In ‘SuperSense’ I discuss the odd attitude that we have towards revering the remains of the dead. I think that relics are a manifestation of such essentialist beliefs. Usually, relics are bones from saints, but ironically, the same veneration has been applied to the middle finger of one of the earliest martyrs of science, Galileo Galilei.
As most of you know, Galileo famously fell out with the Catholic Church after defending Copernicus’s discovery that the earth moved round the sun and was charged with heresy. He was ordered to be imprisoned, a sentence that was commuted to house arrest where he spent his final 9 years.
Recently, British and Italian scientists have applied to the Catholic Church to exhume the remains of Galileo to determine whether he suffered from degenerative visual impairment.
Currently, Galileo’s middle digit is on display in the History of Science Museum in Florence. It is mounted on a marble base inside a glass egg and is said to be pointing towards Rome. One might think he has had the last laugh.