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Infinite Degrees of Speed Marin Mersenne and the Debate Over Galileo's Law of Free Fall

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This article analyzes the evolution of Mersenne's views concerning the validity of Galileo's theory of acceleration. After publishing, in 1634, a treatise designed to present empirical evidence in favor of Galileo's odd-number law, Mersenne developed over the years the feeling that only the elaboration of a physical proof could provide sufficient confirmation of its validity. In the present article, I try to show that at the center of Mersenne's worries stood Galileo's assumption that a falling body had to pass in its acceleration through infinite degrees of speed. His extensive discussions with, or his reading of, Descartes, Gassendi, Baliani, Fabri, Cazre, Deschamps, Le Tenneur, Huygens, and Torricelli led Mersenne to believe that the hypothesis of a passage through infinite degrees of speed was incompatible with any mechanistic explanation of free fall.

Affiliations: 1: University of Nijmegen


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