Our View Of The Known Universe

Slowly we have come to understand that our concept of the universe affects our personal view of life. There is a deep underlying philosophical connection.  Yet even while this connection was slow to develop, it is not hard to see how it happened.

Primitive men and women were focused on the facts of existence: eating, sleeping, shelter and so forth. The regular motions of the sun and the moon were among the most obvious aides to their existence, which included developing a sense of time. Light was of obvious importance in doing things. When the sun was up, it was possible to see what you were doing. When the sun was close to setting in the west, it was time to suspend the hunt and get back to camp unless you were prepared to spend the night in a dark forest and run into all sorts of dangers. Of course, on nights when the full moon was out early, one had it’s light to help in the return to camp. When the full moon was nowhere to be found it was very dark early after sunset.

In time it became clear that the sun moved against a changing background of the stars through a yearly cycle. These groupings of stars were identified as in some cases their outlines were similar to common animals and other known objects, and the constellations were born. These were drawn and memorized by early travelers, who found this early observational astronomy of practical value. In time other stars were found to be unique in that they moved against the background of other stars, and were often brighter. These later became known as the planets.

As far as we know, it was not until the time of the early Egyptian, Babylonian  and Greek civilizations when the motions of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars were put together into a rational observational system which featured the Earth as the center of the known universe, a geocentric universe.  Of course, we now know that the Earth is not at the center of the universe, but it is not hard to see how our ancestors would been able to have place the Earth anywhere but at the center of things. Still, in time civilizations developed the idea that the Earth was not just a simple point observational platform, but a large round or nearly round planet.  It became clear that the sun and the moon and the planets were far distant objects and the stars were out there at incredible distances. Antiquity found the latter quite difficult if not impossible to understand.

At each step in our development the universe and our connection to it expanded. We were impressed by its growing immensity. Its size and nature changed our underpinnings, our philosophical understanding of life, how we got here, and where we were going.  Our understanding of the universe continues to change and this is a subject I want to talk more about.

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One response to “Our View Of The Known Universe

  1. Looking forward to this months postings!

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