The Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) wrote ‘On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’ published in 1543. It met a hostile reception because, for the first time, it proposed that the Sun was at the centre of our universe – the heliocentric theory –rather than the Earth – the geocentric theory.
Galileo (1564-1642) used evidence via the newly invented telescope to support the heliocentric theory. Incensed, the Roman Catholic Inquisition placed him under house arrest and forced him to confess that the heliocentric theory was false. (The Roman Catholic Church was to formally recognise Galileo’s findings in 1993.) Other astronomers were tortured by the Inquisition. To be fair, Martin Luther also opposed the new astronomy.
But what kind of mindset could fail to recognise a fundamental truth so palpably shown to be the case?
The religious fraternity dreaded the relegation of Earth, and therefore Man, to an inferior status while they were preaching Man’s supremacy under God. They had a vested interest in maintaining the geocentric theory.
The academic fraternity had a vested interest in defending Aristotle and his geocentric theory because Greek philosophy was fundamental to their learning and teaching and therefore their authority.
But there was something more pervasive … a perspective shared by clerics, academics, and almost everybody else. It was that it looked as if we were in the centre. They could see, just as we can, the Sun moving round us. It would take some kind of miracle for people to believe anything different. And no amount of vague and incomprehensible yap would convince them otherwise.
Let’s bring that arrogant mindset to today and see how it’s coping with today’s vague and incomprehensible yap. The fears and prejudices that stood in the way of heliocentricity were mankind being relegated, vested interests threatened, and the evidence of one’s eyes is enough. Religion hasn’t got the same power these days. Thank God.
Ufo’s and aliens
From the 1947 Roswell incident onwards governments are refusing to admit to ufo’s and aliens in our midst in the face of overwhelming evidence. They have a vested interest in claiming to be able to defend us against any foe and a dread of public panic.
This time it’s the hubris that says we’re top dogs. Experts are unwilling to concede the possibility of life forms elsewhere in what has become a vastly bigger universe than the one Copernicus and Galileo were examining. When our experts look at the possibility of life elsewhere, they talk about the need for oxygen and water. In other words, life elsewhere must resemble us.
Recent research into Near Death Experience has established common features in people from different walks of life, for example, out-of-body experience, the tunnel, the light.
Evidence for consciousness after death is also available in communication from the other side, be it apportation or seances of the kind I described in an earlier Newsletter following the death of my father.
The mindset which denies such evidence is trusting only the evidence of its eyes: a dead body looks dead. I can’t see any evidence of continuing existence. I won’t believe in apportation till I see it. I won’t believe in seances till it happens to me.
Creationists are still demanding that Adam and Eve should replace Darwinism in education. Scientists are claiming that there’s a scientific explanation … a Big Bang. Suddenly.
But there’s a simple question that their hubris would make them bridle at: a question that’s so simple it would be dismissed as vague and incomprehensible yap.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
The creationist and the scientist are hooked on causality – a naive dualism of cause and effect. To hell with these confident, hit-or-miss certainties! We need a new, woolly mindset that can go beyond causality … a mindset of relentless, imaginative searching in humility and awe.
* * *
If you could be world class at an Olympic event, which would it be?
‘The 100 metres’ – a sallow, obese man of about 35 in a garage shop.
‘Gymnastics’ – a trim, artistic mother of about 35 in her card shop.
‘The pole-vault … I want to know how they do it.’ – A young woman in Gregg’s.
‘The 100 metres … I used to run cross country but I think we like to do things faster, don’t we.’ – Smiley 40-ish woman in bakery.
‘Dressage … it looks as if they’re doing nothing but I used to ride and I know how difficult it is.’ – Ilkley woman in dress shop.
‘Pushing a trolley hundred yards.’ – Our postman.
‘The high jump’ – an obese middle-aged woman at a checkout.
‘The 100 metres … I used to be quite fast … 11.35.’ – heavy 30-ish checkout man.
‘The show jumping … the Dressage … They’re so graceful … And when they played ‘Land of Hope and Glory’! ….. – Stout woman, 60-odd, checkout.
‘I don’t know … I’ve never been into anything like that … the 100 metres so it’d be all over fast and I could get home to my tea.’ – Middle aged female blood sample nurse.
‘Gymnastics’ – Anthea.
‘I’d double up: the 1500 and the 5000.’ Me
In 2005 Anthea and I were having lunch at Brighton’s ‘Food for Friends’ with our youngest, Anna. I said I’d like to take a stroll through the Lanes and she asked me if there was anything in particular I was looking for. ‘A top’, I said, ‘West Coast ’75 / Surf Boy ‘05’. She was amused.
One sunny summer morning recently (believe me!) I was strolling down Kirkgate, Otley wearing sockless boat shoes, my distressed denim shorts from Fuerteventura, and a pale pink and blue vest I’d tie-dyed ‘seventies style. An elderly Otley man saw me, stopped, and said ‘All you need’s the surf board’. It may have taken me seven years, but I made it!
‘May the longtime Sun shine on you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.’
(The Incredible String Band – 1968)