by Justin Wong (July 2019)
Copernicus, Tiago Bárzana
In the days of centuries past, learned men used to believe that the heavens, meaning the stars, what we now know as the galaxies with its plentiful solar systems, controlled us. That we were the victims to the positions of the planets and of distant suns. This may be viewed as being quaint, the thoughts of an age in a superstitious phase, before reason, and the enlightenment gave us an empirical basis in which to live. In the rational age that we in contemporary times inhabit, we could never fall for something so pitiful, so laughable, which is akin to a doctor prescribing leeches to all manner of disease, to any one whom entered his practice with an ailment. Though there is a blind confidence about our freedom from superstition, for the role in which the universe above us plays on our state of mind. From the days of antiquity to the early modern times, the universe was believed to be Ptolemaic, meaning geocentric, meaning the moon, the sun and the stars all revolved around the earth, like an infatuated lover, obsessed with the beauty he so desires. The place we lived and inhabited was the centre point of the universe. Naturally, when under the sway of science of ancient times, the western world, Europe, was a place of order and symmetry. The functioning of society was as a spiritual organism. In this world people believed themselves to be pilgrims passing through this weary, fallen land so as to go through the pearly gates, after their tireless journeying into a place they could call home.
This 1500-year philosophy, of the earth being not only the place which the sun revolved around, but the place which the stars circulated, was to lose grip in the mind of man when a Prussian who held degrees from the University of Krakow, The University of Bologna, The University of Padue, and the University of Ferrera, developed a theory that turned this idea on its head. His learning was as vast as the heavens he so passionately scanned. He was a master of many tongues, though lived a life contrary to the dispiriting effects he had on the universe. He was a devout believer, with a doctorate obtained in canon law. He achieved immortality with a book that was published before his life came to a close, called De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, which raised but a mild stir of controversy when initially it was published. As things of revolutionary import tend to do when first they are put into the commonwealth of thought.
Though the reason that this work was worthy of the controversy which is justly given to it, is that it radically transformed the nature of the universe, at least so in the minds of thinking men, who believed before its publication that the universe’s centre was the earth. The Copernican model stated that the planets, including that of the Earth, were now in revolution around the sun. A doctrine one could argue, with the sober frame of mind provided by hindsight, led to Nihilism. Such a view gave credence to long-perished superstitions, to paganism. The Egyptians had a deity named Ra, the ancient God of the sun. Such deifications of the sun were not limited to the northern climes of Africa, but are to be found in the paganism of Ancient Greece, where Helios is depicted as the God of the Sun, though this reference is befitting, as the Copernican view of the universe became known as the Heliocentric model. Was it a surprise that the religion of the past, that of the medieval ages, began to fade, first from the minds of learned men, then the senseless masses at large?
The result of this, being the abolition of faith, by the bricks of which Christendom was constructed, was never the intended consequence of the spread of this doctrine, though this was the case when we consider the Copernican revolt.
All throughout renaissance Europe, people were swept away by the plague of melancholy that spread through, destroying the constitution of men. There are books that acknowledge this phenomenon, one such volume is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. Here, in great depth, he lists the causes of this affliction, the way it in the mind is invented and how it can be alleviated. Here he relates to it the movements of the celestial Orbs. In the world of the dramatic arts, Shakespeare’s Magnum Opus, was Hamlet. A work composed in 1600; with its predominant theme being melancholy. To go with this are many references; poetic allusions to the universe’s order.
This view, that of the World’s order being radically different than it was in Ancient times, was developed with further insight throughout the decades after Copernicus’ death. The major figures in this were Brahe, Gallileo and Kepler.
As this theory was further refined, its implications grew increasingly pessimistic. Copernicus shifted the centre of the universe from the Earth towards the Sun. In due time, this doctrine became replaced with the idea that our Solar System was one of countless entities, where each star had in it other such revolving planets, like that of ours.
One of the first people to put forth this idea was Giordano Bruno, a Gnostic with Heretical leanings, it was only natural he should hold these idiosyncratic views as gospel, it confirming much of his worldview, along with his idea that God can be found within. This is exemplified by him saying “The Divine light is always in man, presenting itself to the senses and to the comprehension, but man rejects it.” Another work he published was named On the Infinite Universe and Worlds in 1584.
This idea, as idiosyncratic and untoward as it was when people first heard it, became the dominant view of the universe as the years progressed towards the 19th and 20th centuries. Though as was to be suspected the lunatic asylums were never more filled with those that were lost. Atheism in time became the predominant worldview in the academy, which was further helped by the eccentric theory of natural selection. This fed further into the idea that humanity, once thought to be crafted in the mirror of the divine, was a chance creation. It stated that we were of no greater import than a worm, or an ant, but the result of a blind process to strengthen our survival, to be dominant over animals and creatures roaming this world. The fact that we developed language, consciousness, abstraction in thought was symbolic of our dominance, proof of the world being our dominion. Though what could positively go wrong with such beliefs, such cynicism, that life is above all things meaningless, that we are victims of a blind process. A thing that even we in our heightened intellect have no control over. It was difficult to know if such thinking was influenced by the hypothesis of the heliocentric, the idea of innumerable suns and solar systems, scattered about the universe around us. Though it did feed into the theory’s bleakness as to life, its chance nature, that we are an accident of conception, something that quite as easily might not have been.
Though as time progressed there existed works from disparate fields that had strange coincidences in their thinking. Where theories of the moral and the physical world blended perfectly into each other. This is exemplified with Nietzsche in his book Beyond Good and Evil, with its follow up volume On the Genealogy of Morality. A call to battle on the traditional notion of good and evil. In it the Gospels are presented as nothing greater than the worldview of the oppressed, a thing constructed so as to undermine the power the master has over his slave. A thing constructed so as to reject the joys and pleasures of this world, the only one we know. In this opus he talks of moral relativism, about how in a meaningless world there is no such thing as good and evil. This is exemplified by the fact that through different cultures, notions of morality and immorality change as the geography they are a part of.
Though the point I wish to make known, is in the aftermath of this philosophy you then begin to see strange occurrences in the world of science that seem to blend in perfectly with this philosophical idea, during the decades after this was published. This is exemplified by Einstein in his theory of relativity. Though also in the works of Schrodinger, with his idea of quantum supposition, which states that something at both times can be in two contrary states, which is exemplified with his analogy of a cat in a box, which is at both times dead and alive. In this theory, a subatomic particle can at one time be at one place and simultaneously in that of another. It wasn’t an accident that both of these men were Germans, and were thus likely to have breathed deeply of the air left by Nietzsche. Him having a tremendous influence on the moral realm around him in the aftermath of his slow descent into madness and after that, death. Though they were scarcely his greatest students, rather that mantle goes to The Third Reich, when considering their atrocities. The horrors committed largely under his spell.
These theories of the universe seem to influence the state of mind of the people. The earth is suddenly removed from the universe’s centre and man removes himself from the centre of creation. Man, constructs theories of relativist morality, then suddenly surmises that matter is present in a multitude of places at once. The world seems to be trapped in a strange paradox where what is observed in the world becomes a part of our psychology, where what is created in the imagination becomes theorised in the world.
Such thinking has doubtless undermined the traditional order of society; it has waged a victorious war against the sanity of man. How can anything which speaks of the physical world, of the cosmos at large, not destabilise man’s view of himself, his understanding of his soul in relation to the eternal?
Thus, astrology is never dead, though changes its name, and plies its trade using other methods, in which it can be intellectualised, understood. Now it is done by way of the empirical, the ‘Scientific Method,’ where it is measured by number, and observed through habit, where theorems are constructed out of it. The affair with Nietzsche, the relativism with which he viewed the world, found physical expression through Schrodinger and Einstein. Then has all of this been a hoax? The stories of the universe they tell us of but a fiction? The world simply as they wish it to be, compared to the truth of its design? That of its function? Is it too much to say that the wish is father to the scientific theorem?
The world as expressed by the theories of Einstein and Schrodinger seem to be a return to the Ptolemaic. One could perhaps make this case, a world theorized to conform to the dominant mode of thinking, the ghost of the era. Along with that of its unverified a priori assumptions, its unresolved contentions it glosses over. Though if man were to believe in unverified half-truths, things unobserved, they would perhaps be better served if they provided him with meaning. They would be better served if they invoke the divine in the western traditions of the Christianity that affirms something of the method and wonder we see when perceiving the world. Opposed to being constructed in the assumption of Nihilism, a belief that as vast as the universe is, there is nothing transcendent which provides it meaning. In this worldview the beauty we look upon with awe is a glorious accident, something that might have easily fallen into chaos.
There is a story of Thales from Miletus, a scholar who in the 6th century B.C. measured the heavens. There was a girl from his district who was fascinated with his exploits, watching him as the night time closed around him as he commenced his study. The city at night was bereft of people in this hour, most of the world being in a universe of dreams, whilst dreamers were out in the world gazing at the universe. The girl grew curious as to this man, with his passion for contemplating the stars, searching out order and beauty in his study. One day when the sky was an inky hue, whilst he was in the act of work, she tripped him over, saying to him that there will be time and seasons aplenty to contemplate the firmament when one takes account for all the things before us. Though this is incorrect, for the truth of the matter is that one takes account for all that is before us, by contemplating the vault of stars, the furnace of its endless lustre, where in it we find a mirror to ourselves.
Justin Wong is originally from Wembley, though at the moment is based in the West Midlands. He has been passionate about the English language and Literature since a young age. Previously, he lived in China working as an English teacher. He is currently at work on a Novel.
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