Thursday, April 12, 2007

"a geocentric view" is Not a Geocentric Universe

I recently got my first comment from some kook ascribing to the idea that the Earth really and truly is the center of the universe (of the, "I interpret the Bible as saying so so it must be true" type). I figure he can't be the only nutjob googling for support of the geocentric "theory" of the universe who finds themself on my blog, and every now and then geocentric whackos with too much power make the news, so I'll take this opportunity to make this perfectly clear:

Having a blog title "a geocentric view" is not the same as believing the Earth is the natural center of the universe; furthermore, anyone who actually believes that the Earth is the center of Everything is an arrogant, egotistical idiot of the worst kind.

Glad we got that settled. The idea (and the deluded who believe in the idea) that the Earth is the center of the universe is inane and archaic enough that I really don't see any sense in trying to explain it with off-center circles and diagrams and history lessons. If you are interested in the history and the math, though, I highly recommend the book "The Eye of Heaven: Ptolomy, Copernicus, Kepler" by Owen Gingerich. He gave a quite interesting talk here sometime last year which touched on a similar topic (though I think the material covered then was related to his more recent book, "The Book Nobody Read").

So since I'm on the topic, why did I choose "a geocentric view" to be my blog's title, if as an alive not brain-dead person in the 21st century I clearly know the Earth goes around the Sun? As I've already explained, the phrase comes from a poem by Auden; I like good poetry, so that's a good start. Partly from the context of the poem, the concept I get from the phrase "a geocentric view" is that regardless of whether or not the math and the paradigms are easier to stomach if the Earth is going around the Sun and the Sun is going around the Galactic center and the Milky Way is going towards Andromeda and the Local Group is going away from pretty much everything else in the universe—regardless of all of that—we are still people on Earth, observing the universe around us from the viewpoint of Earth. It's a geocentric view; no matter how much we know about the rest of the universe and our "real" place in it, those things that really matter to us (even to us astronomers) are those things confined to this pale blue dot, and no amount of learning will take that biased stance away from us.

On the other hand, the math really is easier if we let the Sun or the Galactic center the the origin of our coordinate system ...

5 comments:

Stephen said...

The book, Curiosities of the Sky, published in 1909 by Garrett Serviss, covers the great debates of the day. One was how big is the Milky Way? One of the ideas was that it is a ring with a radius of about 10,000 light years with stars sparsely placed in the center, and we are in that center. The data supporting this idea was that with the day's best telescopes, you could resolve stars that far out, then you'd get the haze. Of course, you could use a smaller scope and get the same effect to a smaller radius. But that argument didn't see the light of day, at the time.

This book is available on Guttenberg.

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6630

While you likely won't learn much science, you can use it as an exercise to learn how to recognize truth, an more importantly, how to recognize nonsense.

Kent said...

The motion of the bodies in our solar system, and indeed the entire universe, with respect to a stationary Earth is completely consistent with General Relativity. It's just that the mathematics is more difficult...

mollishka said...

Kent: that's kind of my point. The math doesn't care if the origin is my left pinky, but it's just so much more elegant if we pick the origin intelligently. And given no other guides, what evidence is there for ugly math (and a universe centered on the Earth or my left pinky) instead of pretty math?

Anonymous said...

A model which shows the fully feasible kinematics of a geocentric model is available from www.geocentricperspective.com

Further, it has been proven that the Earth really is at rest! Watch the video from the homepage there too!

mollishka said...

Mmmm yes, you are exactly the kind of person who it's not worth my time to even try to explain the many ways in which your take on choice of reference frames is, ah, misguided.