Monday, December 23, 2013

What Is "The Principle"?

Five hundred years ago, you were crazy if you thought the Earth was going around the Sun.

Today, you’re crazy if you think it isn’t.

What changed?

That turns out to be a fascinating question, one which involves profound issues of science, of faith, of identity.

While most people assume that it has long since been experimentally proven that the Earth is orbiting the Sun, a simple challenge to name the specific experiment which measured that motion will yield an easily-won bar bet (at least until “The Principle” is released!).

It may come as a surprise to some, but no such experimental proof has ever been obtained.

Remarkably, physics had to be entirely re-conceptualized by Albert Einstein at the beginning of the 20th century; in part because no experiment had been able to directly measure this universally-assumed motion of Earth around Sun.

So, two of our greatest scientific revolutions- the Copernican Revolution and Relativity- are intimately associated with this question of Earth’s place in the larger scheme of things.

The Copernican Principle simply states that Earth is not in any special or central location in the cosmos. It is generalized, in modern cosmology, as the “cosmological principle”; there are no special locations in the cosmos. Under this fundamental assumption, on large enough scales, the universe will look pretty much the same everywhere, and it will look pretty much the same everywhere no matter where you might be looking from.

If this principle is wrong, then everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.

“The Principle” includes interviews with several leading discoverers and theorists wrestling with the implications of recently obtained observational evidence that this foundational assumption of our scientific world view may be wrong, and that our Earth may be very special after all.

Could this question, which has already launched two great scientific revolutions, be coming back around to haunt us yet again?

If we consider the dramatic changes in culture and world-view which accompanied these earlier revolutions, it is not too early to begin to consider........what would it mean for our future, and the future of our children, if it were to be established that the Earth is in a special position in the cosmos; that we are, truly, in some sense, the “center of the universe”?

1 comment:

  1. Certainly interesting….As a physicist myself, I have some thoughts, but I'll save those for my blog and not post them here.

    The thing about the discussion of heilocentrism vs geocentrism, really there has been no proof (definitively) one way or the other. The data that has recently come out, interestingly promotes the latter vs the former.

    I'll address this at my blog in a few days time. Good work!!