Three days and 540 years ago, on February 19, Nicolaus Copernicus was born. And the world changed. His life’s work on the motion of celestial objects turned reality inside out, setting the stage for the scientific revolution. The world we now live in sprung from his groundbreaking propositions on how the universe operates.
It took a hundred years of course for him to make an impact. Even then his work was doubted. Galileo Galilei, who had based his work on the Copernican model, was forced to retract his assumptions and formally apologize for them.
On the occasion of Copernicus’s birthday, let me present you with the following query. If someone came up to you and said, I’ve been observing the world for a while and have discovered that we’ve been going about things the wrong way. The data say we should be doing A, B, C, not X, Y, Z.
Then he told you something completely bonkers, like, ‘The earth revolves around the sun.’ Or, ‘We are not the center of the universe.’
Would you give him the time of day?
Let’s make the question more relevant to today. Imagine for example that the world is progressing in a way that is taking care of business. Life expectancy is going up, disease is going down, information is spreading, technology is growing, and generally everything is moving ahead.
Then some guy comes along and says, Wait, this isn’t right. We are progressing, but at what cost? We are killing everything around us, including ourselves. Shouldn’t we reconsider our ways?
We, of course, dismiss him. Doomsayers are a dime a dozen and we don’t have time to waste.
But the guy insists. I have proof that what we’re doing isn’t working, he says. We ought to be making progress in a different way. The damage we are leaving in our trail is too big to handle. Let me show you.
We laugh at his proof. Big deal, we say. Polar ice comes and goes. It’s part of a natural ebb and flow.
He frowns. You are in denial, he says. The facts are staring you in the face but you refuse to accept them.
Amusing, we reply. But it doesn’t prove anything. Clever as the argument is, there is no proof that we are causing any of this. I don’t even think this is really happening. The winter’s been really cold this year. Not very ‘global-warming’ now, is it?
And we go back to business as usual.
The story of Copernicus all over again.