The Rest of the World Doesn't Revolve Around You! Or Does It?Sat, January 20, 2007 - 1:26 AM
We are taught, in our modern American public school systems, that the ancients were ignorant and mistaken in their view that the Sun, the Moon and the planets travel around the Earth every day. We are taught that at some advanced stage of modern development, some modern-day genius was able to rise above his everyday perceptions and deduce the truth -- that is, that the Sun stands still and everything else revolves around it.
However, this over-simplified explanation is not supported by the History of Science. It is clear from the historical record that the ancients were as smart and as sophisticated as ourselves in their ability to reason. The ancient Egyptians knew that the Earth was spherical and they were aware that there was an elliptical nature to the Earth's orbit.
Such things aren't that difficult to deduce. If you simply observe the movement of the Sun for one solar year with a gnomon (a Sun-sighting stick) you will gather all of the information you need to deduce such things. The ancient Egyptians accomplished this task at an early date and this is the original reason for their veneration of the obelisk. An obelisk is at its simplest, simply a Sun-sighting tool.
The first thing you will notice after a year of observations, is that the Sun's shadow returns to the spot it was at a solar year ago, or 365 days ago. There are four ordinals (or fiducials) that stand out. At noon, on one day during the year, the shadow is at its shortest point (the Summer Solstice) and on another day it is at its longest (the Winter Solstice). On the two days halfway between these points, the Sun rises Due East and sets Due West (the Equinoxes.) These four dates split the solar year into four equal parts (and space into four fundamental directions.) Or do they?
What we actually find is that the four quarters do not separate themselves equally. The equinoxes fall a few days shorter or longer than expected to make an equal quarter of the pie. What does that suggest? Simply, that the observed movement of the Sun is not perfectly circular around the Earth. It is, therefore, elliptical.
Other observations using obelisks and pyramids will reveal the spherical nature of the Earth upon which we sit, and still more observations will even allow the deduction of the distance of the Earth from the Sun!
The ancient Egyptians had more than one year to study these things. In fact, the existing recorded history goes back to about 3112 B.C.E.; meaning, that for thousands of years they were observing such things.
The Western World teaches that it was Copernicus who was finally able to rise above the deceptive nature of his senses to deduce that the Earth revolved around the Sun. We are taught that this view eventually prevailed, countering the prevailing dogma of the Catholic Church.
In fact, most sophisticated thinkers on the subject had been seriously considering the option for centuries.
Anyone who has traveled in a car on a freeway knows that you can begin to perceive yourself in your own car as stationary, and all the cars around you to be moving around you. A thought experiment can shift this point of view to make another car the stationary one and yours to be the moving one (for example, when you pull out to pass.) All the while, we are disregarding the fact that both cars are moving down the highway at a high rate of speed.
Two ancient Egyptian soldiers traveling to battle on horseback can be expected to experience something quite similar. The biology of our brains and our senses has not changed that much in 4,000 years.
Such thought experiments fall within the domain of something we have come to call Relativity.
The Grandfather of Relativity was Galileo Galilei. Galilean Relativity describes this state of affairs where activity within one moving system will appear to be at rest, while obviously moving when viewed from another reference frame.
The Father of Relativity is Albert Einstein. Einstein loved these Thought Experiments. He did them all the time and used them to illustrate his theories of Relativity. He had two theories of Relativity – The Special one and the General one. Special Relativity attempts to describe observations having to do with time that occur at speeds approaching the Speed of Light. General Relativity has to do with describing how great quantities of mass affect the fundamental fabric of space. But these subjects are beyond the scope of what I'm trying to get at here.
Albert Einstein would be the first to tell you that there is no single stationary reference frame. Galileo said the same thing. To maintain that the Sun is the only stationary reference frame is naïve and mistaken; and is just as mistaken as claiming that the Earth is the stationary party. What they would both say is that it depends on which you presume to be the stationary one.
Edmund Husserl was an early twentieth-century Philosopher whose claim to fame had to do with his assertion that one's subjective observations are the fundamental judgment to support what we decide is real and true. Husserl said that in a very real way, it is much more true to say that the Earth is standing still and the Sun revolves around it.
Einstein and Galileo would both agree that you can do that. And when you do, all of a sudden you are connected to the world around you, because all of the world is revolving around you. You are now responsible for it. It is not some exterior thing revolving around some other external thing, totally oblivious to you and uncaring. By virtue of the fact that it is revolving around you, you are family with it, and not in some kind of lonely existential separation from it.
This is why I have come to maintain that the Sun and the planets (and even the so-called Fixed Stars) revolve around the Earth. The Earth is stationary and all revolves around it. Galileo, Einstein (even Newton) and the ancients too would agree with me. How about you?
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