How the minds of the past shaped the principles of our universe

26 Mar 2023

Empirical sciences, including the science of Nature, are based on our experience. And this experience evolved in historical time. Let’s look back at some interesting ideas that we still fall back on in the 21st century.

So, let’s start by saying that if a selection was made of monographs that marked the development of scientific thought, above all those in the West, these five would definitely be included:

  1. Elements by Euchyld (c. 300 AD),
  2. Almagest by Ptolemy (c. 90- c. 168 AD),
  3. De Revolucionibus Orbium Coelestium by Nicolas Copernicus (1473 – 1543),
  4. Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis by Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and
  5. Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

The first four books are of a mathematical nature (exclusively – Elements) or at least partially – Almagest and De Revolucionibus.

This explains their lasting influence, because it is not just about our empiricism, which is subject to revision, but about the products of “pure mind” in Kant’s sense. In this context, the place of Copernicus has a special role, both in the epistemological and ontological sense.

Copernicus became an eponym for a mental turn in two senses. By exchanging the places and roles of the Earth and the Sun, he created the so-called Copernican revolution.

But in addition to this, the concept of the homogeneity of the universe is linked to Copernicus, which today has found its home in epistemology under the name of the Copernican principle, which starts from the fact that the Earth does not have any privileged position, except that we happen to be on it.

Earth was the first victim of this principle, because our globe gave way to its larger celestial partner – the Sun.

What may surprise the modern reader is why astronomy was so prominent in the culture of the Ancients, not only in Europe but in general?

The Old Ones paved the way

The answer lies in the fact that ancient man was much closer to Heaven than the modern inhabitant of our planet. For him, Heaven was a mystery present every day, which played an uncertainly large role in life, that is, in the whole community.

In the celestial systems and phenomena, the Old Ones saw much more than we do, and that’s why they were interested in registering everything that happened around them. The immediate benefit of this fascination with the sky is the possibility to accurately date historical events based on the records of ancient astronomers.

By linking particular celestial phenomena, such as the conjunction of planets, to known historical events, we can determine when something happened.

Today, based on direct insight into the situation in the sky and the laws of (Newtonian) celestial mechanics, it is possible to predict the celestial configuration for centuries and millennia ahead. And also look into the past, of course.

Even prehistoric people knew that not all luminous bodies on the celestial sphere are of the same character, that is, that they do not follow the same kinematics, as we would say today.

Fixed stars fell into one category, “wandering stars” into another, comets into a third, etc. A special place was occupied by the Moon and the Sun.

The ancient astronomers recorded the position of the stars meticulously, with the maximum accuracy of their instruments.

Tablas Alfonsias made the famous blasphemous statement:

“If good God had consulted me at Creation, I would have given him some good advice.”

Albert Einstein often wondered if God had other solutions in mind when he created this world.

So, why is the movement of the planets so complicated?

We intend to dig deeper in the upcoming blogs, so don’t forget to check back in!

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