Monday, October 16, 2023

Was Copernicus a Genius or Lucky?

Wikipedia says:
The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy) and chemistry transformed the views of society about nature.[1][2][3][4][5][6] The Scientific Revolution took place in Europe in the second half of the Renaissance period, with the 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus publication De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) often cited as its beginning.[7]
My view is that Copernicus was not really more scientific than his predecessors. He stumbled on some good ideas, but did not really have good scientific arguments that his model was superior.

The ancient Greek Aristarchus had a heliocentric model. Details have been lost. So the idea of heliocentrism was not new to Copernicus. There were a lot of good arguments for and against, and not enough data to reach a scientific conclusion.

Vincenzo Crupi writes in a new paper:

From Copernicus himself up to Kepler and Galilei, Copernicans have been "right for the wrong reasons" (Finocchiaro 2010), because there were no epistemically compelling reasons objectively favoring the Copernican position at that stage – a good deal of research in the history and philosophy of science has converged on this claim. The situation of early Copernicans would then be regarded as one of "epistemic luck".
It is not so simple, and this paper has a good overview.

The issue is central to the philosophy of science, as it shows big differences in what people think science is all about.

You could say motion is relative, and the heliocentrism geocentrism debate was a trivial argument about a preferred frame of reference. The biggest scientific concern was to predict what we see in the night sky, and either model could be used for that.

Others say we didn't really start to make sense out of cosmology until we rejected the stationary Earth. There is some merit to that, but it is exaggerated.

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