Does the observable universe contain a pivot? Until Copernicus declared the Earth to be in motion there had virtually been no problem on that score. Our home in the Heavens clearly was the standard of rest and consequently all motions relative to it were considered absolute. Though of necessity today still fruitfully used in every applied science, this is a view that no scientist worth his salt considers actually “thinkable”. Only among uneducated obscurantists it still finds favour. However, it normally escapes everybody’s attention that until Heaven falls there remains an ultimate uncertainty as well for the very many who eschew, as for the very few who hold the old geocentric position, an uncertainty beyond the reach of science. “Whether the earth rotates once a day from West to East, as Copernicus taught, or the heavens revolve once a day from East to West, as his predecessors believed, the observable phenomena will be exactly the same”, to quote the late Bertrand Russell, (1872-1970), whereupon he rightly remarks: “This shows a defect in Newtonian dynamics, since an empirical science ought not to contain a metaphysical assumption, which can never be proved or disproved by observation”.(3) And I add: hence a defect in all kinematics as well as in even the purest mathematical
approximations, since we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of an extra-cosmical reality, nor to the least degree be certain how things will look or interact, seen from such an “above”. There may be “rumours of transcendence in physics”, but the most that can be said about the majority of these rumours is that “they raise important questions about the nature of reality, but are helpless to provide answers”.(4)
Be this as it may, and as I deem it is: unavoidably when tackling the enigmas of motion and rest, “every object we perceive is set off by us instinctively against a background which is taken to be at rest”, to cite the late Michael Polanyi (1891-1976).(5) Regrettably however, as C.S. Lewis remarks: “Instinct is a name for we know not what”,(6) and scientific ukases issued from such a shaky point of view are therefore, it seems to me, highly suspect. Yet such ukases are the stock-in-trade of the ruling astronomical paradigm. And easily, but also again and again inconsistently employed, they fudge Russell’s inadmissible metaphysical factor in virtually all cosmological deliberations and Gedankenexperiments about motion and rest.
- The Armstrong Alert