GeoCentrism & EgoCentrism: scientific perspectives on Existentialist despair and human significance

 Note: This article (a condensed informal version of a longer more technical article[1]is referenced on Wikipedia's entry for "'Geocentric Model', or 'Modern Geocentrism'" (Watch the brief related video)

  

Topics: 

  • GeoCentrism & EgoCentrism
  • Scientific theory and Existentialist despair
  • The alleged conflict of Bible and science;
  • Distortions by "fundamentalism and skepticalism" 

 

Preface: In the past the accepted wisdom among most was that the Earth is at the physical center of the universe - a belief today referred to as geocentrism ('GeoCentrIsm’ = Earth + Center + ism).Relatedly, some religious people and philosophers believed humans to be 'central' to the purpose of the universe.

[Discussions about the structure of the physical universe and the relation to religious views are not new. The Talmud records discussions almost 2,000 years ago between the sages and contemporary scientists related to the issue of the motion of the stars. 900 years ago the great religious sage, Talmudic expert and philosopher Maimonides accords the view of the scientists greater credence, scorns the view that considers humans as the most important beings in the universe, and clearly stated that in general biblical passages which implied counter-scientific views were meant idiomatically or even allegorically (with the exception of the issue of an eternal universe vs a created one; see my video lectures: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIPLVT_quwQasxgLC6msp2g).]


500 years ago, the Copernican discoveries overthrew geocentrism and gave rise not just to discussions involving Earth's position in the universe but also regarding humanity's significance. In more modern times the scientific understanding of the physical universe has been used by some philosophers to buttress their existentialist despair.

Our discussion here of human significance will utilize a scientific discussion of the issue of geocentrism as a springboard and backdrop. The topic of geocentrism also provides entry into discussions about what types of statements are or are not 'scientific', as preparation for the analysis of what science may or may not have to say about human significance.

 

Issues raised in this article:

  • Does the universe have a center? Is Earth at that center? If Earth is not at the center, what is?
  • In what way would it be significant that Earth is or is not the center?
  • Does religion – particularly the bible – teach that the earth is the center of the universe, and does science contradict the religious or biblical view?
  • Is it false to say that the sun goes around the Earth?

Conclusions reached:

  • The universe has no 'center' in any scientifically-meaningful sense;
  • Although some religious people feel that their religion requires them to believe in geocentrism, the great majority of Jewish bible-believing sages do not feel the bible teaches geocentrism, and indeed do not believe in geocentrism.
  • Modern physical theory including Einstein's general relativity theory: neither the Earth nor the sun nor any other body can be said to be unequivocally stationary or moving, only that there is relative motion between them. It is legitimate as a perspective to see one as stationary and the other as orbiting it; however, that the Earth orbits the (stationary) sun or the sun orbits the (stationary) Earth though equally legitimate as perspectives are equally illegitimate when taken as statements with scientific significance.
  • If Earth were at the center of a universe, psychologically this would likely boost our sense that we are cosmically significant. However the reverse is not true. That is, since philosophically significance is not necessarily tied to being at 'the center' in a geographical sense, our not being at the center need not give rise to a psychological feeling of our insignificance. And in any case, any psychological feelings arising as a result of scientific conclusions are not themselves ‘scientific’.

 

 

A)     Overview

 

B)    Linguistic and scientific issues, and relevant quotes

 I:  What type of "center" does "geocentrism" refer to?

II: Geocentrism in classical Newtonian theory and in General Relativity

III: Summary of the above in terms of what was disproved by science: true & false statements regarding geocentrism.

IV: Some relevant quotes (from Eddington, Whitehead, Russell, Hans Reichenbach, Max Born, and Einstein).

   

C)    Religious, philosophical and polemical issues

V:    Religion, the Bible, and geocentrism

VI:  The connection to Existentialist despair and the significance of Humanity
VII: Misunderstandings by fundamentalists and atheists

 

Appendices: Some technical points:

1. The microwave background radiation and broken symmetry

2. Geo-stationary satellites

………………….

A)  Overview

 

Why geocentrism was very reasonable in the past, and what changed : One must keep in mind that prior to the better understanding of inertia and dynamics we have inherited from Galileo, Newton and others, motion was expected to produce effects (now we know that it is only change of motion which produces effects). From the lack of any feeling of motion experienced as one stands still on the Earth’s surface, it was quite reasonable to conclude that the Earth is stationary.

 

It used to be believed by most people that the universe is composed basically of the Earth, the sun and moon plus a few smaller and larger relatively nearby lights (planets and stars). From the observation that the sun rises and sets (as do the various lights at night), combined with the obvious stationarity of the Earth, it was concluded that the sun (and the stars and planets) rotate about the Earth[2], a hypothesis now known as ‘geocentrism’.

The implication of all this however was that the Earth is the center of the universe, and it is this which is often meant by ‘geocentrism’.

 

To those who felt that humanity lives at the center of the universe, and on the object about which the sun rotates daily, it seemeds reasonable to conclude that humans are the most important entities in the physical universe.

Some believers in the Bible felt that the Bible teaches the unique significance of humanity and it taught geocentrism as religious truth via usage of terms such as ‘the sun rises’[3].   

 

Many years later with more sophisticated understandings of inertia and dynamics it was possible to consider the Earth as non-stationary despite the lack of any sense of motion. And so a new conception became feasible - the sun at the universal-center rather than the Earth, with the Earth spinning to produce day and night (rather than day/night being a result of the sun’s daily motion about the Earth), and with the Earth orbiting in an annual cycle. Thus was overthrown the conception of geocentrism - but in favor of helio(sun)-centrism.

In line with the above-mentioned ramifications of geocentrism, some saw its overthrow as implying also the overthrow of the significance of humanity, and to the extent that it was believed that geocentrism is taught by the Bible, its divine origin was now to be considered disproven.

This was the onset of several centuries of scientific advance being utilized by some to present science and religion as conflicting.

 

One should note that further development led to the understanding of the universe as so vast, with the sun so generic, that the sun too was not considered to be in a special location, and so in today’s conception the notion of helio-centrism would be considered not scientifically much different than that of geocentrism. It is ironic that the post-Copernican idea of the sun as the unequivocal center of the universe – which was seen as a disproof of geocentrism and by some as a reason for discrediting biblical belief – was itself discredited.  

 

From web: Stanford Encyclopedia re the Copernican revolution: extract, juxtaposed out of context: The significant point was not the replacement of the earth by the sun as the center of all motion in the universe, but the recognition of both the earth and the sun as merely possible points of view from which the motions of the celestial bodies may be described. This implied that the basic task of Ptolemaic astronomy — to represent the planetary motions by combinations of circular motions — could take any point to be fixed, and that, as Copernicus suggested in the opening arguments of “On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres,” the choice of any particular point required some justification on other than astronomical grounds….neither Copernicus' nor Ptolemy's view can be true — though one may be judged simpler than the other — because both are merely possible hypothetical interpretations of the same relative motions. This principle clearly defines (what we would call) a set of reference frames, differing in their arbitrary choices of a resting point or origin, but agreeing on the relative positions of bodies at any moment and their changing relative distances through time.

 

Occam’s razor & minimalism: From relativity theory and quantum theory physicists have learned that a non-minimalistic interpretation of experimental data can lead one to incorrect conclusions, and so it is useful to apply ‘Occam’s razor’. We’ll now apply this to our context.

Given a brief video of the motion of the sun and the planets as seen from the Earth (to obtain some ‘initial conditions’), together with several numbers - the mass of the sun and Earth and planets and the distances between them - Newton’s equations can predict the future motions. With a good computer one could create an extension of the video into the far future. An additional computer program could then also create a video of what would be seen from any other location in the universe, whether from the sun or from one of the planets in the video, or from the moon or from some distant point in the universe.

From the physics perspective this means that one has a complete model. Adding in the statement ‘the Earth goes around the sun rather than vice versa’ is unnecessary in correctly predicting the future motion and is therefore not part of the scientific description. Indeed this statement is does not portray a scientifically valid ‘fact’, it is merely a statement about what the motion looks like from the sun, and perhaps a statement of the perspective from which one can provide the simplest description of the collective motion. So one could add to the data the statement ‘from the human perspective, the simplest way to visualize the relative motion, and the way to most concisely convey the relevant information to someone who wishes to make predictions, would be to view (and calculate) everything from the sun’s rest frame’. 

 

To be ‘scientific’, a statement or hypothesis or law needs to make predictions which are not made by other models, and these need to be verified experimentally (‘verified’ of course in this context means using ‘accepted scientific criteria’, though of course ‘accepted’ is admittedly subjective, so all science is in the end ‘subjective’ in this sense).

 

Unnecessary but non-disprovable statements:  Proposition: all mass is consciously aware and intelligent and has free will and always decides to follow Newton’s law F = ma because they so desire.

This proposition adds nothing, we don’t need it to make predictions. Nor is it verifiable on its own. Of course we also cannot disprove it. So it is simply irrelevant to science. Scientists prefer the minimal set of assumptions necessary for making verifiable predictions, and the application to our issue is that since a claim that the Earth is in a special location, the universal center or etc, is irrelevant to scientific discourse, it is not considered ‘scientific’.

The fact that a hypothesis cannot be disproven does not make it inherently interesting. What IS interesting is Einstein’s general relativity theory, which shows how statements which one might have thought are disprovable scientifically are in fact not disprovable. But utilizing this understanding to create an arbitrary hypothesis from amongst the infinitely many non-disprovable statements is not a scientifically interesting project.

Perhaps however it might interest people who believe in a model which was previously considered to be disproven by science, to learn that it is no longer so considered. However, they would not be correct in claiming therefore that science supports their hypothesis.

 

Conclusion: There are various categories of statements: one which

·         arises from purely scientific considerations;

·         arises from other considerations but is supported by some scientific evidence;

·         is disproved by science;

·         is neither proven nor disproved, it is simply not relevant to science: geocentrism is an example.

 

 

The significance or insignificance of humanity: Since ‘significance’ is a feeling in the mind of a sentient being, if there is no sentience capable of experiencing the feeling of significance then there is indeed no significance to anything in the universe. Nor is anything insignificant. Indeed in this scenario the concept of significance has no meaning, it would never arise, no entity would say ‘significance is meaningless’ because they would not even understand the concept – indeed no ‘concepts’ would exist, nor any ‘understanding’. 

A purely-physical cosmos without sentience cannot contain ‘meaning’ or ‘meaninglessness’, nor can it contain ‘significance’ or ‘insignificance’. No physical model can produce the conclusion that this or that is meaningless or insignificant (or meaningful or significant). Humans (or other sentient beings) are necessary to exist in order to give rise to ‘concepts’, and ‘meaning’, and it is in the minds of these beings where the sense of significance and insignificance arise. It would be ironic indeed to then state that scientific conclusions indicate that these very entities are themselves somehow ‘insignificant’ and/or that their lives are ‘meaningless’. 

 

What is true instead is the psychological-sociological statement that a ‘feeling of the insignificance of humanity’ occasionally arises in some minds as a result of the understandings their minds have reached about the external physical universe.

Why this occurs is matter not for physics directly. In some perspectives an answer would be sought in evolutionary socio-neurobiology, and in other perspectives it would be sought in religion. Yet others might not feel the need to know why a sense of meaninglessness arises, but rather will feel a need to compose some poetry.

When someone feels their ‘cosmic insignificance’ it is only their minds that has concluded this; it is not a judgment ‘of the universe’, and indeed the notion that ‘the universe considers humanity to be insignificant’ has no place in science. In some sense the wise and compassionate response to someone who express the notion that ‘humanity is insignificant in the face of the vastness of the universe’ is perhaps not the explanation above, but rather a hug.

 

………

B) Linguistic and scientific issues, and relevant quotes

 

Part I: The Meaning of "Center" in the concept "Geocentrism"

 

Considerations of Galilean inertia lead one to understand even in Newtonian dynamics that one cannot define a ‘location in space’ unambiguously (see explanation below). Thus the very notion of an ‘absolute space’ is invalid and so the notion that the universe possesses an actual physical center is archaic.

Also, since both rockets can validly consider themselves as stationary despite the relative speed between them, the notion that a body is ‘stationary’ in an absolute sense is not scientifically meaningful. Thus, stating that the Earth is at ‘the center of the universe’ no longer has meaning from the scientific point of view, nor does the statement that the Earth is ‘stationary’ and other bodies orbit it.

Explanation: As we know from our experience in jet planes moving at high uniform speed, rockets in empty space proceeding at constant speed do not experience effects of motion. Consider two spacecraft moving in opposite directions, passing each other; both sets of passengers state that they are stationary (their engines are off and they experience no motion) and that the other spacecraft is the one moving. In each vehicle there is a child with its nose pressed to a window. The two windows pass each other. As they are right opposite one another, both sets of passengers point to the point in empty space right between the two childrens’ noses. Both sets of passengers keep their fingers pointing to it as the two vehicles separate at high speed. Both sets of passengers state that they are stationary (their engines are off and they experience no motion), and yet both rockets move farther and farther apart. For each set of passengers the point is still there right outside the window, as it was before, whereas the other craft has moved away from that point. Each set of passengers insists that they are still pointing to the same point. Which is correct? The answer is that there is no way to define ‘a point of space’ unambiguously.

 

Two Types of Geocentrism: There are at least two important relative motions of the Earth and Sun, one composing the 24-hour daily cycle, and the other composing the 365-day annual cycle.

 

Regarding the yearly cycle: a more perspicacious observer standing on the Earth would notice that the rotation of the sun about the Earth is in a plane, and that the angle of the plane changes in a cycle completed every 365 days. Any even non-perspicacious observer on the sun would see that the Earth rotates about the sun once every 365 of its days. Which perspective is correct? 

 

Unambiguous Visual GeoCentrism: Consider the nail holding the hands of a standard clock, with the hands rotating about it. Of course when seen from the hands, the nail is the one moving. However the hand is accelerating (changing direction of motion) and so will experience inertial forces, which will convince it that it is not stationary. And in any case it is clear that the apparatus was crafted by someone, and we can take that person’s rest frame as authoritative, in which case it is clear that it is the nail which is indeed stationary, not the hands. Similarly, when water drains from a tub into a small hole and a vortex is formed, the vortex is centered on the hole. We can accept examples such as these as being ‘visually-established unambiguous centers’. However this determination is possible only because we have an accepted ‘absolute’ frame from which to judge matters, namely the rest frame of a person standing still on the surface of the Earth (relative to whom the clock’s hands and the center of the water-drain vortex are stationary. 

To make such a determination about the sun-Earth relative emotion, one would need an unbiased view of the Earth and sun, an absolute space which is the arbiter of ‘stationary’. If we would consider a view from space to be in that category - what would one see – the Earth going about the sun or the sun going about the Earth? Or neither or both? In ancient times what did people think would be the view from outside the Earth – presumably that it would show unambiguously that the Earth was the center of the universe and the sun went about it, just as unambiguously as the nail is the center of the clock and the hands go about it. We could term this “unambiguous visual geocentrism”.

Geocentrism in the context of the 24-hour daily cycle: Of course just as when one stands on the Earth and looks at the sun overhead (this is ‘the Earth’s rest frame’) one sees that the sun rotates about the Earth making one complete revolution every 24 hours, if one were on the other hand to stand on the sun (this is ‘the Sun’s rest frame’) and look at the Earth, one would see the Earth spin on its axis once every 24 hours[4]. Therefore there would be no way to settle the matter simply by a visual inspection of the Earth-sun system, and in visual terms it would simply be a matter of perspective (a matter of which frame you chose). How does one choose the appropriate point from which to see the absolute situation?

Geocentrism in the context of the annual cycle: In ancient times and until relatively modern times the universe was considered to consist of just the Earth, sun, a few planets and some few thousand stars arranged in a sphere around the Earth. It was believed by most people that someone who could leave the Earth and gain the perspective of an outsider would see unambiguously that this was the case, and that the Earth was the center of the entire physical universe.

If the Earth is the fixed center of the universe (a frame at absolute rest) then the Earth’s perspective can be said to be absolute and therefore the ‘correct’ one, whereas if the sun is the fixed center then the view as seen from the sun is the ‘correct’ one. Since in ancient times it was believed that the Earth was the fixed center of the universe (and this fact could be established visually in an unambiguous way by an observer outside the Earth), the issue was settled.

Later when the sun was believed to be the center and the Earth to rotate about it, it was still believed that the universe was small and unambiguously centered on the sun, and so the matter was simply settled in the opposite way, and geocentrism gave way to helio(sun)centrism.

Nowadays of course we know from photos taken by satellites and spacecraft and by infrared and microwave detectors that the universe is definitely not visually unambiguously geocentric, so this form of geocentrism has definitely been disproved. Also, we know that the universe not only dwarfs our solar system, but even our entire galaxy; indeed it may well be that the universe is infinite, and therefore has no unique center. Another possibility – raised by Riemann 150 years ago and later by Einstein – is that the universe is ‘closed’ and so it has no end, but also no unique center. Either way there is no ‘center’ to the universe and so neither the Earth nor its sun can be said to be “at the center of the universe”.

 

Part II: More about geocentrism in classical Newtonian theory, and in General Relativity;

equal validity or invalidity of geocentrism, heliocentrism or any-other-centrism (some of this will need to be MESHED into other sections)

 

No one frame is more ‘correct’ than any other, and therefore in physics there is no real discussion even of whether or not geocentrism is valid. And if one were to decide that one wishes to declare some one place in the universe as center even if this is not a scientific determination, one might as well have a theory of moon-centrism, or of venus-centrism, and alpha-centauri-centrism, and this or that particle of dust-centrism, as many centers as there are points of space or particles in the universe, all could equally-well compete for the title of THE center.

 

Of course one might assume that there IS an absolute rest frame, and perhaps the Earth is the arbiter of that frame since we don’t feel it to move, or if not, perhaps the sun, but neither is correct in the scientific sense

 

In fact, in modern cosmology the exact opposite of geocentrism is assumed: the assumption is made that the Earth is not in any special location - this is called 'the Copernican principle'. One then further concludes – based on this assumption -that when looking out at the universe on the large scale, what one sees from Earth is in principle the same (in an overall, average sense) as what one would see from any other point in the universe.

 

Scientifically, geocentrism is not discussed, but a related matter is, and from that discussion one can see what the attitude of general relativity would be to geocentrism.

Newton proposed his 'bucket' experiment which is so incredibly simple – it just involves swinging an object on a string around one's head yet illustrates a conundrum involving fundamental aspects of the universe,  space and time (those interested in this issue can web-search 'Newton’s bucket', and 'Mach’s principle'). The basic issue is whether there is equal validity to considering the object rotating and the rest of the universe (the stars in the background) at rest (in which case there are inertial forces which will become evident by the shape of the surface of the water in the bucket), and the reverse, that the bucket is stationary and the rest of the universe, all the stars, are rotating (so that there are no inertial forces and the surface of the water in the bucket is flat). Those who would claim that physics indicates that both are equally valid, would see geocentrism, helio-centrism, and any other-centrism as all equally valid.

 

When standing on any given entity (choosing the frame of the Earth, sun, a planet or a star etc) one sees motion of the other entities about it; there is no unique center to compare things to, as there would be in a small universe with a visually unambiguous center. Since this is solely a matter of perspective, the question of ‘which rotates about which’ points to a more fundamental question: whether or not there really is some absolute sense in which one or the other perspective is the correct one (as discussed further below).

 

When scientists reached a deeper understanding of the effects of acceleration, including rotation, and of which statements can be made regarding absolute or relative motion, they ceased to impute absoluteness or objectiveness to unequivocal statements about which celestial object is stationary and which rotates about which; no specific body could be said to be unambiguously or objectively at the center of some moving system.  

 

Modern physics teaches that there is no absolute frame, no one frame which is at rest in an absolute sense, and in any case there is no evidence that the Earth or the sun is ‘fixed’, and none that either is ‘the center’ of the universe. As a result both statements – that the Earth is the center and the sun rotates about it and the reverse statement that the sun is the center and the Earth rotates about it - are equally false, and it is all simply a matter of perspective. Thus not only visually unambiguous geocentrism false, so too is any unambiguous geocentrism or heliocentrism;  

 

It is clear to us that describing a given phenomenon (for example watching a bird’s flight from a distance) using an (x,y,z) coordinate system or using a polar coordinate system (r, theta, phi) does not change the phenomenon being described, it only changes the description. In relativity theory, the coordinates are space and time, united into spacetime, and so a coordinate transformation is a transformation in a combination of space and time, which is a transformation to a moving frame, perhaps even accelerating; if we believe that coordinate transformations cannot change the physics of what is being described, it must be true according to relativity theory that the physics will be the same in an accelerated frame. And therefore even though inertial effects arise in accelerated frames, the relativity of motion is maintained. (Advanced: Because inertial effects simulate the effect of a uniform gravitational field, gravity enters into this theory. However gravity is non-uniform and this cannot be modeled by a global spacetime coordinate transformation, which is why it is necessary to introduce different coordinate transformations in each region, which then introduces the same mathematics as that which describes curved surfaces, so that one says that in the presence of matter-energy spacetime is ‘curved’.)

Einstein’s general relativity provides a good understanding of all of the above, and formulates its equations to be independent of the frame chosen[5]. The true physics is in the phenomenon not the perspective, there is a relative rotation and that is real, but the question of which revolves about which is not physics, it is simply a matter of perspective (choice of reference frame).

 

Summary:

1) There is no scientific meaning to the question "which REALLY rotates about which" since there is no measurable 'objective' etc means to make such a determination. 
It is important to note that this does NOT mean that therefore the question is open from the scientific viewpoint; from the scientific viewpoint it is a scientifically MEANINGLESS question.

2) From the scientific point of view there is relative rotation etc between the two and that is all that can meaningfully be said. It is important to note that a theory which makes a determination as to which 'really' moves about which is NOT a more complete scientific theory, it is a MEANINGLESS theory from the scientific viewpoint.


2) Science does not claim to have exclusive TRUTH, it deals only with issues capable of resolution via 'objective/scientific' etc means, and so science does not 'disallow' one from talking about religious or metaphysical truths, and so for example science/scientists don't think science 'disallows' speaking about "which one 'really' rotates about which" as long as one is not claiming to be speaking from a scientific viewpoint, but is rather aware that they are presenting metaphysical etc beliefs.


3) All the following statements are FALSE (not only from the scientific viewpoint):

·         "science teaches that the earth rotates about the sun",

·         "science teaches (or the theory of relativity shows) that the sun rotates about the earth”

·         "science cannot determine which one is really - in the scientific sense - rotating about which"

·         "science has proven that the earth does NOT rotate about the sun"

·         "science has proven that the sun does NOT rotate about the earth"

Even the following statement is false: "it is equally true scientifically to say that the earth rotates about the sun as to say that the sun rotates about the earth". A true statment is: “they are in relative rotation, and that is all there is to say from the scientific viewpoint”.

 

Einstein’s General Relativity and Geo- or Helio- Centrism: According to present day scientific assumption/theory/model there is no particular location in the universe which is special, no place or object which is stationary in the absolute sense; therefore the only type of motion which can be meaningfully discussed is the relative motion between (somewhat nearby)objects.

According to the modern scientific view the Aristotelian system is INCORRECT (it attributed intelligence to the planets etc to explain their motion), the Heliocentric and geocentric models are WRONG if they are meant to imply that there is a unique center to the universe and/or that there is some part of the universe which is uniquely at rest (the sun, or the earth, or anything else) so that other things orbit them while they are stationary.

What one sees from a satellite is different from what one sees from earth or from the sun, or from a merry-go-round while you are standing on your head and doing somersaults: the pattern that is seen is different, but they all are due to relative motion. Some reference frames, for example one located on the sun, are more useful in that they produce simpler patterns for the relative motions. But the sun is NOT STATIONARY in an absolute sense and so it is only one of an infinite amount of valid reference frames from which to describe the RELATIVE MOTION of the earth and sun.

ASIDE: Worlds Within Worlds, and Gravity on the Brane: If we cut a sentence into pieces, the pieces are not sentences, they are words. Cut a word into pieces, the pieces are not words but letters. Using only twenty-six letters in different combinations we can write the millions of words in different European languages. Analogously, if we cut a chair in small pieces, each piece is not a chair, it is wood. If we cut the wood into microscopic pieces, we might get combinations of molecules we call wood, but cut that and instead of molecules of wood each piece is an atom (or a combination of atoms of various substances). There are about 100 atoms, and combining them in various ways makes up the millions of different things we know of, whether wood, stone, iron, molecules of DNA, air or the hydrogen which makes up the sun etc. The ancient Greeks discussed the concept of 'atoms', that everything we know of is composed of tiny substances which are not like the thing, but are its elementary constituents. At some point, science's conception of the large-scale universe was of the solar system, composed of the sun at center and planets orbiting it, and the conception of the universe at the smallest scale was of atoms with nucleus at the center and electrons orbiting it. The fanciful speculation was then raised that perhaps this structure obtained at other levels higher and lower – that the solar system was an atom of a higher-level universe and the atoms of our universe were solar systems of tinier universes. Today we have other speculations deriving from the conception of gravity, to the effect that our entire 3-d universe is only a 'sheet'  or '(mem)brane' in a higher-dimensional universe. In such a universe, defining the 'center' is a totally different task.

 

 

Part III: Summary of the above in terms of what was disproved by science:

what is wrong, what is not wrong (some of this material will need to be meshed into the above sections)

There is one sense in which geocentrism was perhaps disproved. When people asserted that the Earth is the center of the universe, they presumably assumed that if one were able to go out into space and look, one would in fact see that the Earth is the center of the universe and the sun and stars go round it ('visually unambiguous geocentrism'). Certainly in the old conception of the 'small universe' this would be evident. And if the Earth was not at the geographical center, it would be the 'center of attention' or the 'central element' in that the sun would seem to be serving its needs by orbiting it, and the stars rotating about it in a circle.

However by the time of Copernicus it was realized that visually unambiguous geocentrism' is false; were one to stand on the sun and look at the Earth one would feel the sun is stationary and that the Earth goes around it, whereas as we well know, standing on the Earth one feels the Earth to be stationary and the sun goes around IT; and so on for other bodies, so the Earth is certainly not an unambiguous center.

 

Furthermore, later discoveries showed that the solar-centered theory is also incorrect in that the universe is much larger than just the solar system and so the sun is not at all the center of the universe - it isn't even at the center of our galaxy. And the universe is certainly not 'small' - in all directions there are billions of galaxies composed of billions of stars, and there is no particularly visually unambiguous special placement of the Earth. In space, standing on some nearby or very distant star for example, relative to which both the sun and the Earth are moving, perhaps accelerating, there would be relative motion between the sun and the Earth without any ‘visual non-ambiguity’ about which was moving about which (see technical section for explanation).

 

Also, scientific belief holds that:

·                     there is no scientifically definable unique center to the universe;

·                     one can choose any point in the universe as center with equal legitimacy or illegitimacy.

 

As a result it isn't true that the geocentric view is invalid, it is simply no more or less valid scientifically than any other. However, any claim that in fact the Earth is at the center of the universe though not disprovable is also not provable, and so it is not a scientific claim but rather a metaphysical one. In the scientific context it is not truly a ‘model’ but rather a perspective.

After the development of general relativity (GR) one would not say that geocentrism is false, merely that it is as valid a perspective as any other; it would be incorrect to state that scientifically the sun goes around the Earth, but true to say that scientifically the frame in which one considers the sun to be going around the Earth is as valid as the one in which the Earth goes around the sun. However as a metaphysical statement one could state that the sun goes around the Earth rather than v.v., but that this is not scientifically demonstrable, within the confines of scientific observation/verification there is no difference between any of these perspectives and so the statement has no scientific meaning.

 

Scientifically Non-Meaningful Statements: The equations of orbits also do not lead to either unambiguous geocentrism or to unambiguous heliocentrism, they lead to totally ambiguous 'relativism', ie that only the relative motion is absolute, all else ('geocentrism' or 'heliocentrism') is a matter of perspective. However, although 'visually unambiguous geocentrism' is false, the statement "the sun orbits the Earth" is not incorrect, it is simply a statement of how things look from the Earth and physics after GR accepts such a statement as no less valid than the one formulated according to how things would look from the sun, ie "the Earth goes around the sun".

The existence of God is neither experimentally verifiable nor falsifiable and so within the context of science the statement that God exists is neither true nor false, it simply has no scientific meaning. The same is true of both unambiguous geocentrism and unambiguous heliocentrism.

 

The Orbit of the Planets and of Earth about the Sun: Taking records over a period of a few hours at night, one sees the lights in the sky move across the sky, and so one comes to the conclusion that there is a relative motion between them and Earth.

A careful observer will notice larger clearer lights and smaller more shimmering ones. Taking records over a period of a few hours at night, one sees the motion of the smaller lights move uniformly, whereas the larger lights move about in very different patterns. One comes to the conclusion that they are different entities and located at different places. These are the planets (clearer, larger) and stars (shimmering/'twinkling', smaller). There is a relative motion of the stars, planets and Earth can be ascribed either to the motion of the planets and stars about the Earth, or to some other motion. As recognized by Copernicus, the simplest pattern is formed when one assumes that the planets including the Earth move about the sun, while the stars are stationary, far away from the sun, planets and Earth.

It was then claimed that the sun was the unambiguous center of the universe rather than the Earth, and the proponents of geocentrism were discredited, but only in order to put forward the new idea of helio(sun)centrism.

Of course from the modern perspective, the ‘disproof’ of geocentrism is itself ‘disproved’; both  geo-centrism and helio-centrism are equally incorrect as cosmology, but equally valid as perspectives.

 

 “Center” Issues and their Resolution: The issue of which is the center, the earth or the sun, or any other point in the universe, actually involves several issues: which is at the center of the universe, which is at the center of revolution ie which revolves about which, and which is more central ie more important. In addition there was the issue of whether or not the Earth moves at all, irrespective of whether or not it is at the center.

Nowadays we know of two separate motions of the Earth, the spin or rotation about the axis which produces night/day variation, and the orbit about the sun, which has virtually nothing to do with the seasons - the seasons are due the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the plane of orbit.] It seems that geocentrists believed the Earth to be not only at the center of the universe and at the center of rotation of the sun, but also that it is stationary. [And perhaps they would not have said that the Earth's axis is tilted but rather that there is a tilt to the plane of the sun's orbit about the Earth.]

Basically today we'd say that the first issue is meaningless from the scientific point of view since there is no such thing as the center of the universe, the second issue is meaningless since there's a relative orbiting/revolution of the sun and Earth (they revolve about each other) and there's no justification to claiming that one is unambiguously at the center of the orbit while the other revolves about it, and the third issue is moot for the same reason as the second - there's a relative spin between the sun and the Earth, and there's no justification to claiming that one is unambiguously moving and the other is at rest. Also, the second and third issues are fully settled visually and calculationally, since it is clear that it is far simpler to visualize the earth-sun motion, and to calculate it, if one considers the sun as stationary and the Earth orbiting it while spinning on its axis.

 

 

……………….

Part IV: Relevant Quotes from Prominent Scientists [6]

 

As the eminent Astronomer and General Relativist Sir Arthur Eddington said: "...on the most modern scientific theory there is no absolute distinction between the heavens revolving around the earth and the earth revolving under the heavens; both parties are (relatively) right."
    
The great mathematician and philosopher Whitehead wrote[7]: "Geocentrism and heliocentrism seem contradictory but relativity shows both are true; of course if both are true, this means that neither are ‘unambiguously’ correct, they are simply valid perspectives."

 

As the brilliant mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, a colleague of Whitehead, wrote: "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 held, the observed phenomena will be the same; a metaphysical assumption has to be made"

 

Max Born, one of the founders of quantum physics writes[8]:   "...Thus we may return to Ptolemy's point of view of a 'motionless earth..[9]. from Einstein's point of view, Ptolemy and Copernicus are equally right."
  
Einstein himself also says:  "The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either coordinate system (AR: reference frame) could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, 'the sun is at rest and the earth moves,' or 'the sun moves and the earth is at rest,' would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different coordinate systems." .[10]     [11]


Of course, a description of the universe in terms of a non-geocentric system is simpler. However as the well-known philosopher of science Hans Reichenbach wrote[12]:

   "...the idea of simplicity cannot be used to decide between the  Ptolemaic and Copernican conceptions.  The Copernican conception is indeed simpler, but this does not make it any 'truer', since this simplicity is descriptive.  The simplicity is due to the fact that one of the conceptions employs more expedient definitions. But the objective state of affairs is independent of the choice of definitions; this choice can result in a simpler description, but it cannot yield a 'truer' picture of the world. That these definitions, e.g. the  definition of rest according to Copernicus, lead to a simpler  description, of course expresses a feature of reality and is therefore  an objective statement.  The choice of the simplest description is thus possible only with the advance of knowledge and can in general be carried though only within certain limits.  One description may be simplest for some phenomena while a different description may be simplest for others;  but no simplest description is distinguished from  other descriptions with regard to truth.  The concept of truth does not apply here, since we are dealing with definitions.”

 

…….

C). Religious, philosophical and polemical issues

 

Part V: Religion, the Bible, and GeoCentrism

 

The Church and the Copernican Model: The Church claimed that the Bible taught that the Ptolemaic geocentric system was correct, ie that the Earth is at the center of the universe, and that the sun and planets go around it. Those who followed Copernicus of course claimed that this picture was untrue and that the true model is the helio-centric (solar-centered) picture of the universe, ie the sun is at the center of the universe and the Earth goes around it, and therefore if the Church was correct that the Bible taught geocentrism, then the Bible's teaching is false, and therefore the Bible does not originate with God. However even the scientists who overthrew the geocentric view accepted the truth of the Bible and did not think heliocentrism posed any challenge to it.

 

The Biblical (Torah) phrase 'the sun rises'

The Torah uses the phrase 'the sun rises' in various contexts while making a point, e.g. as if one were to say 'pay your night workers right after they finished work, not days later, so pay might-laborers when the sun rises', however it does not state as a teaching "the sun rises rather than the Earth moving". So clearly the issue is not whether or not it is the earth or the sun which moves but rather when to pay one's worker and it is unimportant which moves around which, that is not the focus of the Torah’s teaching on the matter. And when it says something like "you will be rewarded/punished as surely as the sun rises" this has nothing to do with which one moves but rather it is an expression of inevitability, ie one should be as sure of the reward/punishment as one is of the sun appearing after a certain amount of night.

In any case, even those who believe in the divine origin of every word of the Torah do not believe the phrases such as “and God saw”, imply that God has eyes or that the phrase ‘God stretched out His hand’ or ‘God went down …to see’ implies God has hands or goes from place to place, or needs to in order to see better. The sages taught that ‘the Torah speaks in the language of humans’, and there are many cases of this in the Torah and certainly ‘the sun rises’ can be taken as one of them and so there is no religious need to claim that the Torah mandates a belief in geocentrism.

Jewish understanding of the Torah, based on teachings handed down orally from Moses to the sages of his time and from then on down the ages clearly indicate the one should not necessarily interpret every phrase literally (indeed the great sage Maimonides considered such interpretations of certain passages to be heretical and idolatrous). Rather than religious people having to defend themselves by trying to prove that the phrase "sun rise" in the Torah does not mean that God requires people to believe in geocentrism, on the contrary, it would be incumbent on a critic to prove that - according to Jewish conception - when the words 'as the sun rises' were placed in the Torah they were meant by God to be literal and religiously-binding teachings about the motions of bodies in the heavens.

 

Those who believed the universe to be earth-centered of course were not likely to have done so due to an understanding of General Relativity. Nor does it mean that those who believe in the divine origin of every word of the Torah should necessarily interpret every phrase literally when it speaks of cosmology (see discussions of allegories in the Torah) – when the words 'as the sun rises' were placed in the Torah it is not at all obvious that they were meant to be literal teachings about the motions of bodies in the heavens. Therefore, those who disbelieve in the Torah cannot legitimately claim that the geocentric-seeming terminology employed in it is necessarily an indication of its non-divine origin. 

 

Does the Bible require belief in geocentrism? The great majority of Orthodox Jewish Rabbinic authorities and their followers, who believe that the Torah (which Christians call "the old testament") as given by word-for-word dictation to Moses, do NOT believe that the Torah presents geocentrism as a doctrine, and do NOT believe the earth to be the center of the universe. This is not a 'modern' rethinking of old positions, nor is it the view only of heretics or the less-religious: Copernican theory and geocentrism was never a contentious issue in Judaism, and even the most fervent, devout, saintly and scholarly among Orthodox do not believe geocentrism is Biblically-mandated, and do not believe in geocentrism.

Even among the most Orthodox Jews only a small minority (among the group known as Chabad Lubavitch) believe in geocentrism, and believe the Torah teaches it. Similarly, many Christians feel that belief in the Bible as divinely- revealed word of God requires belief in geocentrism, but many devout Christians do not believe this. So it would be incorrect to say in a blanket statement that those who believe in the Bible or in the Bible as divinely-revealed word of God believe in geocentrism, though it would be true to say that some do. An impartial observer could not justifiably claim that the Bible teaches geocentrism, rather the claim could only be made that some religious people believe it does.

 

Science and Religion: It is incorrect to say that "science disproved the geocentric model in favor of the heliocentric" or even that "science proved that the geocentric model is incorrect". Furthermore, science does not offer any scientific objection to someone claiming some religious truth that in some sense the earth is the "center" of the universe, just as science does not have objections to other religious claims such as the existence of God, or of revelation or miracles. What is objected to by science would be a claim that there is scientific content in these claims, ie that they can be proven by objective human measurement or experiment. As long as it is a metaphysical claim, there is no connection to science and therefore no objection from science.

Similarly, if what is being claimed is only the validity of a perspective, even one from which to perform a measurement, then science has no objection.

 

There is no scientific experiment which proves God exists or does not exist. Therefore the statement “God exists” is not scientifically correct or incorrect, it is simply a metaphysical statement, which science does not deal with since the terms cannot be defined in a way which gives them scientific meaning. Similarly the statement ‘the Earth is the center of the universe and the sun rotates about it’ is not necessarily scientifically wrong, it is simply a metaphysical statement; ‘geocentric’ belief is not 'scientific' in that it has no scientific meaning, and so 'geocentrism' is not 'scientifically wrong', it is simply a metaphysical or religious belief. What IS false is that geocentrism is a valid scientific interpretation of the universe.

 

Part VI. Existentialist Despair and the Significance of Humanity

The earliest conception of the universe may well have been that of a flat Earth at the bottom of the universe, the sun at the center to give it light and warmth, and the stars at the edges. Certainly the conception was mostly of a stationary Earth and an orbiting sun. This is reflected in the phrase "sun rise" and "sun set" meaning the sun moves around the Earth to make day/night cycles. The wording of the Torah reflects this language use.

In phrases such as 'the central point', the word 'central' means something like 'the most important'. To a large degree the reason that people believed the Earth is at the center of the universe was because they believed that it was most important, so the issue of significance is tied up with the issue of location. Earth was considered to be most important because humans lived on it, and humans were considered to be the most important entities in the physical universe. Thus the issue of geocentrism was closely tied to the issue of the 'centrality' of humanity in the universe. It was therefore almost inevitable that when geocentrism was dethroned, so too would be the notion of the significance of humanity.

The connection between the two aspects of 'centrality' went two ways. To many people the implication of this belief that the Earth is at the center of the universe was that human are the most important component of the universe. Conversely to many it was probably obvious or important that Earth is at the center of the universe due to the belief that humans are the most important part of the universe.

 

Of course when picturing the 'small universe' one could imagine the Earth being at the bottom with the sun in the middle to better serve the earth, and the stars on top, also to serve the Earth. It certainly would not necessarily be the case that a created universe, in which humanity is the most significant, and in which the sun and stars orbit the earth would necessarily have the earth at the center, so 'geocentrism' really does not mean the belief that the earth is at the exact center of some limited-size universe but rather that the sun unequivocally goes around the earth, instead of the opposite. And that the earth is somehow 'central' to the (purpose of the) universe.

 

However from a philosophical or religious point of view there is certainly not necessarily a connection between all these different concepts. Being at the center it is not an indication of centrality to purpose. A large hall created for people to walk in can have a ceiling at the top with various designs, and chandeliers hanging down to the center. Though the chandeliers are at the center and people walk on the bottom, on the floor, clearly the room was designed for the needs of people, not for the lights. Similarly it can certainly be that a Creator who considers the Earth as most important, would created the sun at the center of the 'small' universe, with the stars on top, in order for both to best serve the Earth at the bottom of the universe.

 

A location at 'the center of space' is neither a requirement of being the most important or 'central' aspect of the universe, nor is it always a sufficient indication of centrality of importance (it is neither necessary nor sufficient). Nevertheless, somehow the two concepts became intertwined: Human significance became tied to the idea of the 'central' position of the Earth.  

 

EgoCentrism and GeoCentrism:  Although the fact that the Earth orbits the sun does not by itself imply that it is less significant than it, but when one considers the Earth as just one of many planets orbiting the sun, then it seems as though the Earth is no more significant than the other planets. So it is perhaps the existence of other planets which makes the Earth seem less significant, not the issue of which orbits which.

But of course if the other planets do not have life then the one with life is most significant from the human perspective. And if planets form in a way which leads inevitably to many - e.g. condensation from a large 'cloud' of matter orbiting the sun - then the existence of the others is not an indication of Earth's insignificance; on the contrary, it can be believed that all the others were created as part of a pre-planetary  'matter cloud' so that the Earth be able to emerge from it.

 

Some believe that the physical smallness of the solar system relative to the universe renders humanity insignificant, and totally refutes the validity of the humanity-centered Bible, and many assert an existential meaningless instead. This is of course a very logically-flawed argument, since one has nothing to do with the other. Instead of this issue of the significance or insignificance of humanity and its relation to the location of the Earth being seen as a philosophical or scientific issue, it is a statement of human psychology: many people believed the universe was small and the Earth was at the center, they believed their significance derived from the physical centrality of the Earth and from the fact that Earth is a major component of the universe. When they become aware that this is not so, and experienced a psychological shock and became convinced that they are not in fact significant cosmically.  

In some sense existential despair is a form of EgoCentrism as great as that underlying GeoCentrism – both are projections onto the universe of one’s psychological reaction to the universe.

 

In actuality, of course the size of the universe, the placement of the Earth within it, and what rotates about what all have nothing to do with human significance. And the Torah (what Christians call 'The Old Testament") certainly did not link the significance of humanity to the placement of the Earth. And in any case the Torah does not teach that the Earth is at the center or that the sun goes about the Earth – and even the scientists who discovered that the old ideas of science were wrong believed in the Bible and did not think that it taught these incorrect ideas. The location of the Earth and the question of what rotates about what is a purely-scientific issue.

 

Although that really ties up the matter, we’ll continue to make some other interesting points. For example, it certainly is the case that from the Torah perspective humans are very significant and that their significance is not tied to their relative size compared to the rest of the universe, however Maimonides taught that humans are NOT the most significant intelligent entities in the universe. This is not to say that Judaism accept that indeed humans are insignificant, just that both statements – that humans are insignificant or that they are necessarily the most significant – may be untrue according to Judaism.

 

Also, the statement that some fact of astronomy proves that humans are insignificant is an untrue statement since science does not deal with the significance of humanity, which is a matter either for sociology, evolutionary psycho-biology, or metaphysics.

 

There is no scientific conflict with a claim that it has been divinely revealed that Earth is in some sense the center of the universe, since such a claim can neither be verified nor disproved, however there is a conflict with any claim that this 'geocentrism' has scientific rather than metaphysical meaning, in other words that it is in some sense rationally verifiable, which seems to be what modern geocentrists do indeed claim. A possibly more relevant religious issue today is whether the dethroning of humanity's home from a position at the geographical center of the universe necessitates or implies humanity's concomitant 'insignificance', and the 'invalidity' of the Bible; certainly nothing in scientific theory would support such a contention, nor do most believers in the divine origin of the text of the Bible feel that human significance or the validity of the Bible are linked in any way to the validity of geocentrism, and so most do not feel any need to support modern geocentrism.

 

 

Is Human Life Significant?

What is ‘significance’? When we see a colored object, though the light waves coming from it have a certain frequency of course the 'color' is a sensation our minds create when our brain has the light waves as input. The color is not a property of the object, it is a property of our mind's reaction to the object. When we say a food is delicious, we mean not there is 'deliciousness' in the food, but rather our mind gives us the sensation of 'delicious' when our brain feeds us the sensory input from our taste-buds.

Similarly, “significance” is a conception of the human mind, not a property of an entity. The feeling that something is significant is just that, a feeling. That which is considered significant is not in itself significant since the significance does not reside in the entity or event, but rather the feeling of significance is an aspect of the mind which feels the sense of significance: ‘significant’ describes not the referent but the reaction of a mind to it; ‘significance’ is a feeling we have in relation to something, not a property of that something (object or event etc).

 

Endowing Something With Signific

Similarly, nothing can be ‘given significance’, e.g. ‘a death’ cannot be endowed with significance by some action of the survivors; the significance is not ‘in’ the event of the dying of the person, rather it is resident in the mind of the one feeling the significance, just that as a turn of phrase we can say for short that the object/event has significance.

[The same for ‘meaning’ and for ‘beauty’.]

To give significance to one’s life, or endow it with meaning, is the same as to see it as beautiful, i.e. it is to have the feeling of significance/meaning/beauty associated with the thought of one’s life. The significance/meaning/beauty are not properties of the life lived but are words describing the feelings of the mind contemplating that life.

It is ironic when a human mind considers certain entities, concepts or patterns (beauty etc) to be significant but excludes from that category humans – in whose mind that significance resides.

 

Love and Significance (the significant other)

‘Human life is significant/insignificant’ is a statement of the feeling of a mind in reaction to something, it cannot be an ‘objective’ statement about the things/entities/people themselves outside the mind that feels this.

To say that e.g. ‘love gives significance to human life’ means that some person/people feel a sense of the significance of their/another’s/human life when they are in love or feel love etc, and the memory or after-effect of this feeling gives rise later to the feeling which is expressed by the statement ‘love gives significance to human life’.

 

Human Significance and the Size of the Universe

As some would put it, a Human is a being evolved from slime crawling on the face of a speck of dirt in a galaxy which is itself an insignificant speck in the universe.

In actuality however, whatever the size of the universe etc, life is neither significant nor insignificant; rather the contemplation of the size of the universe can give rise to feelings in some people of the significance/insignificance of life.

Should the size of the universe etc give rise to the feeling of human insignificance? Is it irrational to feel otherwise? If we knew how brains are formed we would see that it is logical that these particular brains should develop in such a way that there arises in them these feelings (the insignificance of humanity) as a result of these stimuli. But this of course does not mean that indeed humanity is insignificant.

Feelings do not need to be in synch with what is rational or true intrinsically -  whatever people feel, they feel. Perhaps if we knew all there was to know about human brains etc, we could predict what a ‘rational’ mind would feel upon being presented with the understanding of the size of the universe, and then expect that predicted feeling as the only ‘rational’ feeling. As it stands, since some people feel one way and others another, there does not seem to be anything intrinsic in the wiring of the human brain which establishes the necessity of all human brains reacting in one particular way. 

 And in any case, the resulting feeling is just a feeling, not a statement about factual reality; and when it comes to mental states such as that of feeling the significance or insignificance of something, rather than factual statements about size and mass etc, there is no relevance to asking whether or not it is ‘true’ – it is a true feeling, and that is all there is to it.

Human Significance, the Anthropic Principle & Cosmology: There is an anecdote about husbands discussing who in the household makes the important decisions, and they agree that they do, for example what foreign policy the country ought to have, and they leave the small decisions to their wives for example to which school to send their children (generally only women consider this to be funny, men – like those in the anecdote - consider this simply a description of the reality).

What are the important or significant things? ‘Importance’ or ‘significance’ are human concepts, referring to the feeling in a human mind that something is important or significant. If we want a theory of the universe, do we seek a theory of the most significant things, ie those which humans feel are most significant, like the meaning in life, or its purpose, or all about love? Of course physics doesn’t deal with any of this, it deals with the truly important things, like how old the universe is, what it is mostly made of and how it evolved to this point.

 

Until quite recently, science could not determine the probability of there being life elsewhere in the universe, since it was not known what are the necessary conditions for life to arise. And even if it was known, there was no way to determine how many venues conducive to the emergence of life there are in the universe. The assumption is that that life emerges on planets rather than in stars, and more specifically it probably arises on planets with water. However it was not even known whether or not there are planets elsewhere (other than around our local star, “the sun”). In the past few years many planets have been discovered quite nearby. Since our neighborhood is not seen to be different than more distant regions, in our galaxy and in other galaxies, the assumption is now made that planets are very plentiful. Since water has been found (very recently) elsewhere in our solar system, it seems safe to assume that there are many planets with water, and so the likelihood of life elsewhere has been dramatically increased.

If nevertheless it is found that in the entire universe only Earth bears life, this would grant Earth a great significance in the eyes of many. If on the other hand there is life elsewhere, perhaps we will have access to other perspectives from which to discuss issues of ‘significance’, and specifically of the significance of life, and perhaps also of human life.

 

A brain loop: What’s more fundamental – sociology, psychology or physics? According to reductionism all sociology is neurophysiology which ultimately is physics. However there’s something of a loop. A ‘particle’ – for example the electron - is essentially a concept, which combines in it all the theoretical understandings associated with correlations between certain measurements and equations, and all this is in the human brain. Maybe physics will give us keys to understanding the physical universe which will then help us understand (e.g. via neuro-physiology and evolutionary biology) something about the human brain and its concepts, which will help us understand why we feel that this or that is significant, and help us understand why we think in terms of causality at all, and why we come up with models like ‘an electron’. Electrons and other particles are concepts, but they are the building blocks of the brains in which the concepts reside.

 

The seeming irrelevance of brains: When coming up with a theory of cosmology physics ignores even the existence of the Earth and all it contains, including the existence of brains and their concepts, and of ‘life’ altogether. Even individual star systems are ignored - the cosmology of general relativity considers the universe essentially as just a gas of particles. It is quite amazing that by employing these models one can make predictions that are later verified! Somehow there is a disconnect between levels in the sense that whatever we don’t know about the brain and its thoughts doesn’t seem to interfere with learning about the big bang (but of course again the big bang theory is an invention of the human brain).

The fact that human brains may feel psychologically that the existence of humans is astonishing and requires explanation doesn’t mean that - from the scientific perspective (of perhaps even the same brains) - it requires one. In any universe capable of producing brains there may arise brains which wonder why the universe is as it is. In another sense however, brains have been seen by some to be relevant to cosmology via the anthropic principle, which has been applied to cosmology to address – if not ‘answer’ – the question ‘why is the universe as it is?’ Clearly humans - with very sophisticated brains - have been produced in this universe, and the production of complex organisms such as cells, and of human brains require certain types of physics, requires particles and atoms and molecules and therefore quantum mechanics and SR, and so on, and therefore we should not be surprised to see about us a universe with particles and quantum mechanics and SR. There may be/have been other universes without these but there would be no brains to observe their existence and so only universes sufficiently sophisticated to produce brains can produce the question “why does the universe exist”.

Basically the anthropic principle diverts cosmological and philosophical questions to the following types of query: can one imagine another type of universe in which we would exist? If so, we can ask why is our universe as it is rather than like that other universe. Of course if the universe was indeed like that, we would be asking the same question. Or is this the only type of universe consistent with the emergence of brains sufficiently-sophisticated to question why the universe is as it is? If human activity – the linked effect of many brains interacting (for example to produce physics) – is the most sophisticated complex manifestation in the universe (as it is as far as is known today), then the specifications of this activity may well be sufficient to design the universe as it is, and it may well be that no other entity or manifestation has this distinction.   

 

EgoCentricity: The ‘centrality’ of humanity: Rather than the sun or Earth being the physical center of the universe, in some conceptions humanity is ‘central to the purpose of the universe’.

Does the universe have to be a very specific type in order for life to have developed, or is our universe not significantly different at the physics level than a universe in which life could not have developed. Would life necessarily develop in any universe which would also produce the elementary particles we know of, and which would produce plastic and wood, or can only a very special type of universe produce life? And would any universe capable of producing ‘life’ be able to produce human-level theoretical constructs, or do humans possess aspects (sophisticated intelligence, conceptual ability etc) which are unique and go beyond the specifications required for everything else.

The seeming irrelevance of mind: Is mind special? Is it ‘other than’ the rest of the physical universe, or is it somehow a complex organization of the same thing as a computer program (or is a computer program a concept which resides in a mind?)? Does the universe have to be a very specific type in order for mind to have developed, or is our universe not significantly different at the physics level than a universe in which life and mind could not have developed – or would they necessarily develop in any universe which would also produce the elementary particles we know of, and would produce plastic and wood, or in any universe producing ‘life’. It may well be that the existence of minds require some very subtle and sophisticated properties in the universe, perhaps already present at the origin, and these might also explain matters of interest to cosmology – in this sense humanity might be ‘central’ to cosmology (as a theory) even though not necessarily ‘central to the universe’ (scientists certainly do not claim that the universe considers humans central to its existence). Or it might be that one could ignore mind in theories of the universe at all levels and it is only incidental in physics and cosmology. We simply do not know yet enough cosmology and enough about the mind in order to make a real judgment; in the meantime however cosmology has ignored mind entirely without this impacting the ability to make correct predictions. However, as far as is known so far, cosmology and speculations about the universe and its purpose and what is central to it exist only in human minds. 

See however for example: Mindless Materialism, Cosmology, Free Will and the meaning of life , and Einstein & Morality; Free Will, Quantum Physics & Cosmology     .

 

 

Part VII. How My Article (of which this is a less-technical summary) has been misunderstood by both fundamentalists and atheists:

Fundamentalists: Some religious fundamentalists understood my article as claiming that indeed the sun orbits the Earth in an absolute scientific sense, whereas as we indicated above a claim to this effect can only be meaningful in a metaphysical sense - as a scientific statement it is false, though it did point out that from the context of the alleged science-religion ‘conflict’ it is interesting that the ‘disproof’ of the Bible as alleged by some due to the overthrowing of geocentrism was itself overthrown since geocentrism cannot in fact be ‘disproven’. Some have also thought that my article claims Judaism believes the Bible teaches this type of geocentrism, whereas in fact it is my impression that most Orthodox Religious sages today and in previous times do not feel the Bible teaches this at all; even at the time of Copernicus there never seemed to be any Jewish problem with Copernican teachings, it was simply seen as a matter for science to determine.

Atheists: On the other side of the fence, in a journal-review (see reference and link below) atheists or those hostile to Biblical religion have misunderstood my article in a way that is somewhat similar to that of the fundamentalists - interpreting it as though I were myself a believer in geocentrism, and claiming that it is a valid scientific model or theory. Another aspect of my writings was misunderstood - not just in the original article of which this is a revised & condensed version, but also another article, on evolution, the big bang, and the bible. Where the article makes statements such as 'the Creator could have made the Earth in such a way that…" it was misunderstood as claiming that as a scientist I am stating that there necessarily exists a creator. Of course I was referring there to a scenario in which it is assumed that there is a creator and investigating some possible conclusions following from that assumption. 

My articles are meant to bring a scientific perspective to religious people, and a religious perspective to scientifically-minded people, and so are couched in the terminologies of both religion and science. Due to the nature of the journal in which it was published, indeed the original article has a somewhat religious slant, but careful readers will see that its intent is the same that of this revised version. In general, I believe that those reading my articles carefully rather than cursorily or with an agenda will not misunderstand them in the ways outlined above. Note: I am grateful for the apology for unintentional distortion of my ideas on "Talk Reason" ; see also note 14.

Writing this summary version of the article was motivated both by the need for a shorter less-technical treatment and by the opportunity it presented for the above disclaimers & clarifications.

 

 

…………Two Appendices…………..

 

Appendix: Technical Point: The Microwave Background Radiation and Broken Symmetry

A pen balanced on its tip will soon fall - and after it stops moving it will point in a specific direction. Is there physical significance to that direction?

As the pen is balanced on its tip, it is subject constantly to the random motions of air molecules bombarding it from all sides. There is constant fluctuation in the amount and strength of bombardment in each direction and at each place on the pen, and very soon there will be slightly more bombardment at one place on one side of the pen then on other sides and at that instant the pen will tip over. Since the direction of the push is random and could easily have been another direction, indeed a bunch of pens stood on their points will fall in different ways and point in different directions, there is no physical significance to the direction that the pen points.

Since the pen initially was symmetric with respect to all directions and now is not, this is called ‘broken symmetry’, with the term applied to situations where the breaking of the symmetry is due to physical causes but the specific way it is broken (e.g. the direction chosen) is random and has no intrinsic physical significance[13].

 

The big bang initial explosion resulted in radiation which turns out nowadays to be in the microwave range. Since it occurred at the initial instant when the universe was basically a point, and all of space now emerged from that point, it is detected anywhere in the universe, and at any point will be seen to be coming equally from all directions.

Of course if one travels in any direction at some speed there will be a Doppler effect and the radiation will appear differently in different directions, and so one can calibrate one’s instruments anywhere in the universe so that they move in all directions at all speeds until they find that the radiation is arriving in the same amount and same frequency from all directions. The set of all such instruments in the universe then specifies a unique ‘frame’. Is this then an absolute frame, against which all other frames are moving?

The answer is no; this specific frame of the radiation is a random ‘choice’, it is an example of broken symmetry, and the direction has no intrinsic physical significance and it is not meaningful to say that this one frame is at rest and all others are in motion.

One can of course nevertheless use this frame to specify directions, for example to tell civilizations far away what the speed of one’s galaxy is relative to the microwave background radiation. It is also interesting as a cosmic-scale example of the effect of randomness[14]

 

Appendix: Geo-stationary satellites

Question asked by a reader: “How can one explain geo-stationary satellites from the geocentric view? If the earth is spinning so are the satellites. But if the earth is still, then the satellites aren’t moving either. If so, what keeps them up?”

 

First of all, in physics 'geocentric' or 'heliocentric' is not of a view of how things are, it is simply a choice of coordinate system, which is always based on some one point as center, and a choice of reference frame which takes one thing or actually one frame as stationary and everything else is measured relative to it (re thing vs. frame: one generally needs objects to specify a frame, and the frame can be chosen so that one specific thing/object is stationary). Thus, the physical results cannot be different in one frame than in another. Geostationarity is not a frame-dependent phenomenon - it cannot be that one frame will see the satellite hovering in one spot but another frame sees it as being in other places as well, which would mean that one frame can obtain satellite photos of places that are inaccessible to other frames!). Thus if the geo-stationarity of the satellite results from equations of the model in one frame, it must result in any frame.

But why it gives the same results is a different matter. Basically, the issue lies in the difference between the statement “the Earth is stationary’ and the statement ‘let’s use a stationary Earth as our reference frame’. The former requires one to posit the existence of an absolute space, and which also requires that the Earth be exempt from the laws of physics which require bodies to move in reaction to forces such as the gravitational force of the sun. Somehow Earth remains stationary where it is despite all the forces which would move it were it to be any other entity in the universe. So the answer to the conundrum of the satellite is basically that whatever keeps the Earth where it is as opposed to everything else in the universe which is moving around it (e.g. the sun) also keeps the satellite hovering above it when it has the specific Earth-matching speed.

From the perspective of general relativity however, there is a possible answer. The Earth certainly bulges away from sphericity, this is an unequivocal physical measure, and it corresponds to a relative rotational speed between the Earth and the rest of the universe. If the Earth is stationary, the rest of the universe rotates and spins etc about it. Newtonian gravity theory does not clearly specify a gravitational or inertial effect that this would have. For example, in Newtonian gravity theory a spinning mass generates the same gravitational effect as does one that does not  spin, but Einstein’s theory shows that there is indeed an effect (which for example is very important when dealing with spinning black holes). Also general relativity is better equipped to deal with models of the universe as a whole. General relativity therefore points to the existence of - and can calculate - gravitational effects on the satellite of all the rest of the universe whirling about the Earth at a high speed. Indeed these might just pull the satellite away from the Earth enough to keep it at a certain height.

 

However the real physics is without coordinates and reference frames and General Relativity is formulated in mathematical symbols/concepts that are coordinate-free and reference-frame independent[15]. Of course in order to make a prediction as to what we would find if we measured such and such or saw such and such phenomenon, one needs to know from what frame and coordinate system the measurement or observation will be made - e.g. if one will be standing on Earth and looking at the sky then the coordinate system and reference frame will be 'geocentric' -  and then we can choose that frame and coordinate system in the calculations of the prediction of how things would look from that coordinate system/frame, but the resulting statement or prediction is not a physics theory. It is simply a statement of physics as expressed in a particular choice of coordinates/reference frame.

So physics does not support the statement that the universe is centered on the sun or Earth or other body or point in space or event in spacetime – after all, if the sun is the center or Earth is, or any other thing or point, physics would ask what keeps it at the center, and what made it the center, and what makes the sun go around the Earth rather than vice versa, or if it is a point in space then why is that place special - none of this is explicable or sensible within physics, so this is not a physics view at all, instead it is a choice of coordinate system/reference frame. What physics (Einstein) tells us, and general relativity formulates is that it is not wrong to choose any coordinate system centered on any given point, any reference frame anchored to any object. The physics is consistent in any given choice but the true equations of the theory itself are formulated in a way that is independent of these specific choices.
 

……………………..References………………………

 

1. Mach’s Principle: From Newton’s Bucket to Quantum Gravity, edited by Julian Barbour and Herbert Pfister (Birkhauser, Boston, MA, 1995), p. 530; 21 different formulations are listed.

2. Denis. W. Sciama, The Unity of the Universe (Anchor Books, New York, NY, 1961).

3. Ernst Mach, The Science of Mechanics (Open Court Publishing Co.. LaSalle, IL, 1960) 6th ed. Originally Published as Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung historisch-kritisch darstellt . 9th Edition.

4. Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1960), pp.10-11.

5. Ref. 3, p. xxviii.

6. Ref. 3, p. 279.

7. Ref. 3, p. 341, emphasis in the original.

8. Max Jammer, Concepts of Space (Harper Torchbooks, New York, NY, 1954), p. 141, quotes the 4th German edition of Ref. 3 wherein Mach states that “… for me, above all, there is only relative motion, and in this respect I cannot make any difference between rotation and translation.” (our translation).

9. John Norton, “Mach’s principle before Einstein,“ in Ref. 1, pp. 9-55, 36.

10. Georges Sagnac, C. R. Acad. Sci. 154, 708-710, 1410-1413 (1913). Albert A. Michelson,

“The effects of the Earth’s rotation on the velocity of light,” Phil. Mag. 8, 716-719 (1904).

11. Robert Wood, Physical Optics (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1967), 3rd ed., p. 29.

12. Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands, The Feynman Lectures in Physics, Vol. II (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. , Reading, MA, 1964) p. 14-7.

13. With terrestrial pendula one does not consider the rotation of the pendulum bob for the bob partakes of the rotation of the earth.

14. Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (Bonanza Books. New York, NY, (1954), p. 286.

15. The first part, up to “actual” is from Ref. 3, p. 279 (immediately preceding Statement 1). The remainder is from Ref. 3, p. 284.

16. Ref. 3, p. 393.

17. Ref. 3, p. 187.

18. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1959), p. 187.

19. Robert W. Brehme, Am. J. Phys. 44, 506-514 (1976).

20. Ref. 3, p. 280 (emphasis in the original). See also p. 271.

21. Ref. 3, p. 160.

22. Mario Bunge, Am. J. Phys. 34585-596 (1966).

23. Albert Einstein, “Autobiographical notes,” in Albert Einstein Philosopher Scientist, edited by Paul Schilp (Tudor Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1949), p. 21.

24. John Earman, World Enough and Space-Time, Absolute Versus Relational Theories of Space and Time (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989).

25. Ref. 23, p. 69.

26. Ref. 22, p. 589. Bunge lists Duhem, Pearson, Le Roy, Goodman, Reichenbach, and Frank as authorities who agree with Statement 2.

27. Ref. 3, p. 284.

28. Joseph Norwood, Jr., Intermediate Classical Mechanics (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1979), p. 274.

29. Hans ReichenbachThe Philosophy of Space and Time (Dover PublicationsNew York, NY, 1957), p. 254, and From Copernicus to Einstein (Dover Publications, New York, NY, 1980), p.84.

30. Ronald Adler, Maurice Bazin, and Menahem Schiffer, Introduction to General Relativity (McGraw Hill Book Co., New York, NY, 1975), 2nd ed., pp. 437-448.

31. Carl Hoefer, “Einstein’s formulation of Mach’s principle,” in Ref. 1, pp. 67-90, 80.

32. Clifford Will, “Testing Machian effects in laboratory and space experiments,“ in Ref. 1, pp. 365-386.

33. Ref. 24.



[1] A condensed version of my much longer article in B'Ohr HaTorah many years ago https://borhatorah.wordpress.com/physics/ , reprinted in "Science in the Light of Torah" (Hardcover) 1994. By Herman Branover, Ilana C. Attia. The version here is edited and contains some addition material, but does not have the lengthy explanations of various technical points.

My thanks to Prof. Paul Natterer for his book's referencing the above article as "Informativ und aufschlussreich".

Another reference can be found in "New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought Jeremy Brown 2013 Oxford University Press"

Although the longer article is written for the lay reader, it might nevertheless be considered somewhat technical by readers unused to physics - they may not see the forest for the trees. Also, that longer original article (in B'Ohr HaTorah) is focused to some degree on the history of the ‘science-bible conflict’ and on the issue of the significance of humanity as understood in biblical religion. This condensed version instead presents a statement of the essential scientific, logical and philosophical points without those contexts. (This version can also of course be useful as an introduction to the longer piece).  

[2] Why would we think that the Sun and the Earth Go Round Each other? Everyone clearly notices that the sun appears at the horizon on one side of the sky and disappears at the horizon on the other side of the sky. If one assumes it maintains its circular shape as it disappears, then one concludes that it actually goes below the horizon rather than being extinguished. Then the same applies at the appearance of the sun, it does not grow in size as it appears, rather it comes complete from below the horizon. Either the sun then is destroyed or thrown out or used for something else and another is made for the appearance on the other side 12 hours later, or it is the same sun, and so the implication is that it goes below the Earth after disappearing and travels underneath the Earth to the other side to appear from there.

If it shouldn't get too close to the underside of the Earth in order not to burn it, the sun should maintain distance as it travels, but perhaps does move closer and travels along the perhaps flat underside of the Earth. 

Then one realizes that the Earth is a sphere, and so the picture is even nicer, the sun orbits the Earth and thus gives light and warmth to all parts of the Earth in succession.

One can also imagine that the Earth maintains North/South position and orbits the sun, so that all parts of the Earth obtain exposure to the sun. Note that this has nothing whatsoever to do with seasonal variations of climate etc, it is a 24-hour cycle, and so it has nothing to do with what we nowadays call the orbit of the Earth which has a 365-day cycle, but rather with the 24-hour cycle of spin or rotation. It would be counterintuitive to postulate the 365-day cycle with circular orbit to explain the 4 seasons since there's no difference between the different positions, and so one might assume instead that the Earth moves closer and further to the sun, thus creating the seasons. However, then one realizes that other parts of the Earth have entirely different seasons, and in fact the Southern Hemisphere has reversed seasons, which makes the closer-further explanation basically impossible.

[3] Some even believed the Earth to be flat, and some of these believed the Bible taught this as well, but even in ancient times many understood that the Earth is spherical and that the Bible does not teach that it is flat. [There is however still a ‘flat-Earth society’, and they even have a web page.]

[4] Of course the sun spins as well, but we ignore this here.

 

[5] and independent of the coordinate system chosen [actually the coordinate system includes the frame].

 

[6] These quotes do not explain the physics, they simply refer to the points made above. For more explanation, see the full article, and many other sources on the web. 

[7] “Science and the modern World” Alfred North Whitehead 1925  Mentor edition p182b-183 top

[8] "Einstein's Theory of Relativity", Dover Publications,1962, pgs 344 & 345

[9] Omitted text: "One has to show that the transformed metric can be regarded as produced according to Einstein's field equations, by distant rotating masses. This has been done by Thirring. He calculated a field due to a rotating, hollow, thick-walled sphere and proved that inside the cavity it behaved as though there were centrifugal and other inertial forces usually attributed to absolute space."

[10] Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, p.212 (p.248 in original 1938 ed.)

[11]   Mach wrote: (from Web) “the Ptolemaic or Copernican view is our interpretation, but both are equally actual …The motions of the universe are the same whether we adopt the Ptolemaic or the Copernican mode of view. Both are indeed equally correct; only the latter is more simple and more practical. The universe is not twice given, with an earth at rest and an earth in motion; but only once, with its relative motions alone determinable” (emphasis in the original).

[12] H. Reichenbach,  The Philosophy of Space and Time, p. 217

[13] Quantum physics equations provide predictions of future development in terms of superpositions of many states, but when we measure we find only one individual state from among the combination of many. The superposition can be interpreted as being a probability description of which individual state will appear when measurement is performed. This individual state is considered as having emerged at random from among the many possible individual-state-results which could emerge. Symmetry-breaking is similar. 

[14] There are quantum models of the emergence of the universe into existence, which is an even higher-level cosmological effect tied to randomness. Note that there also are somewhat-metaphysical interpretations which see a relevance of mind to this issue, which then increase the possible ‘significance’ of mind, or even places the realm in which ‘significance’ lies – the conceptual al realm – at possible a higher level than that of the physical universe. 

[15] A further point: general relativity is a local theory, where local is a subtle concept. In this context the local frame of the satellite includes a small region of spacetime close to it and not including the Earth. It is in free fall, as are all orbiting objects (the Earth and the satellite are both in free fall), and does not experience inertial accelerations or forces so there is no need for it to explain anything at all, it is to all intents and purposes either stationary or moving with constant speed. That it is in orbit is only known when including the Earth in the picture and then the frame is not local anymore. To really understand this one would need to read a lot more on the subject.

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