Link: History Must Be Curved (Galileo and the heliocentric revolution)

October 15, 2013

This is the kind of thing where I'll start out by quoting some text:

HISTORY MUST BE CURVED, for there is a horizon in the affairs of mankind. Beyond this horizon, events pass out of historical consciousness and into myth. Accounts are shortened, complexities sloughed off, analogous figures fused, traditions “abraded into anecdotes.” Real people become culture heroes: archetypical beings performing iconic deeds. (Vansina 1985)

This is from the conclusion of Michael Flynn's masterful nine part essay on "The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown" (also). This is all about how geocentrism (the view that the Earth was at the center of the universe) gave way to heliocentrism, how surprisingly small a part Galileo actually played in it (contrary to common stories about him), and exactly how he got himself into trouble with the Church.

To increase your interest: it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that geocentrism actually had a fair amount of evidence going for it and the last explanation for why part of that evidence was wrong was only worked out in in 1835. As Flynn notes:

Conclusion: Our ancestors were not fools.

In three centuries, the long complex story of how the mobile Earth replaced the stationary Earth dipped below the horizon from History into Legend. Like all good legends, the story of heliocentrism and the culture-hero Galileo is simple and general and geared toward supporting the Rightness of the Modern worldview. But history is always detailed and particular.

If this sounds like a great read to you, rest assured: it is. Go ahead and start at part 1.

(Via Popehat, as you might have guessed.)

Written on 15 October 2013.
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Last modified: Tue Oct 15 14:39:45 2013
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