A yes man who’s worth knowing

Posted Aug. 18, 2009, at 5:46 p.m.

No people. We all know them. They are everywhere. Maybe you are one of them yourself.

It’s a great temptation to be a “no” person since they seem to be much more powerful than “yes” people. All you have to do to stop progress is say no.

I like yes people a whole lot better. I went to see an exhibit of one of my favorite yes people this past weekend. Of course, I had to go all the way to Philadelphia to do it, but it was worth it.

I’d go again this weekend if I could.

The exhibit was housed in a place named after another renowned yes person. If I had a time traveling machine these two guys are among the 10 people I’d want to meet.

I went to see the Galileo exhibit at the Franklin Institute. That’s right, an exhibit of Galileo’s work and the work of his students on display at the museum named for one of our greatest statesmen and the nation’s most profound thinkers, Benjamin Franklin himself.

Imagine how jazzed Benjamin Franklin would be right now if he knew that one of the only two remaining telescopes fashioned by Galileo’s own hands out of an organ pipe had ventured for the very first time out of Italy and was housed just a couple of hundred yards from the exhibit on Franklin and electricity.

Now, Galileo didn’t invent the telescope. The Dutch Army invented it in 1608. It placed lenses in a pipe and used them to magnify far-off images up to four times their actual size. Imagine how amazing it was in the bow and arrow age to be a warrior who could see something that was a thousand feet away as if it were only 250 feet away. It gave the Dutch an incredible strategic advantage over their opponents.

Galileo caught wind of the technology and believed that he could mathematically determine the correct curvature of the lenses to increase their magnification capabilities. What Galileo could do with the crude grinding tools he had available and correct placement of the lenses certain distances apart was to greatly improve upon the previous maximum of four time magnification. Galileo’s telescope magnified 80 times. Instead of fields of warriors coming into view, the universe became clear.

Galileo ran into a little hot water with the governing powers of his time for what his telescope showed him when he shared these discoveries with the rest of the world. What Galileo learned about the universe, its many suns and the fact that the Earth and man weren’t the center of the cosmos, threatened the established explanation of things and threatened to weaken the power of the ruling class. Lucky for us — although not so good for him — he refused to become one of the no people who refused to learn anything new.

Galileo summed it up himself: “Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.”

Saying no is passing judgment.

And even though saying yes to new ideas, new concepts, and new possibilities cost Galileo his freedom, he refused to judge something untrue if he knew it to be otherwise. For yes people, no price is too high to pay for the truth.

Once Galileo gazed into the universe, studied the sun, and unraveled the mysteries of planetary orbit, he received his reward. Staying true to the truth made Galileo the first man on Earth to see Jupiter’s moons. Ben Franklin would have been pleased; after all, Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge still yields the best re-turns.”

Sadly, the no people are still everywhere and they use lies to perpetuate their inactivity. For contemporary example of “the Earth is the center of the universe” we have “if we have government-sponsored health care death panels will determine who should die.”

Hey, no people, study Galileo. He said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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