The strongest question on Galileo’s role in history was put by the British biochemist and sinologist Joseph Needham:
Why did modern science, the mathematization of hypotheses about Nature, with all its implications for advanced technology, take its meteoric rise only in the West at the time of Galileo? Why modern science had not developed in Chinese civilization [which in the previous centuries] was much more efficient than occidental in applying human natural knowledge to practical human needs? [Needham 1969, 16, 190]
Evidently he had in mind physics, since in his view
[...] the birth of the experimental-mathematical method, which appeared in almost perfect form in Galileo, [...] led to all the developments of modern science and technology. [Needham 1959, 156]
So, Needham’s “Grand Question” is to be coupled with the question: What was the actual innovation of Galileo, that had changed science so much, accelerated its progress a hundredfold, though only in the West? He...