By Joel Davis
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Additional info for Alternate Realities: How Science Shapes Our Vision of the World
The only lights of our own creation were fires. The night sky was an intimate companion, and we knew it well. Even a thousand years ago, we had a different view of the night sky. The giant cities of today, with their electric lights and neon signs, did not exist. Most of us lived in small towns or hamlets. We were familiar with the night and its lights. Nothing obscured it but clouds or smoke. It should come as no surprise, then, that astro- 34 0 Alternate Realities nomical visions figure so prominently in prescientific cosmologies.
So Hipparchus invented a set of geometric devices to do so. His system envisioned a series of complex geometric movements called epicycles, deferents, and eccentrics. A deferent is a large, imaginary circle surrounding the earth. An epicycle is a smaller circle along which a planet travels. The center of the epicycle, in tum, moves along the deferent, circling the earth. An eccentric was another circle, whose center lay off to one side of the earth's center. Some heavenly bodies traveled along an eccentric.
Pythagoras is surely one of the most controversial of the ancient Greek thinkers. We know little about his life, and none of his actual writings survive; we only have what others later wrote about his philosophy and explanations for natural phenomena. Some writers suggest that Pythagoras spent a part of his early adult life in Mesopotamia, and there learned much of the practical astronomical data accumulated by the Babylonians. Surely he knew a lot of astronomy, and there is no reason to dismiss this story out of hand.
Alternate Realities: How Science Shapes Our Vision of the World by Joel Davis