There is one consideration and there is an experimental proposal capable of testing its validity, which strongly argues against the dictum that space knows no place and movement no rest. General Relativity ruling the roost, the up-to~date astrophysical confession assures us that whatever celestial body we prefer to suppose as being at Heaven’s centre will make no difference in the overall theoretical structure deducible from it. The cosmological conclusions derived from the observable phenomena will be the same whether we select Sirius, the Sun, or Earth as the solid point of departure for our thinking and conclusions about the cosmic building code.
I disagree. The extrapolations originating from an Earth taken to be at rest in space and those following from, e.g. a Sun for practical purposes assumed to occupy such a preferred place – they are totally discordant. The stargazer who takes his first clue from Copernicus will, historically tracing his way via Giordano Bruno, Thomas Digger, Newton, Mach, Lorentz, and Einstein, end up with one of the many cosmological models and cosmological scenarios today the vogue. On the other hand: the astronomer who begins to investigate the corollaries and consequences of Tycho Brahe’s geocentric view is in for a nasty shock when visualizing the emerging features of this model in classical, three-dimensional “flat” space, the only space in which mankind non-analogically can visualize anything!
Allow me to explain why the geocentric explanation of Airy’s failure, never yet convincingly banished, because not demonstrably falsifiable, leads from one thing to another.
To begin with: the theoretical status of the Earth-centered concept is today under Einstein’s regimen higher than it has ever been since the 1687 publication of Newton’s Principia, the ruling model now “giving increased respectability to the geocentric picture”.(57) For the Ptolemaic and the Copernican view “when improved by adding terms involving the square and higher powers of the eccentricities of the planetary orbits, are physically equivalent to one another”.(58) The Tychonian system “is in reality absolutely identical with the system of Copernicus and all computations of the places of the planets are the same for the two systems”.(59) Not only that: in calculating those planets’ perturbations, “the mathematician is forced to adopt the old device of Hipparchus and Ptolemy, the discredited and discarded epicycle. It is true that the name, epicycle, is no longer used, and that one may hunt in vain through astronomical textbooks for the slightest hint of the present day use of the device, which in the popular mind is connected with absurd and fantastic theories. The physicist and the mathematician now speak of ‘harmonic motion’, of Fourier’s series, of the development of a function into a series of sines and cosines. The name has been changed, but the essentials of the device remain. And the essential, the fundamental point of the device, under whatever name it may be concealed, is the representation of an irregular motion as the combination of a number of simple, uniform, circular motions.”(60) Laying out the course for, e.g., that rendezvous between the Giotto satellite and Halley’s comet would have embroiled those old Greek savants in a geometric nightmare. It would have cost Karl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) still hours and hours of laborious cyphering to obtain all the necessary data, which the batteries of computers in a modern space center now spit out in a split second. In fact, however, there is only one basic ontological difference between the mathematical procedures applied before Copernicus and those used after Newton. In the days of yore the Earth was at rest in space; in A.D.1988, whether the practitioners of the art of celestial kinematics like it or not, their home in the heavens must be supposed to be at rest.
There are, however, troublesome particulars, which should not be overlooked. Bertrand Russel’s contention that the observable phenomena will be the same whether the Earth rotates or the Heavens revolve, as well as Fred Hoyle’s declaration that the geocentric view is as good as anybody else’s, but not better, they are only tenable if certain presuppositions are assumed to be self-evident. Which they are not! For it is certainly not self-evident that the Earth is in motion relative to the space surrounding it.
Russell’s view takes for granted a space pinpointing places and hence allowing motion through that space to be real, though apparently not directly but only relatively observable. Any drawing of the Universe with the Sun in the center of the Solar System (see figure 4) will show us this. For simplicity’s sake I propose that we disregard both Mother Gea’s diurnal rotation against the background of the stars taken to be at rest, and the four-minute complication caused by the difference between a solar and a sidereal day. They do not impinge on the argument as such. Now with a pencil, its tip representing our planet, we trace the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Stellar aberration, parallaxes and the Great Light’s annual travel along the Zodiac – they are lucidly and Coperni- cally demonstrated. Next we keep, relative to ourselves, the pencil in place with the orbit it has been describing sliding underneath it, and let the Sun circle the Earth. This now by moving the paper (that is, the Universe) around, without changing the direction of the N arrow with regard to ourselves.
For “observers” situated down there at the point of the pencil, “inside” all perceptible being, nothing has changed. Only we, by comparison “bystanders”, haughtily overestimating ourselves, “see” whether we have held either the Sun or the Earth at rest. For the mortals we have created in this way, inhabiting a space with one dimension less than the one in which we find ourselves, the issue is metaphysical and the question unanswerable. If we tell them what viewed from a dimension superseding theirs is “really” the case, they can accept or reject our words but not verify them. Mutatis mutandis, with regard to any and all foundational information about how the cosmos around us came into being, is arranged now, and shall appear theoretically thinkable billions of years in the future, we clearly have, to quote St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, to walk by faith, not by sight. Faith in transcendental information or faith in the truth of our own minds’ constructs, which constructs history shows to be like grass that today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven. Trusting, as I do, the self-authenticating Divine Message of Holy Writ I feel therefore enjoined to prefer Tycho Brahe’s system of the world above the everchanging confabulations of post-Galilean astronomy.
- The Unfailing Import of Airy’s Failure
- Some Desiderata Not to be Overlooked