Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Long time ago, people used to believe that the Earth has been the center of the world, and everything else has been revolving around our little planet.

To the naked eye, it seemed reasonable and didn't contradict the everyday / everynight experience.

Then the telescope has been invented. It allowed (at least, to those who have taken the trouble to get one) to see not only the Sun, Venus and Mars, but also some more distant planets. Apart from that, people were becoming more and more skilled in math, and started trying to use their math skills to predict the way the planets move.

So began the trouble.

It just so happened that the planets moved in quite tricky ways. Instead of just rolling in giant circles along the sky, it seemed to the Earthlings that the planets were revolving in circles around the circles (it was the only possibility to bring at least some harmony into these so unexpectedly stochastic movements). For these weird paths, the special name has been coined: epicycles. But why the planets behaved this way? Probably there existed some theories on that behalf. For the reason explained just below, only the people who are interested with history of science, and of astronomy in particular, might still know a bit about them.

The reason is now well known: somebody happened to get another idea, namely that the planets have been indeed revolving, but not around the Earth. The Sun appeared to be the real center. And if you would accept this idea then there were no need for these complex epicycles, because the planets were simply moving along nice circular orbits (which is way better and simpler to calculate). Later on, it appeared that these orbits were actually a bit elliptical, but this is another story.

There has been some struggle around this idea, and other subsequent ideas which shifted the center farther and farther away from our little habitat, but finally, the people had accepted that the Earth is not the center, the Sun is not the center and even the center of our Galaxy is not the center of everything. Because it helped to simplify the representation of the world, and the simplicity is the key to beauty, and the beauty is appealing to the humankind way more than complexity. (We can go on and on from here).

The point of this is very simple, but has to be stressed now and then: if your world starts getting way too complicated, it might be time to shift your point of view.

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