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By nature, human beings are curious about how the universe works. There are many unknowns about the universe and one of the main curiosities before the scientific revolution was the question of whether or not the world moved or if it stayed in place. The development of the heliocentric theory answered many of the unknowns, and although it was not completely accurate, it helped prove the accuracy of a dynamic education versus a scholastic education.

The astronomical questions first began with Aristotle and Plato, two scholastic thinkers of Ancient Greece. Their studies eventually led to what we call today, the geocentric theory. The geocentric theory states that “all celestial objects – including the planets, Sun, Moon, and stars- orbited Earth. Earth, in the center of the universe, did not move at all” (STScI). Although many believed this to be true before the theory existed, the geocentric theory was created by the influential astronomer and geographer, Ptolemy. Astronomers were still in the idea of scholasticism, in which they did not use the method of research. Rather than researching whether or not the world was in fact stationary, they just assumed that because that is all they knew. Scholars Aristotle and Plato, however, were interested in researching whether or not the earth was stationary and came up with questions for their scholars about the issue.

Plato is known for “underestimating the point of view of the early Greeks” (Holton, Brush, 5, 2001). Since astronomy was one of the studies that Plato taught to his students he gave them a problem to think about; the problem was “determine what combination of uniform and ordered motions must be assumed for each of the planets to account for the apparent, more irregular movements” (Plato, Holton, Brush, 5, 2001). Although Plato did not seriously attempt to answer his question, it “became the prime concern of astronomers to the time of Galileo” (Holton, Brush, 5, 2001). One of those astronomers was a student of Plato’s, Aristotle. Aristotle’s “theory of the universe concentrated on physical understanding rather than mathematical computation”, which means that this was adopted by the medieval period before the birth of modern science, partly because of religious purposes (Holton, Brush, 6, 2001). By using his theories, Aristotle concluded “that humans could not inhabit a moving and rotating Earth without violating common sense perceptions. Moreover, in his theory of impetus, all terrestrial motion, presumably including that of Earth itself, would grind to a halt without the continued application of force” (Gregerson, 26). Aristotle, therefore, was a believer of the geocentric theory and because he was a big influencer of Ancient Greece, his inaccurate theories of astronomy were believed to be true.

Aristarchus of Samos “suggested that a simple world system would result if the sun were put at the center of the universe and if the moon, the earth, and the five then-known planets revolved around the sun in orbits of different sizes and speeds” (Holton, Brush, 10, 2001). He believed that the geocentric theory was inaccurate and planted the seeds for the heliocentric theory. The scientific revolution had not yet happened and therefore people disagreed with Aristarchus for three reasons. The first reason was because his theory disagreed with philosophical doctrines and common sense views that the earth did not move. Ever since the beginning of time, people believed that the earth was stationary because they could not feel the movement of Earth. It was the only conclusion that made sense. The second reason was Aristarchus did not have a system to back up his theory, and although Aristotle’s system was inaccurate, he at least had a way to prove his theory. Greek thinkers also argued that “if the earth is to move around the sun, its large orbit will carry it sometimes near to a given fixed star on the celestial sphere and sometimes farther away from it. Thus the angle at which we have to look for this star will be different as seen from the various points in the earth’s annual sweep” (Holton, Brush, 11, 2001). People did not believe that if the earth was moving, they could look at stars from the same angle because the angle would change. The heliocentric theories of Aristarchus were not influential because too many people found it unethical. Aristarchus, however, was using dynamics rather than scholasticism because he used research and mathematics rather than what was viewed as common sense.

After considering Aristarchus’s ideas of heliocentric thinking, astronomers began to reevaluate the geocentric theory. Ptolemy developed his geocentric theory which differed from the original theories because he proposed epicycles, which made Aristotle’s theory make more sense. An Epicycle is a small circle in which the center of moves around in the circumference of a larger circle. Observations of periodic irregularities in planetary motion were made and, according to Ptolemy, the epicycles are what caused this unaccounted for motion. Ptolemy made a number of modifications to the geocentric theory such as “adjusting the respective axes, directions of motions, rates and radii of rotations, and number and size of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants”, which assembled an apparatus that was still useful to astronomers centuries later (Holton, Brush, 14, 2001). Ptolemy was also able to answer Plato’s original question and created a piece of work that answered the unknowns of Aristotle’s geocentric theory.

Although Ptolemy’s geocentric theory was considered successful, this was still before the time of the scientific revolution, and people believed his theory because it made sense and it fit into their religious beliefs. There were some, however, who still believed that Aristarchus had valid points with his heliocentric thinking. After the New World was discovered, Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland began to question geocentric thinking and did research to try to prove heliocentric thinking. Copernicus was an astronomer of the 16th century who used mathematical reasoning and research to “prove that the motion of celestial objects as the known could indeed be represented by a combination of few uniform circular motions in a sun-centered system” (Holton, Brush, 19, 2001). He believed that the planets did in fact rotate, but not around the earth, around the sun. There are many advantages of Copernicus’s refreshing theory, one of them being that it “gives a much more natural explanation of the retrograde motion of the planets” (Holton, Brush, 19, 2001).Copernicus also concluded that the earth had two distinct motions; it not only rotates around the sun, but also rotates on its own axis. This theory explains the planetary motions and allows the outer sphere of fixed stars to be at rest.

Although Copernicus’s theory of the sun being the center of the universe explains many of the unknowns, there was still opposition to his theory. His heliocentric theory took more than a century for astronomers to accept for a few reasons. One was the argument, still, of the immobility of Earth. Also, Copernicus was “unsuccessful in persuading his readers that the heliocentric system was at least as close as the geocentric one to the mind and intent of the Deity” (Holton, Brush, 23, 2001). Religion faiths in Europe used the bible to try to prove Copernicus wrong, saying that “the Divine Architect had worked from a Ptolemaic blueprint” (Holton, Brush, 23, 2001). Another main concern of heliocentric thinking was that it ruined much of what was known of physics at that time. People were not willing to give up what they already knew, even if what they knew was false, because it took away other theories that they developed using false knowledge. This proves that scholasticism was not necessarily beneficial because instead of accepting new ideas, scholars built false theories off of false information. The heliocentric theory was also criticized because Copernicus’s argument for an observable parallax “was still unacceptable because it involved expanding the celestial sphere to practically an infinite distance away from the earth” (Holton, Brush, 24, 2001). Religion again takes the blame for the close minded thoughts of people not believing that the stars extended infinitely. People were too set on the thought that the stars have to stop somewhere because of heaven and hell. They were “not comfortable with a threatening Hell so close below the ground and a saving Heaven so infinitely far above” (Holton, Brush, 24, 2001). Copernicus’s theory was beginning to look unsuccessful and, although he and other believed it to be true, they had a hard time convincing the population.

The main thing that saved Copernicus’s theory from having the same uninfluential results that Archimedes’s did was The Scientific Revolution. Historian Herbert Butterfield wrote “since [The Scientific Revolution] overturned the authority in science not only of the middle ages but of the ancient world – since it ended not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics – it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom” (Butterfield, Holton, Brush, 25, 2001). The Scientific Revolution was beneficial in multiple ways and proved that scholasticism was not as effective as dynamics. Since Copernicus used dynamics rather than scholastics, his theory became more popular and easier for people to believe after the Scientific Revolution. Galileo Galilei, an Italian mathematician and scientist, played a major role in the scientific revolution, and used his newly developed telescope to show “that the moon had peaks and valleys, crags and carters and that the sun had spots that appeared and disappeared, disapproving the Aristotelian-Christian belief of pristine heavens” (HistoryOfScience). Many claim that he proved the heliocentric theory to be true; but, he only disproved the geocentric theory. This did, however, help the case of the heliocentric theory because that was the only other theory that could explain how the universe worked.

Although Copernicus’s theory did begin a transformation of learning in the world, the heliocentric theory continues to be perfected. Rather than thinking scholastically, scholars began to realize that, because the heliocentric was created based on dynamics, a dynamic education was more influential. Dynamic is defined in the dictionary as “marked by usually continuous and productive activity or change” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Dynamics is referred to in education when what is being taught is new and updated information and the information that is taught can be changed. A scholastic education affiliate’s religion within its education and the information being taught is not changed. Today’s society uses a more dynamic education system because it has been proven to be the most effective. After the heliocentric theory and Scientific Revolution, dynamics began to play a key role in education, making Copernicus’s theory the start to a new way of gaining a higher level of education.



Heliocentric Thinking


Page Author: BriAnne Pauley

Sunday, 18 March, 2012 23:11



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