The Target that Hit the Bullet

28 05 2012

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the suspect is sitting in the witness stand, giving testimony on his behalf.  The defense attorney, of course, is about ready to crawl under the table and do himself in, because he knows his client is guilty and, to make matters worse, exceptionally foolish.  With great animation and apparent self-confidence, the accused explains that he did not, in fact, cause the bullet to fly from his gun at the victim (may he rest in peace).  Rather, the victim, reckless man that he was, actually rode the rotation of the Earth straight into the bullet.  Because the gun was fired in a westerly direction, the bullet was essentially released in a stationary position, and the accused did nothing at all to propel that bullet toward that victim.  Even after the jury hands down its verdict, the defense attorney scuttles out of the room in shame and the bailiff begins to drag the man off to prison, the accused is still shouting at the top of his lungs that he is not to blame if someone else manages to impale himself on a stationary object left behind by him.  The argument, you see, is that the Earth is not stationary, but that it actually rotates.  In fact, it does so at considerable speed, even  to the point of negating the velocity of the bullet.  The jury, without even realizing it, makes their judgment based on the premise that the Earth is stationary and the universe revolves around it.  Otherwise, the bullet never moved, because the gun was fired toward the west.

After writing that last paragraph, I had to walk down the hall and get a cup of coffee.  Incidentally, the cost of coffee has gone up so much that I’ve resorted to doing something that I swore I’d never do again, which is to buy a generic brand.  So, as I’m walking back with the brew that will likely make me sick to my stomach, I might have wondered if I was walking in a westerly direction.  Actually, I did not worry about that at all.  The fact of my movement down the hall was, however, a matter of speculation.  You see, we judge the movement of an object by the change of its location relative to its surroundings.  I knew that I was walking down the hall, because the bigger picture, the whole rest of my environment, appeared to be moving with respect to me.  Excuse me, I mean to say that I was moving with respect to the rest of my environment.  In the early geocentric world, all things were judged with respect to the Earth, because the Earth and everything on it was the bigger picture.  If your location (or your bullet’s location) moved with respect to the Earth, then we would have said that you (or it) moved.  Of course, we’re wiser, now.  Our horizons have broadened, and we realize that there’s a great big universe out there.  The background, the bigger picture and the surrounding environment are now the universe, as a whole.  We say that the universe is stationary and the Earth is moving.  To say otherwise would require an even bigger picture by which to judge the movement of the universe.

A former coworker of mine was poring over the diagrams of the Ptolemaic model of the universe, the geocentric view, and he marveled at how stunningly elegant the designs were.  In truth, it took a great deal of math and mental stamina to follow and diagram the movements of the heavenly bodies according to a geocentric view.  I responded that it was, actually, possible to think of the universe in geocentric terms, but it required a great deal more math, and the description was a heck of a lot more complicated.  He looked at me with a startled expression, not quite that I was mad, but that I had challenged his most basic assumptions.  I hereby renounce any responsibility for his admission to a psychiatric ward shortly thereafter; it was a preexisting condition, and I had nothing to do with it.  We often mistakenly think of the heliocentric model as the simplest explanation of how the universe works, but we would be wrong.  It’s actually not an explanation of anything.  It is a description, but not an explanation.  The whole model depends, very heavily, upon an understanding of the nature of gravity.  While we know much about what gravity does, we know absolutely nothing about what it is.  Much speculation exists as to the cause of gravity, but there seems to be no good evidence, or even any bad evidence, to suggest that any of it may be true.  The rule of thumb (Occam’s razor) is that the simplest explanation is usually the best.  We don’t have any explanation, so we’ve settled with the next best thing, which is the simplest description.  Heliocentrism is the simplest description, because it uses the least math to tell us what to expect from moving objects in the universe.  The description for geocentrism is far more complicated than the description for heliocentrism.  Therefore, heliocentrism is deemed correct, and geocentrism is deemed a falsehood.

Yet, despite all of that, the jury, which claims to believe solely in heliocentrism, still convicts the man on a geocentric reasoning, that being the same geocentrism that they would in any other setting have called a complete falsehood.  While heliocentrism may be technically true, it is only practically true to astrophysicists.  While geocentrism may be technically false, it is practically true for everyone in every situation but space exploration.  In fact, a small amount of geocentrism exists even for an astronaut standing on the moon, because the Earth is still the center of his universe.  We still say that the sun rises, never giving the slightest care to the fact of the Earth’s rotation.  If I hit you, then you don’t care which direction I’m swinging and whether or not you technically hit my fist with your face.  Either way, I need to start running before you come to your senses.

As I’m running, two things at once become very clear to me.  The first is that I haven’t been getting enough exercise and will likely not outlast you, but this is largely irrelevant.  The second is that you really do care which way I swung my fist; you just don’t care which way it was in relation to the Earth or its rotation.  This brings us to an even more practical, yet highly incorrect, technically, view of the universe, which is an egocentric one.  Suddenly, I realize that I never called it a sunrise because of geocentric notions.  I don’t really care what it’s doing in Japan unless I happen to be in Japan.  I don’t look at a sunset and say, “Oh, look at the Indian sunrise!” because I neither know nor care what it happens to be doing for the Indians, or the Pakistanis, or the Iranians.  You, likewise, are not really shocked that I hit someone, or that I hit in a direction other than West (though, we all know by now that I ought to be forgiven if it happened to be West).  No, the only directions you know are relative to your own person.

When I was a baby, I thought the whole universe revolved around me.  When I got older, I learned on my own that it did not.  With education, I learned that the universe does not even revolve around the Earth.  With a higher education, a divine one, I learned that the universe does not even revolve around itself.  As previously stated, we judge the motion of an object by its change in location relative to its surroundings, the bigger picture.  Beyond the confines of this universe is God.  The universe is contained only within God.  Therefore, while egocentrism is more practical than geocentrism, which is more practical than heliocentrism, and while heliocentrism is technically more correct than either of them, theocentrism is the card that trumps them all.  When we were egocentric little babies, as some of us still seem to be, all things related to our own personal needs, yet the whole world was largely out of our control.  When we grew into geocentrists, as kids, we had a better handle on the world, but we still lacked maturity.  As heliocentrists, we of the adult world have maturity, but, like the baby, there still exists that outside element of our own destiny, which not only eludes us but utterly terrifies us.  The world may come to an end by collision with an asteroid, or the world may come to an end by environmental disaster, and no one can say otherwise.  When limited to heliocentrism, this way of thinking is true in a practical sense, though it is not technically true.  Practically speaking, it could happen, but in the big picture, things are not really so far out of control as that.  The universe does not revolve mindlessly around itself.  The relationship of I and the Earth is such that I revolve around the Earth.  The relationship of the Earth and the universe is similar, and the universe does not revolve around the Earth.  Likewise, God does not revolve around the universe, but if his attention is fixed on the Earth, and the Earth abides with God, then, from the biggest picture of all, the universe really does seem to revolve around the Earth, not that the Earth is really its focal point, but that the Earth happens to be aligned with the ultimate focal point.  The same could be said for human individuals.  Does the universe revolve around a person?  No, but it revolves around God, who may abide with that person, having a similar effect.  Looking at the universe as the biggest picture still convinces us that we are merely lost in space, but looking at God as the biggest picture, space becomes the moving object, while the human being remains stationary, so long as God is with him.  It’s a coincidental alignment.  People feel like the center of the universe and know that they are not, but still, the original impression might lie closer to the truth than realized.

This brings us to the problem of destiny.  The truth of the matter is that there are really two polar-opposite meanings of the word.  One is egocentric and the other is theocentric.  I could say that God has called me to be a prophet, or that I am destined to do something great, or that I am destined to take over the world, or that it is my divine mission to eradicate the world of an unwanted race of people.  All of these things, from pastor and prophet to emperor and mass-murderer, are a product of the egocentric meaning of destiny.  It’s a question of what God has planned for me.  God revolves around self.  Really, it’s a very practical outlook.  The world’s most successful people tend to live on that kind of a sense of destiny.  It’s also untrue.  It’s only good until things go wrong, or worse, when life turns out to be extra-ordinary, instead of extraordinary.  Where is the destiny, then?

Destiny as a theocentric view takes a different meaning.  No matter who you are or what you do, the world does not revolve around you, and the universe does not revolve around your planet.  You can rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, but it still ends up sinking.  You can institute environmental policies and struggle to save the Earth, but life on Earth still comes to an end, and the sun eventually winks out.  In the end, the bigger picture wins.  Earth trumps the human.  The sun trumps the Earth, and God trumps everything.

Destiny is a paradox.  When I say that I sawed a piece of wood in two, you might imagine that the log was held in place while I dragged the saw back and forth on it.  With destiny, the reverse is true.  I held the saw in place with a vise and dragged the wood back and forth on it.  Either way, the result is the same (except that the second way left me badly in need of a bandage).  Did you do the act because it was your destiny, or did you do it because you chose to?  Did you shoot the bullet at the victim, or did the victim fly eastward and hit the bullet?  In the end, no jury changes its mind about your guilt because of the higher understanding.  It was your destiny, and you chose to do it.  You shot the gun at the victim and he flew eastward at you, piercing himself on your motionless projectile.  Still, you are punished because you chose to do it.  You are punished because you shot the gun.  Galileo is in the restroom at the moment, and he isn’t here to defend you.

The screaming continues down the corridor, something about the speed of the Earth’s rotation as it relates to the circumference of that line of latitude, versus the speed of a bullet, but the door shuts and we hear nothing more.  All rise….

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