Our Place In The Universe

When people think about the universe, they think about stars.  Stars make up most of the visible matter in the universe, and despite all stars beyond our Sun being unthinkably far away from us, we can see thousands of them with our naked eye at night.  Space can be looked at as being a place for numerical variables, data structures or functions to exist and comprise points on a line, objects in a plane or belong in some higher dimensions of a universe.  As humans became more intelligent, we developed a greater interest in how things worked in our world, which has allowed us to adapt and it gave us a portal to understanding the universe.

Science was invented by people who tried to find out more about their world, and over the years it became a systematic and logical approach to discovering our universe.  As science started improving, more people began looking at the known universe, trying to figure out what was going on based off their observations.  The Greek, Aristotle said that the Earth was the center of the universe and it took almost 1,000 years and a man named Copernicus to prove him to be wrong.  Aristotle said that the planets revolve around the Earth in circular patterns and Kepler later proved that this was an elliptical pattern not circular.

Aristarchus of Samos calculated the diameter of the Sun as being about seven times the diameter of the Earth and this is why he reasoned that the Sun rather than Earth is the center of the Universe and the Earth is just a planet.  Aristarchus was the first person to recognize that the Earth moved around the Sun.  His model was termed heliocentric and his work was rejected because it seemed counter-intuitive to what man was able to observe and it eventually fell into oblivion, as the Greeks continued to believe in a geocentric universe.  The Greeks developed geometry, which allowed them to distinguish between the apparent size and true size of objects and they used geometric tools to determine the Earth’s place in the universe.

Greek philosopher and astronomer Heraclides Ponticus proposed that the apparent daily motion of the stars was created by the rotation of the Earth on its axis once a day.  Greek philosopher Hicetas thought the sun, the moon, the stars and in fact all things in the sky remain still, and nothing else in the universe moves, except the earth.  Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said the Sun took varied orbits around the Earth which accounted for the change of the seasons.  Around 1340, Jean Buridan a French priest who taught natural philosophy at the University of Paris expressed a significant doubt as to whether the Earth is directly in the middle of the cosmos and if it should be considered to be the center of the universe.

Copernicus searched for clues to how the universe worked as he diligently read various ancient authors including Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, Pliny, Ptolemy, Averroes (Ibn Rashid) and others.  In 1600, William Gilbert an English physician, natural philosopher and physicist rejected the notion that Earth was at the center of the universe.  The breakthrough in our knowledge of celestial motions came from Tycho Brahe a Danish astronomer and Johannes Kepler.  Tycho accurately measured the position of the planets in the sky for more than 20 years.  Kepler inherited the data gathered by Tycho and used them to discover the three laws that bear his name.  The telescope forever changed how man looks at the universe.

Theologians of the day felt that since man was the focus of God’s creative act, the Earth must be the center of God’s creation. A wave of Protestant opposition eventually led the Catholic Church to ban Copernican views.  The church supported Aristotelian science, but this geocentric view of the universe was popular with many scientists at the time.  Martin Luther felt that Copernicus was wrong because his new ideas went against the biblical story of Joshua, which he used to prove that the Sun went around the Earth.  The Bible says, “Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies.  The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.”

Eventually Galileo entered the picture and he escalated the conflict between Copernican science and beliefs that had become Church tradition.  In 1615, Galileo wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany to express his scientific views supporting Copernicus and he also stated his biblical views and this became the basis of his first Church trial and censure.  The church asked Galileo to explain why the heliocentric model did not reveal any observable parallax shifts of star positions as the Earth moved which was the same argument that Aristotle made.  Galileo had no answer for this and he kept on proclaiming this model as being the true representation of the universe, even though he was not able to prove it.  He asserted that the Bible should be used for religious purposes, and that the church and Scripture should not get involved in scientific controversies.

Newton’s law of gravity became one of the most powerful tool we have to understand the universe.  As people learned more, they postulated spatial dimension additional to those determining length, area, and volume.  Einstein made time the fourth dimension in his theory of relativity and the extra dimension that was undefined and mysterious before, now served a scientific purpose to better understand our universe and the way we thought about the fabric of reality would never be the same again.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that you can never simultaneously know the exact position and the exact speed of an object, because everything in the universe behaves like both a particle and a wave at the same time.  Nature is thought to be lazy which brought about the idea of “least action” that appears in Newton’s classical mechanics to Einstein’s general relativity to Schrödinger’s quantum field theory, every major theory has been reformulated with this single principle, by Euler, Hilbert and Feynman, respectively.

Written for Mathew’s Daily Inkling where the prompt is “vast expanse”.

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