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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Step 5 – Seeing the universe with uncommon sense

It seems like we’re always dealing with two universes – the one we see, and the one we know is there. Our challenge is to get to know them both and this requires  uncommon sense to override our common senses. We’ll encounter this again and again as we get to know the night sky.

This is not a pipe.

This is not a pipe.

Magritte understood this when he challenged us with his playfully,  perceptive painting – Ceci n’est pas une pipe, “This is not a pipe.”

It may look like a pipe through the expertise of the artist, but, of course, it does not feel like one, taste like one, smoke like one, or smell like one.  Experience invokes all of the senses, plus time, place, and more.

Let’s explore  one small, but important  example –  the Sun never rises.

That’s right, not today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.  The Sun doesn’t rise, didn’t rise, and won’t rise. But it sure looks like it does and we sure talk like it does. In fact our common sense shows us the Sun rising and setting, the moon rising and setting, and all the stars and planets rising and setting. None of it’s true and we know it isn’t true, but we still insist on talking about it that way  and why not – that’s what we see. But we know it  isn’t the Sun that’s rising, it’s the Earth that is spinning. Every child learns that  – it’s elementary school science.

The Earth spins on its axis. It’s spinning so fast that the whole thing turns around once in just 24 hours. Do the math. The earth is roughly 8,000 miles in diameter. That means it’s about 24,000 miles around. So if you’re going to make a 24,000 mile trip in just 24 hours, you’re moving at 1,000 miles an hour. No kidding. OK – that’s at the equator. But even way up here at around 40-degrees north we’re moving at close to 800 miles an hour.  Does that make sense to you?

Do you realize how frustrating this was for someone like Galileo who was trying to convince his colleagues that the Sun was at the center of things and the Earth travelled around it? It was so obvious to them that the Sun travelled around the Earth. Everyone could see that – and yes, what Galileo said could be the case, but that defies our common senses. It’s not just that we see the Sun rising and setting. Think about it.

Stop reading for a moment, ignore this screen and think – or, better yet, jot down – at least three reasons why from your personal observation the Earth is NOT spinning on its axis. (Hint – if it were spinning several hundred miles an hour, what would you expect to experience?) You can jot them anywhere – but the comments form below would be a nice place.

Yes,  I’m serious. I said this is a site about doing, so I do mean stop. Don’t read any more until you have at least given this some serious thought. I’ll wait patiently for you to return.

Have you done that? Did you come up with three reasons? Good. Now please go to page 2.

2 Responses

  1. Greg i love this concept, very well wriiten!!!!! thank you

  2. Thanks Michaela – I’m never sure if anyone is reading these, so it’s wonderful to hjear from folks. I see this kind of uncommon sense understanding as a first step towards seeing our role in the cosmos as explored so well in two recent books by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams – “The View From the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos” and “The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World (The Terry Lectures Series).” In my view these are both extremely important books not simply because they gives an up-to-date picture of the universe, but because they show how this view impacts – or should impact – our lives.

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