Case in point: The physicist Galileo Galilei may have built one of his most famous theories on a description from Dante’s Inferno. In that epic poem written around 1300, the poet drops from the seventh to the eighth circle of hell, describing a sensation of not knowing whether he was at rest or in motion after losing his visual points of reference.
The passage precisely matches Galileo’s observation that travelers on a ship often can’t tell without visual cues whether they’re stopped or moving. He backed up that observation with experiments to prove his theory of invariance, that changes in velocity don’t alter the laws of physics.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to use one great idea as a stepping stone to another.
— Adapted from “Galileo’s Debt to the Poet,” Rick Weiss, The Washington Post.