Man, Copernicus has been kicking my butt. All the star tables, geometry, etc were turning me in to a pumpkin. So I pulled down a secondary source–Kuhn’s The Copernican Revolution–and night became day. I honestly think one of the reasons that Kuhn’s later and more famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, had such a dramatic impact is that the author wrote and expounded so clearly.
I don’t know what I was expecting from Copernicus, but Kuhn’s book (so far) helpfully explains the relationship between the highly technical and the broad and general in the Copernican Revolution. As he puts it:
The Copernican Revolution was a revolution in ideas, a transformation in man’s conception of the universe and of his own relation to it. Again and again this episode in the history of Renaissance thought has been proclaimed an epochal turning point in the intellectual development of Western man. Yet the Revolution turned upon the most obscure and recondite minutia of astronomical research. How can it have such significance?
It’s the “obscure and recondite” in Copernicus that has been bringing me down. But Kuhn gives me a paradigm through which to think about it–he explains in detail the nature of the “two sphere” model of the universe of pre-Copernican times, and by the end I myself had temporarily ceased to be a heliocentrist, for so powerful and sweeping is the prior worldview once you get inside it. It works pretty darn well. It predicts the solar and star movements and seasons, and is in many ways more aligned with common sense.
I’m still waiting on Kuhn’s precise explanation of how the “obscure and recondite” in Copernicus brings it all toppling down–but I know it involves the planets. Anyway, it’s a little disappointing to need a secondary source to grasp the original, but I’m not proud. More soon…