"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Friday, April 8, 2011

The View From Other Worlds. Part 1.

By Ruben Rivera©

Cold hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colors from our sight
Red is gray and yellow white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion

"Nights in White Satin"
Justin Hayward
The Moody Blues
Days of Future Past, 1967

"But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion." How monumentally true. With near flawless consistency that verges on natural law. No culture or race (so called), no matter how technologically and materially primitive or advanced, has ever been or is now exempt from such imperious assurances. Bane or Bliss? I suppose we'll each decide for ourselves. After all, why break the streak now?

When the Scientific Revolution began (17th century) it heralded not just unprecedented advancements in the methods and findings of science and technological invention, but enormous changes in worldview (i.e., the view of the nature and meaning of the world and humans), and that, I would argue, is what was most "revolutionary" about the Scientific Revolution.

Perhaps the most well-known example is the revolution that occurred in astronomy (or rather, because of it). The Renaissance astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543) had posited a heliocentric (sun-centered) cosmos in contrast to the geocentric (earth-centered) one that had ruled in the West since Aristotle and Ptolemy. For Copernicus, a heliocentric system (which he could not definitively prove at the time) was critical to solve a problem he was working on: reforming the calendar which the West had used since Julius Caesar had instituted it back in 45 BC.

The Julian Calendar was a remarkable achievement for the time. It nearly accurately divided the year into 365 days (in 12 month divisions to account for seasonal/agricultural cycles) at a time not just when there were no telescopes, but when the accepted view of the cosmos had the Sun and all the other planets and stars wrongly revolving around the Earth. A mistake was bound to be made; and yet the mistake was so small.

The Julian calendar was off by just 11 minutes per year. Not much. But enough so that by the time of Copernicus, Christians were celebrating Easter Springtime with the agricultural death ethos of winter creeping closer and closer to that hollowed Church day. 11 minutes began to add up. Without correction Christians in the northern hemisphere might one day be celebrating Easter when they should be celebrating Christmas. (I'll not discuss here why the West cared so much that the resurrection of Jesus be consistent with their spring-life cycle, even as it cared so little that the newly conquered natives in the Southern hemisphere were forced both to convert to Christianity, and to celebrate Easter during their winter-death cycle.)

"But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion."

So Copernicus is often celebrated for starting the "Copernican revolution" in astronomy and, as such, a father of modern science. It is true, Copernicus's theory was the basis for calendar reform. Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian calendar (1582) based on Copernicus's more accurate calculations, and it remains the standard calendar to date. But Copernicus never pressed the implications of a sun-centered model upon which his calculations were based. And in fact, his book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543), was published the same year Copernicus himself departed this world for parts celestial. Smart.

This is why scholars like Eric Rabkin argue that "Copernicus revolutionized practically nothing".(1) If he had he would have gotten into serious trouble with the Christian authorities of Europe. No, the distinction of being a radical revolutionary goes to the Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo (1564-1642).

Galileo proved empirically by telescope observation what theoretical math had all but confirmed: the Sun was at the center of our system and Earth and the other planets revolved around it. And here's why Galileo was revolutionary: he argued for his findings publicly.

The Catholic Inquisition tried Galileo as a heretic, and under threat of being found guilty he recanted and the likely sentence of death was commuted. Instead he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

The Protestants of course, who were so much into reformation, sided with the beleaguered Galileo, right? Wrong. In his "Table Talks", Martin Luther had rejected Copernicus, and other reformers in Galileo's day continued to oppose heliocentrism. (2)

So it was that an erroneous view of the cosmos -- based on faulty observations of nature and a faulty assumption that wherever the Bible references the natural world it intends to be 100% empirically accurate -- became elevated to the status of life or death dogma.

"But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion."

However, no heresy trial or resistance in the name of religious truth would be enough to stop the real revolution of science -- the challenge to worldview.

The emergence of modern science "threw human understanding into question" (Rabkin). Indeed a whole new fictional literature developed precisely in this context, attempting to respond to the uncertainties that the new scientific "certainties" raised: science fiction (sf).

Sf has done this in many different ways. By optimistic speculation of future utopias made possible by science and technology. By pessimistic fictions depicting apocalypse brought on by human beings who let technology out-pace their morals.

By satires and philosophical fictions that create alien worlds and situations as a way to get readers to consider new ways of looking at the all too familiar in our world. The all too familiar, which, when looked at from the view of other worlds, can turn out to be neither accurate nor familiar nor desirable.

In the next installment I will talk about about ways that sci-fi/fantasy views from other worlds ask us to reconsider "which is right, and which is an illusion" in our world of the all too familiar.

(1) Rabkin, ed., Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology (1983), 11.
(2) Martin Luther, Table Talk; John Calvin, sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 72; John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 93, verse 1, trans., James Anderson (Eerdman's, 1949), Vol. 4, p. 7; Christopher Sharp, "Martin Luther and Geocentrism," http://www.csharp.com/luther.html.
Picture credits in order top to bottom.
--"Avatar", James Cameron, dir. 2009.
--Geocentric model. Royalty free pic.
--Galileo before the Inquisition. Public domain.
--Weird Science Fantasy #11 (EC, 1952).
--Money makes the world go round. Royalty free pic.


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Get yourself PUBLISHED...good heavens, what are you waiting for! This is brilliantly studied and articulated and your insight always makes me feel like I just met you and I fall in love every time with the great mind and the fun-loving boy that you are...brilliant. Moi

"Create Beauty" said...

I look up into the night sky and see twinkling STARS and wonder at the awesome God who created all the galaxies ...

Your words here really make me think, this is very interesting and fascinating history!!!

You and Anita, what a delightful combination!!!!!

~ Violet

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben
You never fail to amaze me.. Your written words are a gift to us all.
I agree with Anita.. Get published!
I would love to sit and TURN the pages...
Blessings dear friend,

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben
Thank you for your visit and kind words about Lily.
Blessings my friend

Nezzy said...

Ya never let me down Man! You history of the heavens is just remarkable!

Have a universal (heehehehe) blessed day!

Fete et Fleur said...

Hi, Ruben,

So sorry I haven't been able to return your calls. This season is always the busiest for us (the weekends especially). There are so many things happening all at once! This is an interesting topic. I look forward to your next installment.


PS I'm still working on your last post. :~)

Anonymous said...

A very interesting maybe.
Excellent post.
Nothing is permanent.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben,

Thank you for your visit. You are most welcome. Oh how I wish the three of us could meet face to face again. Maybe someday...You and Anita are very special to me. Thank you my friend for your wonderful humor, wit and kind heart. Enjoy your day tomorrow with Anita. Give her a big birthday HUG from me..
Easter blessings to you both.


Anonymous said...

Hey Prof
Epistemology on the Dude bog.
Happy Easter Eggs.
The Dude Abides.

George the Lad said...

Hi Ruben
Thanks for your visit and kind comments, and I find myself reading your post, I will come back and re read it its very intresting.
Have a good week
George and Jan xxx