Ulm, Germany, Is The Birthplace Of Two Of The World’s Greatest Thinkers

August 14, 2022 at 7:08 p.m.


While visiting the city of Ulm, in southern Germany, a few years back, I stopped at a local restaurant for lunch when I noticed two large paintings on the wall behind the bar. One was Albert Einstein and the other, Johannes Kepler. In light of their accomplishments, they may be two of the world’s most renowned thinkers.  

Although generations apart, either one could be deemed the smartest person who ever lived.  I was surprised to learn that both were born in or near that small city, and wondered what the odds would be for that to happen. I will write about Einstein in a future column.

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer, mathematician, astrologer, natural philosopher and writer on music. He was a key figure in the 17th-century and certainly one of history’s greatest astronomers. Kepler transformed man’s understanding of the universe, from the model of planets moving in uniform circular motion to the dynamic heavens we know today. With his revolutionary three laws of planetary motion, Kepler laid the groundwork for Newton’s universal law of gravitation, and set physics on the course of discovery it follows to the present time.

Birthdates And Family History

According to James Voelkel in his book about Johannes Kepler, “he was born on Dec. 27, 1571, at 2:30 p.m. in his grandfather Sebald’s small but commodious house in the city of Weil der Stadt. He was his parents’ first child, and his father Heinrich was still living with his parents. The Keplers were a once proud and noble family, now in decline. Generations before, in 1433, Kepler’s great-great-great-great-grandfather had been knighted by Emperor Sigismund in recognition of his valiant military service.”  

Since then, in gradual steps, the family had left imperial service, fallen out of the nobility, entered the craftsman class and moved to the small, sleepy city of Weil der Stadt. But the Keplers still cherished their former glory. They still had their family coat of arms, and tales were told of the military honors won by Kepler’s great-grandfather and grandfather under Emperor Charles V and his successors.  Kepler died in 1630.

Accomplishments

Kepler was the first astronomer to determine the true pattern of the earth’s course — a monumental undertaking and one few of us can truly understand and it was done without today’s powerful telescopes. He used data collected earlier by Tycho Brahe.

As it was necessary to use the sun and a second stable point in planetary space, having such a point, one can — by employing it and the sun as fixed points for the measurement of angles — determine the true pattern of the earth’s course by the same method of triangulation generally used in drawing  maps.

Where, however, can such a fixed point be found, since all visible objects outside the sun, as a single object, execute unknown movements? Kepler’s answer: We know, with great exactitude, the ostensible movement of the planet Mars and the time it takes to circle the sun (“Mars-Year”).

Each time that a Mars-Year passes, Mars should be at the same place in (planetary) space. If one limits oneself chiefly to the use of such points of time, the planet Mars represents for these a stable point in planetary space, which may be used as a fixed point in triangulation. Using this principle, Kepler first determined the true movement of the earth in planetary space. And since the earth itself can be used at any time as a triangulation-point, he was also able to determine by observation the true movements of the other planets.

In this way, Kepler won the foundation for the determination of the three fundamental laws that will remain linked to his name for all time. How much inventive power, how much tireless, obstinate work was necessary to reveal these laws, and to establish their certainty with great precision, can hardly be evaluated by anyone.

One of the authors of the many books about Kepler had this to say: “It can be said that among the men whose genius enriched and deepened human knowledge by creative achievements in the area of exact science there is one who enjoys the sympathy of as many as does Kepler, despite the facts that his principal field of activity is unfamiliar to most and that the result of his labors is difficult to understand and appreciate.”

Final Thoughts

Albert Einstein wrote these somewhat complex laudatory remarks about Kepler:  “He had to free himself from an animistic, teleologically oriented manner of thinking in scientific research. He had to realize clearly that logical-mathematical theoretizing, no matter how lucid, could not guarantee truth by itself; that the most beautiful logical theory means nothing in natural science without comparison with the exactest experience. Without this philosophic attitude, his work would not have been possible. He does not speak about this, but the inner struggle is reflected in the letters.”

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected].

While visiting the city of Ulm, in southern Germany, a few years back, I stopped at a local restaurant for lunch when I noticed two large paintings on the wall behind the bar. One was Albert Einstein and the other, Johannes Kepler. In light of their accomplishments, they may be two of the world’s most renowned thinkers.  

Although generations apart, either one could be deemed the smartest person who ever lived.  I was surprised to learn that both were born in or near that small city, and wondered what the odds would be for that to happen. I will write about Einstein in a future column.

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer, mathematician, astrologer, natural philosopher and writer on music. He was a key figure in the 17th-century and certainly one of history’s greatest astronomers. Kepler transformed man’s understanding of the universe, from the model of planets moving in uniform circular motion to the dynamic heavens we know today. With his revolutionary three laws of planetary motion, Kepler laid the groundwork for Newton’s universal law of gravitation, and set physics on the course of discovery it follows to the present time.

Birthdates And Family History

According to James Voelkel in his book about Johannes Kepler, “he was born on Dec. 27, 1571, at 2:30 p.m. in his grandfather Sebald’s small but commodious house in the city of Weil der Stadt. He was his parents’ first child, and his father Heinrich was still living with his parents. The Keplers were a once proud and noble family, now in decline. Generations before, in 1433, Kepler’s great-great-great-great-grandfather had been knighted by Emperor Sigismund in recognition of his valiant military service.”  

Since then, in gradual steps, the family had left imperial service, fallen out of the nobility, entered the craftsman class and moved to the small, sleepy city of Weil der Stadt. But the Keplers still cherished their former glory. They still had their family coat of arms, and tales were told of the military honors won by Kepler’s great-grandfather and grandfather under Emperor Charles V and his successors.  Kepler died in 1630.

Accomplishments

Kepler was the first astronomer to determine the true pattern of the earth’s course — a monumental undertaking and one few of us can truly understand and it was done without today’s powerful telescopes. He used data collected earlier by Tycho Brahe.

As it was necessary to use the sun and a second stable point in planetary space, having such a point, one can — by employing it and the sun as fixed points for the measurement of angles — determine the true pattern of the earth’s course by the same method of triangulation generally used in drawing  maps.

Where, however, can such a fixed point be found, since all visible objects outside the sun, as a single object, execute unknown movements? Kepler’s answer: We know, with great exactitude, the ostensible movement of the planet Mars and the time it takes to circle the sun (“Mars-Year”).

Each time that a Mars-Year passes, Mars should be at the same place in (planetary) space. If one limits oneself chiefly to the use of such points of time, the planet Mars represents for these a stable point in planetary space, which may be used as a fixed point in triangulation. Using this principle, Kepler first determined the true movement of the earth in planetary space. And since the earth itself can be used at any time as a triangulation-point, he was also able to determine by observation the true movements of the other planets.

In this way, Kepler won the foundation for the determination of the three fundamental laws that will remain linked to his name for all time. How much inventive power, how much tireless, obstinate work was necessary to reveal these laws, and to establish their certainty with great precision, can hardly be evaluated by anyone.

One of the authors of the many books about Kepler had this to say: “It can be said that among the men whose genius enriched and deepened human knowledge by creative achievements in the area of exact science there is one who enjoys the sympathy of as many as does Kepler, despite the facts that his principal field of activity is unfamiliar to most and that the result of his labors is difficult to understand and appreciate.”

Final Thoughts

Albert Einstein wrote these somewhat complex laudatory remarks about Kepler:  “He had to free himself from an animistic, teleologically oriented manner of thinking in scientific research. He had to realize clearly that logical-mathematical theoretizing, no matter how lucid, could not guarantee truth by itself; that the most beautiful logical theory means nothing in natural science without comparison with the exactest experience. Without this philosophic attitude, his work would not have been possible. He does not speak about this, but the inner struggle is reflected in the letters.”

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected].

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