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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for ALL 6th-form students., 22 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (Arkana) (Paperback)
Koestler gives a comprehensive account of the development of astronomy from the Babylonians through ancient Greece to mediaeval Europe and on to Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. His development of the personalities, informed by copious reference to published works and particularly, where available, to the personal letters of these and many other people less well-known, brings them to life in a quite dramatic way. The notes and references alone occupy 54 pages. Koestler sees as "sleepwalking" the process by which the modern world slowly came to recognise anew the true nature of the cosmos after nearly two millenia of speculation and stumbling, constrained and dominated by Aristotelian nonsense. A particularly instructive quotation from Astronomia Nova(1609) by Kepler shows that he all but enunciated the law of universal gravity, "Gravity is the mutual bodily tendency between cognate bodies towards unity or contact.....so that the earth draws a stone much more than the stone draws the earth......If the earth and the moon were not kept in their respective orbits by a spiritual or some other equivalent force, the earth would ascend towards the moon one fifty-fourth part of the distance, and the moon would descend the remaining fifty-three parts of the interval, and thus they would unite. ...." By contast Newton wrote to a friend about 70 years later "That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another, at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else,....is...so great an absurdity, that no man who has ....a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it." The author demonstrates, again by copious references, that mediaeval churchmen such as Cardinal Nichlas of Cusa, far from suppressing science, were in the forefront of scientific thought; that it was an alliance between the Catholic Bishop Giese and the Lutheran Rhaeticus which finally persuaded Copernicus to publish his sun-centred treatise 'De Revolutionibus ..' in 1541; that it was Luther and Melanchthon who ridiculed this notion that the earth moved whilst the Catholic Church accepted it as a working hypothesis for 70 years; that Kepler begged Galileo in 1597 to state his belief in the system of Copernicus but Galileo declined for 16 years, being afraid not of the Church but of the "ridicule and derision" of his fellow scholars; when he eventually openly proclaimed Copernicus's fault-ridden system Kepler had already published his three Laws that revolutionised astronomy; that Galileo got his first academic post through the good offices of Cardinal del Monte and that he was honoured and feted by Cardinals and the Pope and the Jesuit astronomers in Rome following his discovery of Jupiter's moons. A comprehensive account is presented of Galileo's subsequent trials, which show that he was condemned (perhaps inexcusably) not for his scientific views but rather for his refusal to refrain from theological interpretations of Scripture. This book is far from light reading. It makes considerable demands on one's concentration and memory, but the effort is made worthwhile by the depth of scholarship, the copious research, and the mastery of narrative with which the author provides us.
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Initial post: 10 Jun 2011 07:27:06 BDT
Str1ker says:
"Koestler sees as "sleepwalking" the process by which the modern world slowly came to recognise anew the true nature of the cosmos"

What on Earth makes you believe we recognize the true nature of the Cosmos? Some individuals might, but the scientific community doesn't, nor does it claim to. Modern physics just has a higher and clearer level of understanding of it than it did during the Newtonian era, and the Newtonian era scientists a higher level than the Aristotelian era scientists. Physics theories are just models that engender certain levels of understanding. But we don't have a Godlike deep understanding of the true nature of the Cosmos, what makes it all tick, or its purpose. That is what we should aim for.

Science and mathematics are really just mental tools / disciplines for probing reality and discovering it's nature. We learn from the results; and then sometimes develop technology from those results. But it's not the only such mental tool, there have been others. Science, as it stands today, is in fact probably the wrong tool to use if we wish to take the next major leap in our understanding of reality. It needs a fundamental redesign, or a merger with a subjective discipline of some sort, because one of it's main problems is it's focus on objectivity. And the entire notion of objectivity is a fallacy.

I've got more ideas about what the problems are with science and how we might move forward, but I really need some sleep, maybe some other time!
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