(chronosomatically) Contemplating the Navel

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Popular interpretation views the heliocentric theory as a reality that ultimately downgrades humanity's stance within the larger scheme of things due to the Earth's disposition from the center of the universe. This negative view, however, is only superficially correct. In actuality, the heliocentric theory elevated humanity's consciousness, and it is this positive effect that relates directly to a transcendence from duality into singularity. Copernicus managed to shift humanity's perception of reality when he brought oneness to the age old religious and philosophical duality that fundamentally separated worldly appearance from actual reality. Myths and religious doctrines invariably render a separation between the realm of the divine and the realm of mortals, and, since Plato and Aristotle, philosophy has maintained that the physical characteristics of the world are only "shadows" or "imitations" of the 'true' reality that resides either in the realm of Ideas (Plato) or beyond the orbit of the moon in the realm of the fifth element (Aristotle). When Copernicus removed the Earth from the center of the universe and placed it between the orbits of Venus and Mars, and, along with these two planets, had the Earth orbiting around a central sun, the opposition denounced his theory as profane and heretical precisely because he positioned the Earth within the upper realm of God and pure reality. This assumption of a moving and non-central Earth, however, furnished a much simpler and aesthetically superior system for computing the future position of planets in the night sky. In the end, it was simple astronomical observation that resolutely confirmed the Earth's position within the realm of 'true' reality, and, henceforth, appearance and reality became one. The heliocentric theory, therefore, successfully resolved a duality deeply rooted in human thinking, and, thus, instituted a new consciousness for humanity.

For the preeminent ancient theorists of the cosmos, Plato and Aristotle, physics was not fully mathematizable because only whatever was perfect (the Ideas or the fifth element) could be perfectly mathematical. The main rival doctrine to theirs in physics--atomism--seems not to have been conceived as mathematizable either, perhaps for the same reason--as a description of a universe of chance, it was obviously 'imperfect.' The mathematical functionalism that became the rule in Hellenistic astronomy took this dualism so seriously that it ceased to try to describe cosmic reality, as such, at all. It may be that this attitude even influenced Stoicism, if Blumenberg is right that Cleanthes, the leading Stoic, accused Aristarchus of impiety just because he presented his heliocentric model as more than a fiction, thus profaning the "mystery" of the cosmos. It appears, then, that a mathematical description of a homogeneous reality was not going to be possible until (again, through Nomilalism) the idea of an omnipotent God Who creates "from nothing," and thus has the same 'immediate' relation to everything, had destroyed the dualism of matter and form that runs through these older doctrines. In response to the question why such a dualism should have been the first form taken by self-conscious reason in our tradition, Blumenberg suggests that it represents a pattern of "relapses" into "the double-layered relationship that exists, in mythical thought, between what one sees and what really happens--between the flat appearances in the foreground and a 'story' in the background." For whatever reason, it does seem to be the case that the idea of a homogeneous and mathematizable reality is a unique characteristic of modern European thought; and it is certainly a necessary precondition of a theory like Copernicus's.
Robert M. Wallace, "Translator's Introduction," in Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987), p. xxx.




Stephen Lauf © 2017.02.12