of God.

He saw mountains and valleys on the earth’s moon and that Jupiter has its own moons. He saw millions of stars that could not be seen with the naked eye. Galileo’s discoveries include the law of inertia and the law of motion that bodies fall toward the earth at the same rate despite differences in weight. He discovered that the motion of bodies can be the result of two different forces acting upon them.

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on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei
on the shoulders of giants galileo galilei

Tell your child that Galileo’s discoveries thrilled the known world and he was considered a great scientist during his life. However, his discoveries made the Catholic Church very nervous. Galileo was investigated by the Inquisition for heresy several times and finally he was required to recant some of his findings. Because of his stature as a scientist, the Inquisition could not burn him at the stake. He lived the end of his life under house arrest for the crime of trying to describe how nature worked.


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