Saturday, November 10, 2007

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

By Richard E. Noble

If you are looking for wackos to read about in scientific history, you don’t want to pass up Johannes Kepler.
His mother was considered by the neighbors to be a witch. They tried to burn her at the stake at one point. She also sold drugs in Wurtemberg. It didn’t help her case that Johannas was busy writing science fiction; “Somnium” a story about an imagined journey to the moon. In any case, he returned to the village and took up her legal defense. He managed to save her life. She was nevertheless convicted, but offered exile with her promise never to return. If she returned, it was death.
Well, when Johannas got big enough to stop brewing magic potions for mama, he married the little rich girl from down the road. He really liked her. He said that she was “fat, stupid, simple minded, sulking, lonely, and melancholy”. He felt that not only was she stingy and critical, but uncooperative and distant. I wonder if her “uncooperative-ness and distance” had anything to do with the fact that little Johannas didn’t like taking a bath. He only took one bath in his life. It gave him the flu or something, he claimed. If that wasn’t enough to turn off little Barbara Muehleek, his new bride, maybe it was the scabs that he had growing here and there. I really don’t think that the worms that he had growing in his hands and fingers could have really bothered her that much, do you?
About the time of the Thirty Years War he was living in Graz when the Catholics took over and announced that all Protestants had to go. Johannas packed up the wife and kids (wow!) and headed for Prague.
Kepler was really a follower of the Greek mystic, Pythagoras. He believed in the “harmony” of the universe and that the planets sang, or made music. Kepler actually figured out what song they were playing. Saturn corresponded to a major third, Jupiter to a minor third, Mars to a fifth and so on. I think that the actual song they played was “Just Another Love Song”, by the Beatles.
He was also an expert in astrology. He probably picked that up from mom, the witch, along with numerology and palm reading. In any case, he picked up a few extra bucks selling horoscopes to the rich and the stupid when things got tough for Protestants with scabs and worms in their fingers.
Bertrand Russell said that, “Kepler is one of the most notable examples of what can be achieved by patience without much in the way of genius.”
Kepler was offered a job at the castle by the super wealthy Tycho Brahe and had a hell of a time. But finally Tycho died and left Kepler all of his astronomical research. Kepler was appointed to Tycho’s position but at considerably less pay.
Kepler believed that there were men on the moon who had constructed the “craters”. He was interested in what caused the motion of the planets and decided on magnetism as opposed to the ancient “soul” theory. He was ahead of his time in comparing the universe to clockworks. He claimed that geometry was the language of God and devised three rules or laws for the universe. Planets moved in ellipses. They swept out equal areas in equal times. And the squares of their periods (times to complete one orbit) were equal to the cubes of their average distances from the sun. Kepler fans claim that Newton really got his gravity idea from Kepler.