The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought Info

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For scientist and layman alike this book provides vivid
evidence that the Copernican Revolution has by no means lost its
significance today. Few episodes in the development of scientific theory
show so clearly how the solution to a highly technical problem can
alter our basic thought processes and attitudes. Understanding the
processes which underlay the Revolution gives us a perspective, in this
scientific age, from which to evaluate our own beliefs more
intelligently. With a constant keen awareness of the inseparable mixture
of its technical, philosophical, and humanistic elements, Mr. Kuhn
displays the full scope of the Copernican Revolution as simultaneously
an episode in the internal development of astronomy, a critical turning
point in the evolution of scientific thought, and a crisis in Western
man's concept of his relation to the universe and to God.

The
book begins with a description of the first scientific cosmology
developed by the Greeks. Mr. Kuhn thus prepares the way for a continuing
analysis of the relation between theory and observation and belief. He
describes the many functions--astronomical, scientific, and
nonscientific--of the Greek concept of the universe, concentrating
especially on the religious implications. He then treats the
intellectual, social, and economic developments which nurtured
Copernicus' break with traditional astronomy. Although many of these
developments, including scholastic criticism of Aristotle's theory of
motion and the Renaissance revival of Neoplatonism, lie entirely outside
of astronomy, they increased the flexibility of the astronomer's
imagination. That new flexibility is apparent in the work of Copernicus,
whose DE REVOLUTIONIBUS ORBIUM CAELESTIUM is discussed in detail both
for its own significance and as a representative scientific innovation.

With a final analysis of Copernicus' life work--its reception
and its contribution to a new scientific concept of the universe--Mr.
Kuhn illuminates both the researches that finally made the heliocentric
arrangement work, and the achievements in physics and metaphysics that
made the planetary earth an integral part of Newtonian science. These
are the developments that once again provided man with a coherent and
self-consistent conception of the universe and of his own place in it.

This is a book for any reader interested in the evolution of
ideas and, in particular, in the curious interplay of hypothesis and
experiment which is the essence of modern science. Says James Bryant
Conant in his Foreword: "Professor Kuhn's handling of the subject merits
attention, for... he points the way to the road which must be followed
if science is to be assimilated into the culture of our times."


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Reviews for The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought:

5

Jan 17, 2012

Probably a 4.5, made up of a 5 when I first read it (almost 40 years ago) and a 4 when I reread it much more recently. I don't think the book changed, but there is evidence that I did.

Kuhn is one of the thinkers of the History and Philosophy of Science that has written very famous books in both branches of that discipline. This is his contribution to the historical branch, while The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is his very influential (and thus also controversial) contribution to the Probably a 4.5, made up of a 5 when I first read it (almost 40 years ago) and a 4 when I reread it much more recently. I don't think the book changed, but there is evidence that I did.

Kuhn is one of the thinkers of the History and Philosophy of Science that has written very famous books in both branches of that discipline. This is his contribution to the historical branch, while The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is his very influential (and thus also controversial) contribution to the philosophical branch.

This is a book definitely worth reading from the "history of ideas" shelf of your mental library.


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5

Jan 21, 2019

There are few phrases more annoying or more effective than “I told you so.”
This is my second encounter with Thomas Kuhn, and again I emerge deeply impressed. To do justice to an event so multifaceted as the Copernican Revolution a scholar must have a flexible mind; and Kuhn is fully equal to the task. He moves seamlessly from scientific data, to philosophical analysis, to historical context, and then back again. The result is a book that serves as an admirable introduction to the basics of There are few phrases more annoying or more effective than “I told you so.”
This is my second encounter with Thomas Kuhn, and again I emerge deeply impressed. To do justice to an event so multifaceted as the Copernican Revolution a scholar must have a flexible mind; and Kuhn is fully equal to the task. He moves seamlessly from scientific data, to philosophical analysis, to historical context, and then back again. The result is a book that serves as an admirable introduction to the basics of astronomy and a thorough overview of the Copernican Revolution, while raising intriguing questions about the nature of scientific progress.

Kuhn first makes an essential point: that the conceptual schemes of science serve both a logical and a psychological function. Their logical function is to economically organize the data (in this case, the position and movement of heavenly objects); their psychological function is to make people feel at home in the universe. Belief is only necessary for this second function. A scientist can use a conceptual scheme perfectly well without believing that it represents how the universe ‘truly is’; but people have an obvious and, apparently, near-universal need to understand their place in, and relation to, the cosmos. Thus, scientists throughout history have insisted on the truth of their systems, despite the history science being littered with the refuse of abandoned theories (to use Kuhn’s expression). Even if this belief cannot be justified philosophically, however, it does provide a powerful emotional impetus to scientific activity.

Another question Kuhn raises is when and why scientists decide that an old paradigm is unsustainable and a new one is required. For centuries astronomers in the Muslim and Western worlds worked within the basic approach laid down by Ptolemy, hoping that small adjustments could finally remove the slight errors inherent in the system. During this time, the flexibility of the Ptolemaic approach—allowing for fine-tuning in deferents, equants, and epicycles—was seen as one of its strengths. Besides, the Ptolemaic astronomy was fully integrated within the wider Aristotelian science of the age; and this science blended perfectly with common everyday notions. The fact that the Ptolemaic science broke down is attributable as much, or more, to factors external to the science as to those internal to it. Specifically, with the Renaissance came the rediscovery of Neoplatonism, with its emphasis on mathematical harmonies—something absent from Aristotelianism—as well as its strain of sun-worship.

Copernicus was one of those affected by the new current of Neoplatonism; and it is this, Kuhn argues, that ultimately made him dissatisfied with the Ptolemaic system and apt to place the sun at the center of his system. We often hear of science progressing as a result of new experiments and empirical discoveries; but no such novel observation played a role in Copernicus’s innovation. Rather, the source of Copernicus’s rejection of an earth-centered universe was its inability to explain why the planets’ orbits are related to the sun’s. His system answered that question. But this was only an aesthetic improvement. It did not lead to more accurate predictions—the essential task of astronomy—and, indeed, it did not even lead to more efficient calculations. The oft-reproduced image of the Copernican universe, consisting of seven concentric circles, is a simplification; his actual system used dozens of circles and was cumbersome and difficult to use.

But the most puzzling feature of Copernicus’s innovation is that it achieves qualitative simplification at the expense of rendering it completely incompatible with the wider worldview. Aristotelian physics cannot explain why a person would not fly off of a moving earth. And, indeed, the entire cosmological picture, such as that painted so convincingly by Dante, ceases to make sense in a Copernican universe. For centuries people had understood the earth as a midpoint between the fires of hell and the perfect heavens above. Now, hell was only metaphorically “below” and heaven only metaphorically “above.” Besides that, the universe had to be expanded to mystifying proportions; the earth became only a small and unimportant speck in an unimaginably vast space. Strangely, however, Copernicus seemed blind to most of these consequences of his innovation. A specialist concerned only with creating a harmonious system, his attempt to render it physically plausible or theologically palatable is, at best, half-hearted.

This leads to the irony that one of the greatest intellectual revolutions in history started with a man concerned with technical minutiae inaccessible to the vast majority of the public, who had access to no fundamentally new data, whose system was neither more accurate nor more efficient than its predecessor, and whose main concern was qualitative harmoniousness. Copernicus was no radical and had no notion of upsetting the established authority; he himself would likely have been appalled at the Newtonian universe that was the end result of this process.

Yet this simple innovation, once proposed, had ripple effects. Though the earth’s motion was near universally rejected as a fact, its use in a serious astronomical work kept it alive as an option. And this new option could not be laughed away when, in the next generation under Tycho Brahe, better observations and novel phenomena upset the Ptolemaic world order. The heavens could no longer be seen as perfect and unchanging when Brahe proved that supernovae and comets do not exhibit a parallax (as in, they do not to change location when the observer moves), and thus could not be atmospheric phenomena. Further, Brahe’s unprecedentedly accurate observations of the planets were incompatible with any Ptolemaic system. This seems to be one of many cases in the history of science when novel observations followed, rather than preceded, a theoretical innovation.

Granted, this incongruence led Brahe to propose his own earth-centered system, the Tychonic, rather than adopt a sun-centered universe. But this new system used Copernican mathematics, and embodied the Copernican harmonies. In any case it is hard to see how the Tychonic system could ever have been anything but a stopgap, since the jump from Ptolemy to Brahe was scarcely easier than the jump from Ptolemy to Copernicus. Besides, it struck many as dynamically implausible that everything in the universe would orbit the sun except the earth and the moon.

Kepler and Galileo were among those unconvinced by the Tychonic system. The two very different men were both of an independent turn of mind, and their work finally made the Copernican universe unequivocally superior. Kepler particularly made the decisive step with his three laws: that planets orbit in ellipses with the sun at a foci, that they sweep out equal areas in equal times, and that they orbit the sun in a ratio of the 3/2 power (the orbital axis to the orbital time). But in Kepler we find further ironies. Far from the dispassionate lover of truth, Kepler was a Neoplatonic mystic, bursting with occult hypotheses. Many parts of his work strike the modern reader as scarcely more rational than the ravings of a conspiracy theorist. Yet the hard core of Kepler’s astronomical work lifted Copernicanism into a league of its own for accuracy of prediction and efficiency of calculation. If the orbits of the planets were related to the sun in such simple, elegant ways, it was difficult to see how earth could be at the center of it all.

This is my best attempt at summarizing the most salient points of the book. But of course there is far more in here, most of it worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed Kuhn’s chapter on the oft-ignored medieval research into physics, such as the impetus theory in the work of Nicole Oresme. The only weak point of the book was the rather brief epilogue to Copernicus. In particular, I would have appreciated an entire chapter devoted to Newton, since it was his Principia that was, in Kuhn’s phrase, the “capstone” of the revolution. But on the whole I think this is a superlative book, serious yet accessible, informative while brief. Kuhn captures the reality of scientific progress, which is far less neat that we may like to believe. Most striking is how a revolution which was guided by many extra-logical considerations—the Neoplatonic belief in celestial harmonies, the desire for mathematical elegance, the weakening of the religious worldview, the need to feel at home in the universe—fueled a process which, taken as a whole, resulted in a science definitively better than the Ptolemaic system it replaced.

Kuhn makes no mistake about this. Here is what the reputed relativist has to say:
The last two and one-half centuries have proved that the conception of the universe which emerged from the Revolution was a far more powerful intellectual tool than the universe of Aristotle and Ptolemy. The scientific cosmology evolved by seventeenth-century scientists and the concepts of space, force, and matter that underlay it, accounted for both celestial and terrestrial motions with a precision undreamed of in antiquity. In addition, they guided many novel and immensely fruitful research programs, disclosing a host of previously unsuspected natural phenomena and revealing order in fields of experience that had been intractable to men governed by the ancient world view. ...more
5

Dec 20, 2018

An extremely accessible book on the Copernican revolution.

From Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coperni...
"Copernicus removed Earth from the center of the universe, set the heavenly bodies in rotation around the Sun, and introduced Earth's daily rotation on its axis."
And, that certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons. I still think that many in our modern civilization hanker for a world in which humanity, and each one of us is - at the center of the universe. (The lust for significance is An extremely accessible book on the Copernican revolution.

From Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coperni...
"Copernicus removed Earth from the center of the universe, set the heavenly bodies in rotation around the Sun, and introduced Earth's daily rotation on its axis."
And, that certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons. I still think that many in our modern civilization hanker for a world in which humanity, and each one of us is - at the center of the universe. (The lust for significance is strong within our modern culture.)

This paradigm shift was only equaled by Darwin and Einstein.

This book has had a profound impact on my own thinking about how any culture evolves (or stagnates) over time. This book is indispensable if you want to understand human culture and society. ...more
0

Sep 16, 2014

Whereas The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a book of bold claims about the very nature of science itself, The Copernican Revolution is a much humbler effort-- the account of one revolution, and how it came to pass, and how the ideas of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton all intersected in early modern Europe. While his follow-up to The Copernican Revolution attempted to rephrase philosophical terms, this is a more of a straightforward piece of scientific nonfiction. Whereas The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a book of bold claims about the very nature of science itself, The Copernican Revolution is a much humbler effort-- the account of one revolution, and how it came to pass, and how the ideas of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton all intersected in early modern Europe. While his follow-up to The Copernican Revolution attempted to rephrase philosophical terms, this is a more of a straightforward piece of scientific nonfiction. Great storytelling, great history, interesting analysis of the role metaphor took (and continues to take) in the scientific endeavor. ...more
5

Nov 17, 2012

Oh man, this book is wonderful. I'm a bit biased: it manages to touch on pretty much everything that I like and weave them together in a way that's fascinating and compelling. While I'm not a scientist myself - a pretty intense aversion to math when I was in high school turned me away from that - I absolutely love science and think it's fascinating, so anytime I come across a history of science book I always feel like I'm in a for a bit of a treat. Unfortunately, it can occasionally be difficult Oh man, this book is wonderful. I'm a bit biased: it manages to touch on pretty much everything that I like and weave them together in a way that's fascinating and compelling. While I'm not a scientist myself - a pretty intense aversion to math when I was in high school turned me away from that - I absolutely love science and think it's fascinating, so anytime I come across a history of science book I always feel like I'm in a for a bit of a treat. Unfortunately, it can occasionally be difficult to find books that manage to be both good science books and good history books. This one does.

Kuhn is probably most famous for The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book I may have to go back and look at again. I remember reading it and thinking that he had a really good idea, but squandered a bit of it by making his work much more impenetrable than it needed to be. Now I'm thinking that may have been on me, though, because this work is beautifully written and persistently clear in its narrative. Kuhn takes a look at the Copernican Revolution and asks two main questions: why did it take so long to occur? And why did it ever occur at all? Kuhn provides an answer that I found really convincing and compelling, drawing on not only the traditional scientific developments leading up the 15th century but also the wider cultural changes that were occurring, from the Protestant Reformation to the resurgence of Neoplatonism.

Also, as if he needed to win my heart over even more, Kuhn manages to offer a fair and sensitive assessment of medieval science and its role leading up to Copernicus. Yay! ...more
4

Jul 06, 2010

This book is one of the most inspiring -- and most humbling -- books that I've read in quite some time.

I've been interested in astronomy since I was a kid, so the story of Copernicus and Kepler is one I thought I knew. But Kuhn brings out several aspects I hadn't understood before. Kuhn draws attention to something that's often overlooked: Ptolemaic astronomy isn't actually quite compatible with Aristotelian cosmology. The inconsistency wasn't noticed because mathematical astronomy at the time This book is one of the most inspiring -- and most humbling -- books that I've read in quite some time.

I've been interested in astronomy since I was a kid, so the story of Copernicus and Kepler is one I thought I knew. But Kuhn brings out several aspects I hadn't understood before. Kuhn draws attention to something that's often overlooked: Ptolemaic astronomy isn't actually quite compatible with Aristotelian cosmology. The inconsistency wasn't noticed because mathematical astronomy at the time was a very narrow technical field, whose practitioners weren't interested in pushing on physics and who in turn escaped notice from the mainstream of natural philosophy.

Kuhn also points out something else that should be better known: the Church condemned heliocentrism very late. Copernicus's book is published in 1546. By the time it was condemned in the 1620s, a huge pile of evidence had been discovered in favor of it, and professional opinion was swinging decisively behind it.
...more
4

Apr 27, 2010

I'm not sure I understood any of the science and math but this book was fabulous in laying out the intellectual history of the time. I really loved reading those sections.
5

Mar 10, 2013

I was not expecting to like this, because science. I loved it, because SCIENCE!
5

Dec 10, 2015

The most riveting intellectual history I have read since Lovejoy's "Great Chain of Being," this is a book replete with historical empathy, copious, starkly beautiful diagrams, and a keen sense of the ironies of history.
4

May 24, 2011

This was really enjoyable! I was glad to see so many direct quotes from De Revolutionibus, as well as Aristotle and other sources. I appreciate that it a book with this sort of topic. I was somewhat surprised that Aristarchus of Samos was not mentioned? The text did a really good job of explaining the flaws with the elliptical system and set a good stage for the chasm that existed between current thought and what Copernicus was able to develop. Still wondering about Aristachus and other early This was really enjoyable! I was glad to see so many direct quotes from De Revolutionibus, as well as Aristotle and other sources. I appreciate that it a book with this sort of topic. I was somewhat surprised that Aristarchus of Samos was not mentioned? The text did a really good job of explaining the flaws with the elliptical system and set a good stage for the chasm that existed between current thought and what Copernicus was able to develop. Still wondering about Aristachus and other early thinkers though... anyhow, it was still a wonderful read. ...more
5

Jul 22, 2011

This is the case study that preceded, and was a primary inspiration for, Kuhn's celebrated Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It's not as well-known as the later book, but it is in its own way just as rewarding. It offers a technically detailed and elegantly written account of the Copernican revolution and its far-reaching impact on astronomy and physics.

No one is better than Kuhn at taking you inside the worldview of natural scientists from previous historical eras. He steadfastly resists This is the case study that preceded, and was a primary inspiration for, Kuhn's celebrated Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It's not as well-known as the later book, but it is in its own way just as rewarding. It offers a technically detailed and elegantly written account of the Copernican revolution and its far-reaching impact on astronomy and physics.

No one is better than Kuhn at taking you inside the worldview of natural scientists from previous historical eras. He steadfastly resists the temptation to read history backwards, and judiciously explains the tremendous inertia of the geocentric model of the universe associated with Aristotle and Ptolemy, which lasted for well over a millenium. At the same time, he details the specific problems and anomalies that gradually propelled the movement away from that model and toward the Copernican/Newtonian view that eventually came to replace it. ...more
3

Mar 16, 2011

Somewhat interesting

If I'm not mistaken, Kuhn wrote this before his Strucures of Scientific Revolution, and it sort of feels like a case study on the way to that work. So having read Structures, it feels less enlightening from a history of science point of view than it might've.




But he spends way more time on pre-Copernican celestial mechanics than I'd ever seen in any other context. So it was very cool to see how many little tweaks were applied to a fundamentally flawed model for so long. And Somewhat interesting

If I'm not mistaken, Kuhn wrote this before his Strucures of Scientific Revolution, and it sort of feels like a case study on the way to that work. So having read Structures, it feels less enlightening from a history of science point of view than it might've.




But he spends way more time on pre-Copernican celestial mechanics than I'd ever seen in any other context. So it was very cool to see how many little tweaks were applied to a fundamentally flawed model for so long. And interestingly, Copernicus' model didn't actual make any better predictions than the geocentric model he proposed replacing. In fact, he retained many of the flaws in the Ptolemaic system: dependence on magical spheres, circles and epicycles, not to mention assuming that all orbital planes must intersect the earth's center.




So, enjoyable, interesting but not as enlightening as I'd expected. ...more
4

Feb 12, 2012

Kuhn takes an exhaustive approach to understanding the historical underpinnings of Copernicus' insight and work, as well as the intellectual fallout that resulted. As is with any work in history, surely some details are left out but one can hardly complain about the depth of inquisition provided at each time point, ranging from Aristotle (presented as more than just a token ancient) to the philosophies of Newton.

Surely "Revolution" is a case study for Kuhn's later work (Structure), which I have Kuhn takes an exhaustive approach to understanding the historical underpinnings of Copernicus' insight and work, as well as the intellectual fallout that resulted. As is with any work in history, surely some details are left out but one can hardly complain about the depth of inquisition provided at each time point, ranging from Aristotle (presented as more than just a token ancient) to the philosophies of Newton.

Surely "Revolution" is a case study for Kuhn's later work (Structure), which I have yet to read. Kuhn was slightly disappointing in some of his conclusions (particularly his final section on 'The New Fabric of Thought', which was probably too far-reaching and not characteristic of the rest of the book at all), but his models on scientific revolutions and scientific belief give excellent structure for discussion and reflection.

All in all, "Revolution" is a wonderful work for anyone who has any sort of interest in astronomy. There is an excellent mix of tech-talk and historical dorkiness. Definitely saving this one as a read-again. ...more
5

Jul 04, 2011

This is a great work of history, which succeeds both in treating its subject matter and shedding light on larger questions about humanity and philosophy.

At the beginning of the book, the Copernican Revolution is nowhere close to happening, and it feels like it's never going to happen. It feels so far off! You imagine that the whole book is just going to be taken up detailing the complexities of pre-modern astronomy, with its ether, epicycles, deferants, and equants. Then you get a sense that the This is a great work of history, which succeeds both in treating its subject matter and shedding light on larger questions about humanity and philosophy.

At the beginning of the book, the Copernican Revolution is nowhere close to happening, and it feels like it's never going to happen. It feels so far off! You imagine that the whole book is just going to be taken up detailing the complexities of pre-modern astronomy, with its ether, epicycles, deferants, and equants. Then you get a sense that the Copernican Revolution is around the corner, and this is where the tension really builds. Is it about to happen, or will something else happen instead? Kuhn plays up the drama for all it's worth. Then, the Copernican Revolution happens! That comes as a huge relief. Then it keeps happening for a bit longer than you'd expect, before finally coming to a resolution. At the end, you definitely feel like you got to see the whole thing happen.

I shall resist the urge to summarize further or share specific insights, as I fear I would go on too long and leave the reader with an unwieldy review. Wieldy is better. ...more
3

Nov 21, 2015

It feels almost wrong marking this as read-- I read it for school and my teacher used it kind of like a textbook. So I often did what any good student does with a textbook: skim. BUT. Kuhn has subjected me to far too many technicalities of far too many astronomical systems for me to not count it.

Apart from the fact that he's a tad racist (lumps together non-Western people and what he calls "primitive tribes" with children, downplays scientific/mathematical contributions of the Islamic It feels almost wrong marking this as read-- I read it for school and my teacher used it kind of like a textbook. So I often did what any good student does with a textbook: skim. BUT. Kuhn has subjected me to far too many technicalities of far too many astronomical systems for me to not count it.

Apart from the fact that he's a tad racist (lumps together non-Western people and what he calls "primitive tribes" with children, downplays scientific/mathematical contributions of the Islamic civilization whenever he can... all that un-delightful stuff), and the fact that he seems to have a personal vendetta against Copernicus (we get it okay Kuhn? Copernicus' system wasn't perfect, Kepler and people made it more functional OKAY WE GET IT)-- I reluctantly have to say Kuhn does a pretty decent job. It's very thorough. To the point that you will likely never want to hear about an epicycle or a deferrent or Heaven forbid retrograde motion again in your life. But some of it is actually pretty cool, and it's really interesting to see the meeting points between different ways of thinking/philosophy and science, and how the two influence each other. I can't say that its pleasantly written, but having made it through, I'm happy to have had the information presented to me (then again I have a final for this class in a couple of days so y'know, opinion subject to change).
...more
5

Mar 16, 2017

This is a fantastic book, which is less than three-hundred pages in length. It is concise, clear and yet comprehensive and very illuminating. Kuhn sets the stage for the Copernican Revolution by taking you inside the mediaeval mind. You get a chance to see the world somewhat as they saw it, and you can understand why the Copernican view was dismissed as ridiculous by learned and rational people: it conflicted with so much of what they thought they knew.
4

May 27, 2017

Geometry, common sense and observations to understand astronomy.
4

Sep 04, 2019

A good introduction to the history of western astronomy concerned with how it affected (and was affected by) other areas of thought. Goes through Newton.
4

Feb 02, 2019

An excellent book on the nature and science of the revolution that Copernicus' great discovery unleashed. For the layperson and astronomer alike. Difficult at times but worth the effort. Especially good at expelling the Ptolemaic system.
4

Jan 11, 2019

Nothing especially mind-bending if you're familiar with SSR, but it's good to see the theory put to work. Unlike SSR, which can be infuriatingly sloppy and imprecise at points, this book is solid throughout. Kuhn is at his best when he sticks to sociology and steers clear from talk of justification. Fortunately, this book does just that.

Recommended for anyone interested in the history or philosophy of science.
5

Jan 20, 2018

Wow. One of those books where you are left in total awe that someone can comprehend, analyze, and synthesize so much. Kuhn superbly breaks down the scientific revolution that facilitated our progress from ancient to modern thought. It isn't long (<300 pages), but it is dense. Not overly technical, but deep. Every word counts. It took months to get through, and I would only recommend it if you love history of science and philosophy. But if you do, this is a must read.
5

Oct 04, 2017

The Copernican Revolution, though not as widely known as The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and thus not as often recommended to students or science enthusiasts, is a masterpiece. I give it such high praise because it does not simply explain the role of said revolution in the historical context of astronomy and physics, but attempts to give its readers a deeper understanding of the meaning of scientific breakthroughs. While doing that, the author tries to map the entire age he writes The Copernican Revolution, though not as widely known as The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and thus not as often recommended to students or science enthusiasts, is a masterpiece. I give it such high praise because it does not simply explain the role of said revolution in the historical context of astronomy and physics, but attempts to give its readers a deeper understanding of the meaning of scientific breakthroughs. While doing that, the author tries to map the entire age he writes about, and it this book begins to transcend his role as philosopher and historian of science, in order to become a humanist. ...more
5

Jul 18, 2017

Having read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions many years ago I have carried around a general idea of Kuhn's ideas. It seemed unnecessary to go back and read the Copernican Revolution. I have been wrong. To really understand the complexity of Kuhn's ideas this book is a must. What I found most interesting was his discussion of the Aristotelian world view and how Copernicus' 'technical' clarification of the motions of planets undermined that whole world view. In the end I felt that I had a Having read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions many years ago I have carried around a general idea of Kuhn's ideas. It seemed unnecessary to go back and read the Copernican Revolution. I have been wrong. To really understand the complexity of Kuhn's ideas this book is a must. What I found most interesting was his discussion of the Aristotelian world view and how Copernicus' 'technical' clarification of the motions of planets undermined that whole world view. In the end I felt that I had a clearer view of just how much my experience of the world is embedded in is embedded in a world view that is undergoing change. ...more
5

Feb 08, 2015

A very, very good book for science and history buffs. I read Kuhn's classic book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, some years ago but found it too philosophical or esoteric for my tastes. The Copernican Revolution offers a much more accessible account of a scientific revolution unfolding through the centuries.

The common-sense, earth-centered Ptolemaic universe inherited by Copernicus was more than just a mental model of how the world was structured in a physical sense. It was a worldview A very, very good book for science and history buffs. I read Kuhn's classic book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, some years ago but found it too philosophical or esoteric for my tastes. The Copernican Revolution offers a much more accessible account of a scientific revolution unfolding through the centuries.

The common-sense, earth-centered Ptolemaic universe inherited by Copernicus was more than just a mental model of how the world was structured in a physical sense. It was a worldview steeped with religious overtones about Man's place on Earth in relation to the perfect heavens above. Beyond the outermost sphere of the stars was God in Heaven who had set that sphere in motion. In turn, that motion set the other planetary spheres in motion above the solid, immobile Earth.

But those perfect circular orbits were not what Ptolemy and many other astronomers through the centuries actually observed. There were inconsistencies in the planets' orbits which didn't fit the worldview. Ptolemy and others added circles (epicycles) to circles to try to account for the irregular motions, adding more and more complexity to the music of the spheres.

Copernicus sought to simplify matters by moving the Sun to the center of the universe, and by moving the now-rotating Earth into orbit around the Sun along with the other planets. He still kept some aspects of the Ptolemaic system, such as the crystalline spheres and some epicycles, but the Copernican system was a bit simpler and a lot more "aesthetic". There was a "new neatness and coherence in the sun-centered astronomy of Copernicus." (Page 171.)

It took the work of other astronomers to fully flesh out the Copernican revolution. Tycho Brahe, Kepler and Galileo added further insights and more accurate observations to further explain a world which was becoming much more interesting and surprising than the old world of spheres within spheres.

Before Galileo, Copernicus' theory was simply a mathematical model used only by technically trained astronomers. But things changed when Galileo pointed his telescope to the night sky and observed the new moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and the cratered face of our Moon:

With the advent of the telescope Copernicanism ceased to be esoteric. It was no longer primarily the concern of highly trained mathematical astronomers. Therefore it became more disquieting and, to some, more dangerous....After Galileo had announced his observations in 1610, Copernicanism could not be dismissed as a mere mathematical device, useful but without physical import. Nor could even the most optimistic still regard the concept of the earth's motion as a temporary lunacy likely to vanish naturally if left to itself. The telescopic discoveries therefore provided a natural and appropriate focus for much of the continuing opposition to Copernicus' proposal. They showed the real cosmological issues at stake more quickly and more clearly than pages of mathematics. (Page 226.)

And it was more than learned men who were looking at the new world unfolding above them:

The telescope became a popular toy. Men who had never before shown interest in astronomy or in any science bought or borrowed the new instrument and eagerly scanned the heavens on clear nights. The amateur observer became a well-known figure, a subject for both emulation and parody. With him came a new literature. The beginnings of popular science and science fiction are to be discovered in the seventeenth century, and at the start the telescope and its discoveries were the most prominent subjects. That is the greatest importance of Galileo's astronomical work: it popularized astronomy, and the astronomy that it popularized was Copernican. (Page 225.)

Official opposition to Copernicanism began in earnest after Galilleo's discoveries which offered evidence supporting the Copernican view of the universe. This opposition grew out of a

subconscious reluctance to assent in the destruction of a cosmology that for centuries had been the basis of everyday practical and spiritual life. The conceptual reorientation that, after Kepler and Galileo, meant economy to scientists frequently meant a loss of conceptual coherence to men like Donne and Milton whose primary concerns were in other fields, and some men whose first interests were religious, moral, or aesthetic continued to oppose Copernicanism bitterly for a very long time. (Page 226.)

But denying the true nature of the world and how the universe works can only continue for so long:

old conceptual schemes do fade away...During the century and a half following Galileo's death in 1642, a belief in the earth-centered universe was gradually transformed from an essential sign of sanity to an index, first, of inflexible conservatism, then of excessive parochialism, and finally of complete fanaticism. By the middle of seventeenth century it is difficult to find an important astronomer who is not Copernican; by the end of the century it is impossible. Elementary astronomy responded more slowly, but during the closing decades of the century Copernican, Ptolemaic, and Tychonic astronomy were taught side by side in many prominent Protestant universities, and during the eighteenth century lectures on the last two systems were gradually dropped. Popular cosmology felt the impact of Copernicanism most slowly of all; most of the eighteenth century was required to endow the populace and its teachers with a new common sense and to make the Copernican universe the common property of Western man. The triumph of Copernicanism was a gradual process, and its rate varied greatly with social status, professional affiliation, and religious belief. But for all its difficulties and vagaries it was an inevitable process. (Page 227.)
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5

Sep 01, 2011

A solid addition to the literature of science history and intellectual history. Kuhn sets out the interesting ways by which the astronomical system of Copurnicus generated the revolution named for him.

The book is interesting in detail and breadth and is fairly easily reading not compromised by philosophical obfuscation. I do not sense that Kuhn is out of his depth at any point. He exaggerates his viewpoint only somewhat. I believe it will interest any non-scientist as well as any scientist not A solid addition to the literature of science history and intellectual history. Kuhn sets out the interesting ways by which the astronomical system of Copurnicus generated the revolution named for him.

The book is interesting in detail and breadth and is fairly easily reading not compromised by philosophical obfuscation. I do not sense that Kuhn is out of his depth at any point. He exaggerates his viewpoint only somewhat. I believe it will interest any non-scientist as well as any scientist not already familiar both with the historical details presented and with their significance in a historical view reaching back to Aristotle and forward to Newton. There are some simple diagrams which require attention, but few of them need to be studied so long as the reader understands from the text their meaning. Similarly, no math is needed. Any layman who believes science is mostly a collection of facts must read this in order to have a sense of a type of process that science is truly about.

Importantly, the Copernican (sun-centered) astronomy, says Kuhn, resulted in no obvious overall simplification over the Ptolemaic system (with epicycles, which are moving circles within orbits and had been adopted along with other unrealities in order to describe the apparent motions of the heavens around the earth). Copernicus did not, for example, eliminate most of the epicycles. While he did simplify some matters, he rendered others more complicated. For example, in order to make his system correspond to observation, he had to add some (unreal) motion not present in Ptolemy. The primary task for Copernicus was to prove mathematically that his system was observationally consistent with Ptolemy, since the received Ptolemaic system was as accurate as current observations allowed and was, as shown by Kuhn, accurate generally to a degree which the Copernican description did not exceed. The superiority his new system was not at all clear.

(It was a problem with the calendar that likely motivated Copernicus to look for a better system. Ironically, It was a church authority who asked him whether he could resolve the problem. Furthermore, his formulation did not finally result in a solution to it.)

Why and how then did the Copernican revolution result? While its influence tends to be considered in terms of its theological and philosophical implications, the answer to the question lies elsewhere, since this was fundamentally a scientific revolution.

This question presents to the historian a challenge which Kuhn masters in this book. He shows that some of the answer lies in the historical significance of modest ad hoc evolutionary accretions made to Ptolemaic astronomy before Copernicus. (More, below.)

Much else lies in the incremental recognition by post-Copernican astronomers of various advantages of this system, quite small advantages early on. These advantages could not be seen until later (initially in large part because of improvements made in the accuracy of astronomical observations after he died). They accumulated and supported one another, along with successive theoretical modifications over time, to the extent that his system largely has been replaced. Today it can as easily be seen as more nearly Ptolemaic than as Newtonian or Einsteinian.

But similar as the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus were, the revolution would not have arisen from a Ptolemaic view, because the evolution of that view would have continued the same way it always had since the time of Ptolemy, by adding additional epicycles and other unrealities whenever necessary in order to fit new data, as indeed Ptolemy had done to the Aristotelian cosmology in order to arrive at his own. Copernicus proved that an abrupt disruption in this kind of evolutionary procession, by moving the center of the universe from earth to sun rather than adding more epicycles, could result in an equally acceptable astronomy. The change in the process itself, this fundamental difference in procedure only, became a leap more important than any immedate astronomical consequences of the new theory.

But this change could not be appreciated at first. In the larger scientific community of the decades after his death, even the sun-centered nature of the theory was largely ignored, as it contradicted the senses, tradition and religious authority. It became preferentially taught because it clearly set out in one elegant treatise the means of making mathematical calculations describing celestial observations. (The Ptolemaic formulation had passed through the centuries in often second-hand accounts and varying translations and re-translations, additions and other editing.) Only as increasingly accurate astronomical data more strongly matched the Copernican universe did the teaching of his system to other scientists become securely established.

Only later as the remaining Ptolemaic elements fell away due to more sophisticated data collection and more ingenious mathematical treatment did the best mathematicians begin to appreciate more fully the scientific value of the new and evolving system. Since the Copernican leap in process had already been proved by him to lead to a defensible scientific result, and the conception was proving even more useful over time, mathematicians were now at liberty to attempt further procedural leaps of imagination in search of better answers. Importantly, they could find increasingly general formulations (like universal gravity) in order to explain and simplify elegantly a greater number of observations, rather than further complicate matters as would result by piling on more epicycles. The revolution is named for Copernicus because he afforded this new liberty of scientific imagination which eventually proved so fruitful.

Only after the newer formulations proved their power could the wider scientific community and then the educated public begin fully to accept the revolution and attempt reasonably to assess what broader implications might be implied by this revolutionary theory.

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