Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler: Redefining Our Place in the Universe

Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Commemorating the 400th anniversary of modern astronomy and Galileo’s first use of the telescope in 1609.

For centuries, religious belief and philosophical reasoning had placed man and his earthly home at the center of the universe. Changing that deep-seated and psychologically compelling conviction took courage, persistence, and a dedication to new methods of scientific observation and measurement on the part of three provincial scholars from Toruń in Poland, Pisa in Italy, and Weil der Stadt in Germany. It also took more than 150 years of controversy and confrontation spanning most of the 16th and 17th centuries, from Copernicus’ life work first published as De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543 to Newton’s Principia in 1687. Those years of controversy succeeded beyond belief, leading to today’s astronomical shifts in understanding an expanding universe that may contain millions of life-supporting planets in our galaxy alone.

Moderator: Alexander Zwissler
Executive Director, Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland

Humanities West Board Fellow Dimitrios Latsis has archived selected program materials, including audio of lectures and performances if available, at the non-profit Internet Archive here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

8:00 pm until 10:15 pm

Introduction: 25th Anniversary Season (Patricia Lundberg) and Moderator Alexander Zwissler’s Overview of the Program

Keynote Address: The Copernican Revolution.
Roger Hahn (History, UC Berkeley).

Nothing was so bizarre and more contradictory to evidence in 16th century Christian Europe than removing man and the earth from its central position in the cosmos. Yet this was the revolution in thought that Copernicus initiated. How it happened and why it took another century and a half to be fully absorbed in Newton’s era is the amazing story to be told. The twists and turns will take us from Copernicus’ Poland to an island observatory in the Danish Sound where Tycho Brahe compiled data Kepler tested out to establish the elliptical orbits of planets; to Northern Italy where Galileo created a furor with Catholic authorities; and to Cambridge University where the reclusive Newton set forth the forces that held the new solar system together.

The Music of the Spheres.
Kip Cranna
 (San Francisco Opera) discusses why star-gazers from Pythagoras to Kepler believed that mathematical laws producing musical harmony on earth also determine the movements of heavenly bodies, creating a universe ordered by a kind of celestial harmony.

The Star Dances.
Kathryn Roszak’s Danse Lumiere
. Introduced by Bethany Cobb (UC Berkeley).
An original choreography inspired by Kepler’s “Music of the Spheres.” The dances take inspiration from the latest star/planet mapping by astronomers at UC Berkeley. Music includes Holst’s “The Planets” for two pianos.


Redefining Our Place in the UniverseThe Star Dances [Danse Lumiere]. Premier Performance: Choreography by Kathryn Roszak. A commissioned dance premiering at HW, with Hally Bellah-GutherRita Dantas ScottDamon MahoneyLissa Resnick. The Star Dances take inspiration from Kepler’s “Music of the Spheres” and star/planet mapping by UC Berkeley astronomers. The elegant simplicity of Satie’s music creates an atmosphere for two and then three female dancers as the Three Graces, who echo the harmony of the spheres. Holst’s energetic two-piano version of “The Planets” provides a striking score for the more volatile activity of the stars. Computer models of colliding galaxies, unfolding anemones in space, provide inspiration for a duet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

10:00 am until noon & 1:30 until 4:00 pm

Recap of Friday and Introduction of Saturday Program (Patricia Lundberg)

Galileo and the Telescope: The Instrument That Changed Astronomy.
Paula Findlen
 (History, Stanford University).
In 1609 an Italian mathematics professor, Galileo Galilei, devised a telescope based on reports of a spyglass that could magnify things at a distance. He turned it on the heavens and saw things no one had ever seen before: the imperfections of the moon’s surface, the composition of the Milky Way, and the hitherto unknown satellites of Jupiter. Galileo’s report of these discoveries, the Sidereal Messenger (1610), became a landmark publication in the history of astronomy and made him one of the most important and ultimately controversial astronomers of his time. How did Galileo and his instrument change astronomy? What is the significance of his accomplishment at the distance of 400 years?

Galileo Meets Darwin: The Search for Life in the Universe.
Geoff Marcy
 (Astronomy, UC Berkeley).
Science fiction assumes that our Milky Way Galaxy abounds with habitable planets populated by advanced civilizations engaged in interstellar commerce and conflict. Even Kepler wrote a science-fiction work about travelling in the solar system. Back in our real universe, Earth-like planets and alien life have proved elusive. Has science fiction led us astray? This year, astronomers launched the first searches for Earth-like worlds around other stars, using bizarre, extreme telescopes for the task. For the first time, these telescopes have fundamentally superseded Galileo’s historic little scope. A wild race for signs of inhabited worlds and extraterrestrial life is about to begin.

Performance: Copernicus Comments on Modern Astronomical Ideas

George Hammond (SF Attorney and Author) impersonates Copernicus, wryly commenting on the “hot ideas” of 21st Century cosmology, dismissing those that look like “yet another epicycle dead end” and passionately predicting those that will lead to the next Copernican Revolution.

Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe.
Alex Filippenko
 (Astronomy, UC Berkeley). Observations of very distant exploding stars (supernovae) show that the expansion of the Universe is now speeding up, rather than slowing down as would be expected due to gravity. Other, completely independent data strongly support this amazing conclusion. Over the largest distances, our Universe seems to be dominated by a repulsive “dark energy,” stretching the very fabric of space itself faster and faster with time. The physical nature of dark energy is often considered to be the most important unsolved problem in physics; it probably provides clues to a unified quantum theory of gravity.

Panel Discussion with all presenters and written questions from the audience


Clifford (Kip) Cranna is Director of Musical Administration at San Francisco Opera, where he has been on the staff since 1979. He has served as vocal adjudicator for numerous groups including the Metropolitan Opera National Council. He holds a BA in choral conducting from the University of North Dakota and a PhD in musicology from Stanford University. For many years he was Program Editor and Lecturer for the Carmel Bach Festival. He lectures and writes frequently on music and teaches at the SF Conservatory of Music. He hosts the Opera Guild’s “Insight” panels and intermission features for the SF Opera radio broadcasts, and has been a Music Study Leader for Smithsonian Tours. He was named 2006 “Man of the Year” by Il Cenacolo, a SF men’s Italian cultural organization. In 2008 he was awarded the SF Opera Medal, the company’s highest honor.

Alex Filippenko received his PhD in Astronomy from Caltech in 1984 and joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1986, where he is a leading authority on exploding stars, active galaxies, black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and cosmology. He has coauthored nearly 600 scientific publications, is one of the world’s most highly cited astronomers, and has won numerous prizes for his research, most recently the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize. He was the only person to be a member of both teams that discovered the accelerating expansion of the Universe, which was selected as the “Top Science Breakthrough of 1998” by the editors of Science. He has won the highest teaching awards at UC Berkeley, where students have voted him the “Best Professor” on campus six times. In 2006, he was named the Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year among doctoral institutions. The recipient of the 2004 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, he has appeared in numerous television documentaries, produced four astronomy video courses, and coauthored an award-winning textbook.

Paula Findlen is Professor and Chair of History; Co-Director of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies; Co-Director of the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Program; all at Stanford University. Her interest lies in understanding the world of the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Italy. She is “fascinated by a society that made politics, economics and culture so important to its self-definition, and that obviously succeeded in all these endeavors for some time, as the legacy of such figures as Machiavelli and Leonardo suggests. Renaissance Italy, in short, is a historical laboratory for understanding the possibilities and the problems of an innovative society.” Some publications include “Historical Thought in the Renaissance,” in Companion to Historical Thought, ed. Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza (Blackwell, 2002); “Building the House of Knowledge: The Structures of Thought in Late Renaissance Europe,” in Tore Frangsmyr, ed.,The Structure of Knowledge: Classifications of Science and Learning since the Renaissance (Berkeley, 2001); (ed.) The Italian Renaissance: Essential Readings (Blackwell, 2002). “Men, Moments and Machines” special on the History Channel: “Galileo and the Sinful Spyglass.”

Roger Hahn is an emeritus professor of Graduate Studies in the History Department at UC Berkeley, where he has taught history of science to hundreds of students for over 45 years. At Berkeley he was Director of the Office for History of Science and Technology and has published widely on related cultural and scientific issues. He is the author of a biography of the mathematician and astronomer Laplace.Currently he is Vice-President of the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences. He was educated at Harvard University (AB and MAT), Cornell University (PhD), and at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. Roger and his wife have been long time supporters of Humanities West, and he has been Moderator as well as presenter for a number of Humanities West programs.

George Hammond is known to Humanities West audiences for his previous presentations on Mark Twain in 2005, Plato in 2006 as part of the Sicily seminar, and Pythagoras in 2008. George is a San Francisco corporate attorney who specializes in international mergers and acquisitions. He is also the author of four novels, a collection of short stories and six philosophical books on issues in rational idealism, theoretical physics, Plato’s theory, early Christianity, the Soviet Union, psychology and constitutional law. His indebtedness to Pythagorean thought is pithily expressed in the name of his website:

Geoffrey W. Marcy is a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley and an adjunct professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University. He is also the director of Berkeley’s “Center for Integrative Planetary Science,” a research unit that studies the formation, geophysics, chemistry and evolution of planets. Marcy’s research focuses on the detection of extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs. His team discovered the majority of the 350 known planets around other stars, including the first multiple-planet system, the first Saturn-mass planets, and the first Neptune-mass planet. His goal is to discover the first earth-like planets and to find other planetary systems like our own solar system. Marcy is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Shaw Prize in 2005, Discovery Magazine’s Space Scientist of the Year in 2003, the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, the Carl Sagan Award, the Beatrice Tinsley Prize, and the Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kathryn Roszak is Artistic Director, Danse Lumiere. She previously created choreography to music based on star maps at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Danse Lumiere (formerly Anima Mundi) was founded in 1995 and creates dance theater linking the arts, environment, and humanity. The company has collaborated with visual artists, composers, scientists, and writers. Recent productions have included writers Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael McClure, and Gary Snyder. The company has won many grants and awards, including from Laurance S. Rockefeller, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, Fleischhacker Foundation, Guzik Foundation, and Zellerbach Family Foundation. Danse Lumiere has been presented locally at Theater Artaud, Grace Cathedral, Cowell Theater, University of San Francisco, Yoshi’s Jazz House, Asian Art Museum, and in New York by La MaMa Theater. The company’s collaboration with mathematicians was presented by Copenhagen Cultural Festival in Denmark. The company was also invited to perform at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and at Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Kathryn Roszak trained on Ford Foundation Scholarships at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York and at the SF Ballet School. She received her theater training with the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and with American Conservatory Theater’s MFA Program. She danced with the SF Opera Ballet and has choreographed and taught for the SF Opera Center and ACT. Her original choreography has won awards from the Carlisle Choreography Project and from the Djerassi Resident Artists’ Program. She writes on dance for Theater Bay Area Magazine and teaches for the Lines Ballet/Dominican University BFA in Dance Program and for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley.

Alexander Zwissler is Executive Director/ CEO of the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland California ( The Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is an interactive Science Center whose mission is to inspire and educate students of all ages about the Planet Earth and the Universe. Prior to Chabot, Zwissler was Executive Director of the Fort Mason Foundation in San Francisco from 1999 to 2006. Earlier, Zwissler had a 17-year career in the cable television and telecommunications industry. He was a Director of ComTel, the United Kingdom’s fourth largest cable television and Telephone Company, with responsibility for Internet products, interactive services and digital television. Previous positions include General Manager of Oxford Cable Ltd., Oxford, England, President of Ventura County Cablevision, President of Las Cruces TV Cable, and President of Concord TV Cable. The American companies were all divisions of Western Communications, the Cable Television arm of the SF Chronicle Publishing Company. Zwissler was born in Stuttgart Germany, moved to California with his family, and was raised in Oakland. There he attended public schools before earning a BA in Political Science, with Honors, at UC Berkeley. After graduating, Zwissler was a Postgraduate Research Fellow at the Centre for Mass Communication Research at the University of Leicester, England, conducting research on the development of international satellite broadcasting. Zwissler serves currently on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Market Street Railway, Tau Kappa Epsilon at UC Berkeley, and the Non Profit Centers Network.  Zwissler has also served on the Boards of the Oxfordshire Foundation, the Conejo Future Foundation, the SF Business Arts Council, the National Park Service Friends Alliance and the American Southwest Theatre Company.