The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

If you haven’t read The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown by TOF, you really, really should. It’s the history of the overthrow of the ptolemaic theory of the solar system to the present heliocentric theory of the solar system. Gallileo is involved, but is not the primary subject. It’s really quite fascinating and more than worth the time to read it. Two tidbits, to wet your appetite:

TOF once wrote an article entitled “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down ‘n Dirty Mud-Wrassle” which described the century-long progress from the first seriously-worked out heliocentric mathematical model to the final overthrow of geocentrism.  A century, more-or-less, is generally what it takes for quantum mechanics, general relativity, and sundry other theories to progress from “wild hypothesis overthrowing the wisdom of the ages” to “standard model,” so there was nothing unusual in the resistance to heliocentrism from the scientific establishment of the day.  As Max Planck once put it, a new scientific theory gradually gets accepted by scientists because “all the old scientists have died.”  

and slightly later:

Before you laugh at your ancestors, TOF invites you to prove that the earth is, contrary to your senses, in wild and careening double motion: spinning like a top and whipping around the sun without (somehow) leaving the Moon and Air behind, and without everyone stumbling around like dunkards.  You are not allowed to appeal to authority or to the success of NASA, or suchlike things.  You’ve got eyeballs and armillaries, and that’s pretty much it.  Go. TOF will wait here.

Astonishingly, Late Moderns, who hold heliocentrism as a sort of holy doctrine, are generally unaware of the empirical evidences that would justify it; while Early Moderns, who thought geocentrism dough-face obvious, were well aware of the evidences that falsified heliocentrism. These evidences, plucked variously from Aristotle, Oresme, and Riccoli follow; but be it noted that both Oresme and Riccoli also supplied rebuttals for most of them and Aristotle cautioned against taking his cosmology as more certain than he himself did…

It really is an excellent history of the time, and you really, really should read the whole thing. It explores why the scientific establishment of the time was set against heliocentrism—for example, they didn’t much care whether the earth was at the center or the sun was at the center, but the idea that the earth was moving contradicted all available evidence both on the earth and of astronomical observations. Go read it. You’ll be glad that you did.

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