Commentary: Connections - Revolutionary Stuff; March 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Burke; 2 Page(s)
Iwas enjoying a recent partial solar eclipse in London and thinking about how after Copernicus came out with De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, in which he made the shocking assertion that the earth moved in orbit just like the other planets, it really was for his contemporaries, as they often said, that "the world turned upside down." Because if you put the sun instead of the earth at the center of everything, you rocked the entire boat: the old "fixed" order of things (and the church that said so); man as the center of the universe (and the church that said so); the heavens that were beyond investigation (and the church that said so).
No wonder Andreas Osiander (Lutheran mathematician and religious fanatic) tried to persuade Copernicus to write a smoke-and-mirror preface saying it was all just astronomers¿ mathematical fiction. Otherwise, Osiander said, there was a good chance Copernicus would be in deep and potentially fatal doo-doo with Rome. But since Copernicus was dying anyway, what did he care? In the event, while Copernicus¿s editor, Rheticus, was out of town (Nuremberg, where the work was being printed), Osiander, temporary replacement editor, slipped in his own preface, with the "fiction" message. By the time the thing blew up (Rheticus went ballistic), it was too late. And De Revolutionibus was off the hook enough to survive the censor. More or less.