The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense

By Michael Shermer | Go to book overview

6
THE DAY THE EARTH
MOVED

Copernicus's Heresy and
Sulloway's Theory

New and revolutionary systems of science tend to be resisted rather than welcomed with open arms, because every successful scientist has a vested intellectual, social, and even financial interest in maintaining the status quo.

—I. B. Cohen, Revolution in Science, 1985

IN THE FIRST YEAR of the seventeenth century, the most prolific astronomical observer of the age—Tycho Brahe—joined forces with the greatest astronomical theoretician of the age—Johannes Kepler. Brahe, a roguish Danish nobleman who held the position of imperial mathematician in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, invested enormous amounts of time and energy in compiling a remarkably complete database of astronomical observations. On the island of Hveen he constructed an observatory—Uraniborg—over which he ruled in royal splendor for twenty years. Along the walls of the observatory he constructed great quadrants for measuring celestial altitudes that brought the art of astronomical observation to the highest accuracy possible (all without the aid of a telescope). Yet, these data by themselves were inadequate to explain the workings of the cosmos. Kepler, a brilliant thinker who supported the new and radical Copernican heliocentric model of the universe, observed after a time spent with Brahe: “He lacks only the architect who would put all this to use.” 1

The flamboyant, raucous Brahe, who apparently spent almost as much time

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