“Galileo’s famous metaphor of the “book of nature”, which he used to defend the work of scientists from religious authorities, can be dangerous today.”
Robert P Crease in PhysicsWeb:
In 1623 Galileo crafted a famous metaphor that is still often cited by scientists. Nature, he wrote, is a book written in “the language of mathematics”. If we cannot understand that language, we will be doomed to wander about as if “in a dark labyrinth”.
Like other metaphors, this one has two facets; it is insightful, but it may be misleading if taken literally. It captures our sense that nature’s truths are somehow imposed on us – that they are already imprinted in the world – and underlines the key role played by mathematics in expressing those truths.
But Galileo devised the metaphor for a specific purpose. Taken out of its historical context and placed in ours, the image can be dangerously deceptive.