matt (hbergeronx) wrote,

thoughts on the mystical order of the universe

Most of this is inspired by this post, but it hearkens back to an earlier question which has put much of what I believe about the story of science in question. Note- I am a scientist, with real(tm) scientific credentials, so I hate to be challenged unless there is something interesting being said. My question is fairly simply worded- how is it that the world was ever thought of as flat, or that the earth was the center of the universe? I've pondered this question at length, and still do not have a very good answer. Here within, however, I want to answer an important observation about aristotelian cosmology.

It should be noted that the earth was known to be round long before the earth was thought to be flat. As children in the United States, we are taught about the resolve of the European explorer Christopher Columbus who had determined that the earth was round, and in so doing, could find a quick route to India by sailing the other way round. This story is clearly a lie, for the following reasons. The earth was known to be round, at least a hemisphere, and the phenomenon of gravity had been well established at least two hundred years previous to Columbus. Any argument for a flat earth must explain where the water which would naturally fall off the sides would go, and would also require explanation of why the tides did not constantly flow and pull away from land. Nonetherless, an observant person would note the coincidence of tides and the apparent motion of the moon. Furthermore, since the shadow of the earth is clearly seen on the moon, which had also been observed closely by ancient astrologers, the rotation of the moon around the earth relative to the sun repeats about every month, *lunar* month, and even the hebrew calendar is lunar, so the existence of the moon cycle had to be well established in period and recording. cycle -> circle -> sphere. Any attempt to measure or monitor the cycles of the heavens would have placed an immediate, simple explanation of circular or elliptical or spherical geometry on the movement of the moon around the earth.

It is absurd to draw the motion of the mood relative to the sun, and try to explain why the sun is more important than the earth to the moon. Like drawing with a spirograph, the motion of the moon seems to loop around and around the earth and from the point of an equation, it is easier to predict the motion of the moon to draw it as a circle about the earth. For purposes of calendar, the motion of the sun around the earth would also be drawn as a circle, rotating about the earth. The two circles, sun, moon and earth, work very well. You can predict tides, a lunar calendar, eclipses, sunrise and sunset, and many other great observations of nature.

Where it falls over is in predicting the movement of the planets. The mystical observation is known as retrograde motion, where some planets seem to slow, stop, and then start moving backward until they would spiral about and continue. Note carefully that the discovery that the sun was the center of the universe was not done as some radical overthrow of the 'center' of the universe. It is just mathematically simpler to draw and predict the movements of planets if you draw their orbits as circular. It is not a requirement. Indeed, an equation can always be written to show the motion of the planets with the earth in the center, but the equation is simpler to solve if you don't put the earth in the center. That simplicity must have always been useful, and any astrologer worth their salt would have take advantage of the knowlege to have the power of the gods. Thus, even in ancient times this must have been known- it is the easiest explanation of the power of the mystics. In fact, that science even seems to spookily mirror any mysticism of the ancients seems to verify that they must have a common ancestor- it's the simplest explanation, and therefore, it could be a good hypothesis. In fact, however, that the motion is easy to solve is purely a coincidence due to the fact that we only have one sun in our galaxy- put a second sun in (and most solar systems are binary in the galaxy) and all bets are off. It is quite likely that the entire discovery of Copernicus and Kepler is that they resort to the simple trick of circular/elliptical geometry. It was Newton's invention of calculus and the theories of motion that proved that what was easily solved by his predecessors was entirely a coincidence of simplicity, and that the motions of the bodies in space is highly unpredictable unless you don't care if the results are accurate, or if you know the masses and positions with a high degree of accuracy.

The existence of gravity is unproven- you cannot prove anything (I speak from the philosophical position of Karl Popper). You can only create a mathematical simplification or explanation of a system which convincingly lets you make predictions of the future. The great minds of astronomy were not heretics because they defied biblical truth, but because they presented a mystical ability- that of being able to predict the motions of the planets with some accuracy- which was reserved only to the gods. But quantum cosmology aside, and Newton aside, and the great minds of astronomy aside, and even Aristotle aside, there is a sphere of the moon. There are two spheres of the moon- its rotation about the earth creating tides and months, and the rotation of the earth moon system about the sun, which creates a spherical space greater than the path of the earth. The sphere of the moon is a probability space in which the moon, on any given day in the course of millennia, can be in a round path around the sun. That we can predict where it will be is not knowledge, because another star, or a black hole, or a fat-ass alien mothership can change the prediction in a matter of days, years, or millennia in ways our current equations aren't configured to handle. Does that make them wrong- YES!, all science is wrong. science is not knowledge, it's about making extremely uncanny predictions.

Also clear is that the motion of the earth and sun in the milky way, the planets set against the background of stars, depends somewhat on those stars being fixed points. Any idiot with a computer today can compute which planet is in which house. The sun has always been observed to move slowly backward through the signs, which is why we are in the age of aquarius and wll be for a good long time. But we also 'know' that the stars are moving as well. Many eons from now, the constellations will look nothing like the current constellations, and a black hole or a second star might zoom through our path and all bets are off. All knowledge is backwards seeking, and the immutability of the coincidence of the past. Why does astrology, or even science work- because it does, for now. Tomorrow all bets are off. How can mysticism prepare you for that?

And so, I am left with my internal dialogue, why anyone would ever think the world was flat. If it were so, would there not be texts explaining how the water that fell of the edge were replenished? Tales of explorers seeking that fountain?

What bothers me the most is simple observation- any child can watch a ship fall off the edge of the earth. But it doesn't- it comes back. I can get far enough away from shore, in watching ships descend into the sea, or likewise to watch land sink into the sea as I sail away. How else to explain this but a sphere? What is confusing and perhaps contrary to this is the moon- since it rotates as fast as it revolves, it seems to be always the same disk in the sky, and if it were a sphere, it should be observed to change as it rotates. But again, this is a coincidence of the identical period of rotation and revolution. Why a round disk? and why does the moon have phases? Who was the first to sit down and categorise, predict this? It was astrologers. The power of prediction is mystical. Today, science brings us computers to do this calculation, and without knowing that there was a thing such as math, the rube might assume that science is a form of mysticism. And this is truth- no system is worthwhile unless it brings power to the holder, be they mystic, shaman, or scientist. The ability to predict, in the face of the obvious immutable truth that any prediction (no matter how good) can be wrong, brings power to the holder. The goal of all mysticism is to gain power in the universe. Science is a magnet for power greater than ancient mysticism because its powers of prediction relative to the average ablility of common people is immense. The average sailor know he was powerful because most time, after sinking into the earth, he manages to come back. And some day, he doesn't. But he would have had the knowledge, the trust, the prediction, that the earth likely wasn't a disk that could be fallen off, and enough daredevils, hearing that the edge was so far out, would always dare to swim out a few more yards. And many would survive to prove that it can't be fallen off of. And mystics, always ready to hedge their bets to bring themselves more wealth, would always be curious enough to develop a calculation to prove what could be survived.

Thus, I do not believe that those who were in the know ever thought the earth was flat. It may be a good story for kids, to scare them off becoming sailors and dying in a foreign land while their elderly parents starved back on the farm, but no, I don't buy that it was a belief of the elite, ever. I certainly doubt that Columbus sought to prove the roundness- he just had a good bet going, and used what was already common knowledge to sailors to take a big gamble that India was just across the Atlantic. We need to totemise our heroes as greater men that simple gamblers, and we need to demonise our enemies to hold the encroachment of their knowledge at bay. The risk of Islam was not Muhammadism- it was mathematics, seeking to spoil the elite having one up on people with regard to power and knowledge. There goes the neighborhood, how do you keep them on the farm when the're off rolling around on the sphere of the world?

All said, I disrespect the teaching of history and science. Too much like a gnostic elite, teachers and scientists withhold knowledge and even teach outright lies to deceive us. Feh.
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