… most writing …

… most writing about [science] focuses only on the answer. People cannot make sense if answer if they do not first understand the questions. Solution only have meaning if one has a firm grasp of the problems being addressed and of why these problem matters.

Why, for instance, does it matter if the earth revolves around the sun or the sound around the earth? In most physic books, and in most classrooms, this is presented as a problem in celestial geometry: is it the blue dot or the yellow one at the center? With virtually no sense of context we are told that Copernicus finally “solved” this problem by placing the yellow dot in the central position. To most students the whole exercise appears title more than an abstract mathematical game.

Yet the issue matters greatly. The question of the whether the sun or the earth is at the center of the cosmic system is not just a matter of celestial geometry (though it is that as well), it is a profound question about human culture. The choice between the geocentric cosmology of the Middle Age and the heliocentric cosmology of the late seventeen century was a choice between two fundamentally different perceptions of mankind’s place in the universal scheme. Were we to see ourselves at a center of an angel-filled cosmos with everything connected to God, or were we to see ourselves as the inhabitants of a large rock purposelessly revolving in a fast Euclidian void? The shift from geocentrism to heliocentrism was not simply a triumph of empirical astronomy, but a turning point in Western cultural history.

Margaret Wertheim (1997)


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