Until about 500 years ago, we all believed planet Earth was at the center of the Universe. Geocentrism, i.e. the belief that the sun, moon, stars and planets all revolve around the earth, was taken to be a scientific fact. When astronomical observations of the planets didn’t quite fit with this “fact’, new scientific theories were developed to explain these anomalies.
This belief in geo-centrism was, for the most part, without any hidden agenda. It was just, quite literally, unthinkable for most people that the universe could be otherwise. The geocentric model was seen as the “natural” order of things and all science during that time used this “fact” as its reference point.
Down through the ages many scientists had already suspected this was wrong, but it wasn’t until after the time of Galileo, in the 1600s, that heliocentric cosmology – i.e. wherein the entire host of planets (including Earth) circle the sun – began to take over. Galileo’s heliocentric proposals were, famously, met with bitter opposition from clerics and philosophers. However, gradually, as telescopes advanced, heliocentricity became an easily provable hypothesis. Over time then, it seeped into the general subconscious so much so that nowadays we can’t understand how anyone ever believed otherwise.
But why was there such vehement opposition to heliocentrism? Some of the opposition was definitely due to a literal interpretation of Christian and Islamic scripture, but perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps some of it can be explained by our tendency to see the world, not as it necessarily is but how we believe it to be.
In his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, the physicist David Bohm speaks about how we each see the world and how this has a significant influence on our actions. As he puts it, “[O]ur theoretical insights provide the main source of organization of our factual knowledge.”(1)
Bohm also speaks about how we often mistake our own perceptions for proven objective reality and then, truly believing we are in possession of “the facts”, we act. So what do we really think about the world and how do we even find out?
Although our modern way of thinking has, of course, changed a great deal relative to the ancient ones, the two have one key feature in common, i.e. they are both generally “blinkered” by the notion that theories give true knowledge about reality as it is. Thus both are led to confuse the forms and shapes induced in our perceptions by theoretical insight with a reality independent of our thought and our way of viewing the world around us.
This confusion is of crucial significance, since it leads us to approach nature, society and the individual in terms of more or less fixed and limited forms of thought, and thus, apparently, to keep on confirming the limitations of these forms of thought in experience. (2) Throughout history there are countless examples of how we have not only espoused a belief but then convinced ourselves that we have scientifically proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt and thereby made it a “fact” of objective reality.
Some of these “facts” that we use to operate our world are simply based on a lack of information and as soon as more information becomes available we adjust them accordingly. However, as was proven by the slow up-take on heliocentricity in the face of overwhelming evidence, we are not always open to seeing things differently. And if this is the case with physical phenomena then how much more is it the case regarding our human interactions?
(1) David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. 5
(2) ibid, p. 6
Patricia “Trisha” Rainsford lives in Ireland and used to be a Classics teacher (amongst other things) before she became a full-time writer. She has published two novels, The Knack of Life and A Secret Place. Trisha also co-authored four other novels, which were also published, as well as having written countless other things including a TV series that was in development for a while but then cancelled (c'est la vie). Still writing today, a lot of her work is focused on the generation and application of knowledge for human development. Read more from Trisha on her blog, Creating Reciprocity.
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