Monday, May 22, 2017

What's Gone Wrong?

The Copernican cosmos as promoted by Thomas Digges in the 16th Century

During a BBC Horizon program on the Stars historian of science Stephen Pumphrey of Lancaster University said that the Copernican Solar System was the beginning of both a scientific and social revolution in as much as it heralded a profound shift in humanity's perception of its place in the universe. To support his point Pumphrey quoted  two lines of a poem by John Donne (1573-1631). This poem was called An Anatomy of the World. Below I quote the latter quarter of the poem and this contains the quotes used by the Pumphrey; these I have emphasized in bold

Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.
Then, as mankind, so is the world's whole frame
Quite out of joint, almost created lame,
For, before God had made up all the rest,
Corruption ent'red, and deprav'd the best;
It seiz'd the angels, and then first of all
The world did in her cradle take a fall,
And turn'd her brains, and took a general maim,
Wronging each joint of th'universal frame.
The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
Both beasts and plants, curs'd in the curse of man.
So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world's condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund'red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ'd that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world's sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum'd the East;
Whose having breath'd in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin'd from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this, 

Pumphrey puts his quotes firmly in the context the Copernican revolution,  I have to confess that I find poetry difficult to read and so I'll have to take Pumphrey's word for it that these lines are allusions to the Copernican revolution, for revolution it definitely was. Pumphrey also implies that the medieval thought form "As-above-so-below" meant that Copernicus had help clear the way for a social revolution and not just a scientific one. It was the start of a history of scientific endeavor that in stages removed humanity from its Ptolemaic place of being centre stage, the focus of the Cosmos, to apparently - and I stress "apparently" - a mere incidental side show in the great Cosmic perspective.  For many the new philosophy no longer made sense and so in this context the lines: "And new philosophy calls all in doubt,...Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,..." are very appropriate. 

My understanding of the final quarter of Donne's poem is that it starts by lamenting the fall of humanity and the consequent corruptions it lead to; if I'm reading Donne right then included in this wide ranging field of corruption is the discomfiture generated by the Copernican revolution; that is, he appears to see Copernicanism as an outcome of the fall!

One coping strategy, when faced with difficult truths, is, of course, to go into denial; We can see this in the anti-science of the Christian Fundamentalists who in some cases have gone so far as too revert to the cosy stage-set of a geocentric cosmos. (See also here, here, here and here)

But things are even worse than that; we've already seen on this blog how some Christian fundamentalists are going even further and are turning to flat earth theory. When this happens flat earthists necessarily explicitly employ conspiracy theorism in order to give account of how the scientific establishment could be so systematically deceived (or deceiving!). Now, what is interesting is that flat-earth conspiracy theorism is not the exclusive domain of Christian fundamentalists, but, it seems, it is part of much more general anti-establishment malaise. Evidence for this has recently come to light on my Facebook account where one of my friends leans toward new-age ideas. I have been vaguely aware that there are new-age conspiracy theorists out there and moreover I knew that my Facebook friend, if not and out and out conspiracy theorist, was drawn toward conspiracy theorism. This came apparent when he announced on Facebook that some flat earth postings had caught his interest. In his  subsequent FB posts which stimulated a lively debate, I was not sure whether he was trying to troll his friends or whether he was seriously countenancing flat earth theory: I came to the conclusion that he was rather intellectually blown-away by flat earth apologetics as he hadn't seen it before, but he kept up the demeanor of a troll in order to hedge his bets.

Below I publish  posts from my friend (whom I shall call "Frank Saucepan") and two other Facebook users who reacted to my friend's provocative posts and who also had new-age and conspiracy theorist sympathies:

Frank Saucepan: I have to say this 'flat earth' business has seriously got my attention!
Johnny Duckpond: There are no photos of a globe earth only composites no video footage from any of the supposed 25000 satellites I'm not a flat earther but you gotta question that shit! … I've decided to believe nothing until it's proved! I want to say it's round but then there's this 😏 not sure it's exactly the right one but check it out. Remember this deception has been going on for hundreds of years so well ingrained into popular culture. I'm just looking at all the evidence on everything & it's only becoming obvious that there are some major lies going on, I'm not sure of all the answers but I'd rather say I don't know than trust what I know to be bullshit!
Frank Saucepan: Yep! Flat earth, globe. Can't say I'm 100% on either. One thing I can say is I know we've been lied to on so many layers on many topics
Frank Saucepan: I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

In response to some video taken from the space station Johnny, who seems to be a full blown conspiracy theorist, responding as follows to critics of flat earth:

Johnny Duckpond: Like I said, prove that's real! My posts are tests you can do yourself. Don't know about you but I can only just afford a flight to Portugal this year. Get the point? It's total crap fabricated by idiots, NASA. If you sincerely believe that to be real Eta then I'm simply lost for words buddy!!!

Between them Frank and Johnny stimulated a large number of thread comments, by and large hostile to flat earthism, I'm glad to say. However, I couldn't quite dispel the feeling that Frank was pulling everyone's leg, but then again his leaning toward new-age antiestablishmentarianism and conspiracy theorism sets him up for a belief in flat-earthism.

I could't resist joining the fray by responding to one of Frank's threads which he apologetically headed as:

Frank Saucepan: All I did was say this flat earth business has caught my interest!
Timothy V Reeves It caught mine too, but it only works if you add huge dollops of conspiracy theorism. But conspiracy theorism has inner contradictions: Once you believe conspiracy theory A you can always find conspiracy theory B which explains conspiracy theory A as a product of a conspiracy of deception. In short conspiracy theorism completely phux-up any attempt to arrive at the truth. Any so called "truth" arrived at via conspiracy theory A is easily undermined by conspiracy theory B. Here's a video showing how easy it is to invent fanciful but plausible conspiracy theories :  [This was a link to the clever Star Wars tongue in cheek conspiracy - unfortunately the sound track has been copyrighted]
Timothy V Reeves See also:
Timothy V Reeves And this:
Johnny Duckpond: Kent Hovind the Creationist? Anti Evolutionist?
Timothy V Reeves: Among fundamentalists irony piles on irony
Johnny Duckpond: I'm neither but simply looking for the truth & it certainly isn't in the mainstream! I don't think it's in scripture either but somewhere in between the lies of mainstream & metaphor of scriptures ( all scriptures ) as a lot can be contrived over several thousand years of indoctrination & tradition! Only a few have eyes to see...
Timothy V Reeves: So what's your take on "flat earth"?
Johnny Duckpond: It's an interesting concept personally I can't prove it either way but I don't ' Believe ' it is flat. I also don't believe what NASA showed us is real in fact I know it isn't real n that is a fact. What earth looks like I don't know.
Timothy V Reeves: So do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators etc etc are all lying in unison? That sounds like quite a sweeping catch all theory in itself! If you can't believe anything why even believe that?

In response to that I got some come-back from an all-out Flat-Earther and "NASA is fake news" conspiracy theorist:

Johnson Kaputski: I don't see flat earth as a conspiracy theory. Was Plato a conspiracy theorist?? Anything that doesn't confirm to the religion of science is conspiracy.. talk about anything not given in text books or presented by mainstream media and you are a crackpot. So many lies told to so many fools... me included...
Timothy V Reeves Plato didn't have satellites, aircraft, sophisticated navigation, radar etc etc all technologies that to work take into account the curvature of the earth. Moreover do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators, aircraft software writers etc etc are all lying in unison? If so then that sounds like quite a sweeping catch-all-theory in itself! To imagine that such organisational feats are possible is a highly theoretical stance that surpasses the relatively simple abstractions entailed in spherical Earth theory.
Timothy V Reeves PS: The Greeks were the first to propose a spherical Earth theory. So Plato likely believed in a spherical Earth.

Shortly afterwards Kaputski deleted his entry and my replies went with it. I've been in half a mind to reinstate it on Frank's thread, but perhaps that would be too nasty.

In someways Frank succinctly summed up his take on antiestablishmentarianism when he posted:

Frank Saucepan:  I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

I think Frank is serious! He has absolutely no trust or respect for the system that has educated him. But there may be an inconsistency in Frank's thinking: It is unlikely that the corrupt minds of a set of maniacs could be coherent, coordinated and disciplined enough to wrought such a huge systematic deception!


So just what has gone wrong with our Western education? Why do we have Christian fundies and new-agers  who  are so disaffected as to totally despise the educational institutions of their societies? The difficulties that the human spirit has with anchoring its soul in a post Ptolemaic cosmos probably has something to do with it, as Stephen Pumphrey has implied: Copernicanism had an inherent tendency to eventually subvert any notion that the cosmos is some kind of cosy stage set.  Thomas Digges (1546-1595) was among the first to start subverting the old order, although he retained a spiritual perspective on the meaning of it all:

"This orb of stars fixed infinitely up extends itself in altitude spherically, and therefore immovable the palace of felicity garnished with perpetual shining glorious lights innumerable, far excelling over [the] sun both in quantity and quality the very court of celestial angels, devoid of grief and replenished with perfect endless joy, the habitacle for the elect."

But I think the antiestablishmentarianism I'm talking about here is fairly recent. Whilst spiritual hope existed alongside post Ptolemaic science it seems that faith and trust remained largely intact. But now, of course Western societies teeter in the brink of noetic nihilism, a nihilism which in some cases even denies the reality of human consciousness and promotes the notion that life is ultimately empty of meaning apart from some self-defined fickle subjective goals.  If that is what some educators are trying to teach us it is no surprise that some reject the whole caboodle.*

* Let's assume we operate the epistemic filter I described here and in time arrive at a full law and disorder (L&D) description of the Cosmos. Could we then claim that the job of science is complete and has furnished us with a full solution as to the nature of the Cosmos? Very doubtful: Firstly it is conceivable that more than one L&D scheme will join the dots of data, or that further "data compression" could take place in terms of a more succinct L&D scheme. But more philosophically profound is the question as to whether L&D constitutes a complete explanation at all; after all, in the final analysis it's mere flat description; useful, yes, but it only addresses part of the intuitive sense of mystery.  For some mentalities, however, this may feel enough; full explanation in terms of L&D dispels all their curiosity; mystery solved! But for other mentalities (myself included) who feel that only purposeful, teleological and personality based explanation stands a chance of  addressing mystery the job of explanation is only just starting. 

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