— Galileo Galilei Italian mathematician, physicist, philosopher and astronomer 1564 - 1642
Context: I cannot without great astonishment — I might say without great insult to my intelligence — hear it attributed as a prime perfection and nobility of the natural and integral bodies of the universe that they are invariant, immutable, inalterable, etc., while on the other hand it is called a great imperfection to be alterable, generable, mutable, etc. For my part I consider the earth very noble and admirable precisely because of the diverse alterations, changes, generations, etc. that occur in it incessantly. If, not being subject to any changes, it were a vast desert of sand or a mountain of jasper, or if at the time of the flood the waters which covered it had frozen, and it had remained an enormous globe of ice where nothing was ever born or ever altered or changed, I should deem it a useless lump in the universe, devoid of activity and, in a word, superfluous and essentially non-existent. This is exactly the difference between a living animal and a dead one; and I say the same of the moon, of Jupiter, and of all other world globes.
The deeper I go in considering the vanities of popular reasoning, the lighter and more foolish I find them. What greater stupidity can be imagined than that of calling jewels, silver, and gold "precious," and earth and soil "base"? People who do this ought to remember that if there were as great a scarcity of soil as of jewels or precious metals, there would not be a prince who would not spend a bushel of diamonds and rubies and a cartload of gold just to have enough earth to plant a jasmine in a little pot, or to sow an orange seed and watch it sprout, grow, and produce its handsome leaves, its fragrant flowers, and fine fruit. It is scarcity and plenty that make the vulgar take things to be precious or worthless; they call a diamond very beautiful because it is like pure water, and then would not exchange one for ten barrels of water. Those who so greatly exalt incorruptibility, inalterability, etc. are reduced to talking this way, I believe, by their great desire to go on living, and by the terror they have of death. They do not reflect that if men were immortal, they themselves would never have come into the world. Such men really deserve to encounter a Medusa's head which would transmute them into statues of jasper or of diamond, and thus make them more perfect than they are.
Variant translation: I cannot without great wonder, nay more, disbelief, hear it being attributed to natural bodies as a great honor and perfection that they are impassable, immutable, inalterable, etc.: as conversely, I hear it esteemed a great imperfection to be alterable, generable, and mutable. It is my opinion that the earth is very noble and admirable by reason of the many and different alterations, mutations, and generations which incessantly occur in it. And if, without being subject to any alteration, it had been one great heap of sand, or a mass of jade, or if, since the time of the deluge, the waters freezing which covered it, it had continued an immense globe of crystal, wherein nothing had ever grown, altered, or changed, I should have esteemed it a wretched lump of no benefit to the Universe, a mass of idleness, and in a word superfluous, exactly as if it had never been in Nature. The difference for me would be the same as between a living and a dead creature. I say the same concerning the Moon, Jupiter, and all the other globes of the Universe.
The more I delve into the consideration of the vanity of popular discourses, the more empty and simple I find them. What greater folly can be imagined than to call gems, silver, and gold noble, and earth and dirt base? For do not these persons consider that if there were as great a scarcity of earth as there is of jewels and precious metals, there would be no king who would not gladly give a heap of diamonds and rubies and many ingots of gold to purchase only so much earth as would suffice to plant a jessamine in a little pot or to set a tangerine in it, that he might see it sprout, grow up, and bring forth such goodly leaves, fragrant flowers, and delicate fruit? It is scarcity and plenty that makes things esteemed and despised by the vulgar, who will say that there is a most beautiful diamond, for it resembles a clear water, and yet would not part from it for ten tons of water. 'These men who so extol incorruptibility, inalterability, and so on, speak thus, I believe, out of the great desire they have to live long and for fear of death, not considering that, if men had been immortal, they would not have come into the world. These people deserve to meet with a Medusa's head that would transform them into statues of diamond and jade, that so they might become more perfect than they are.
Part of this passage, in Italian, I detrattori della corruptibilitá meriterebber d'esser cangiati in statue., has also ben translated into English as "Detractors of corruptibility deserve being turned into statues."
Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo. (PDF) http://www.liberliber.it/biblioteca/g/galilei/le_opere_di_galileo_galilei_edizione_nazionale_sotto_gli_etc/pdf/le_ope_p.pdf, Le Opere di Galileo Galilei vol. VII, pg. 58.
Compare Maimonides "If man were never subject to change there could be no generation; there would be one single being..." Guide for the Perplexed (c. 1190)