Looking Back - Yesterday

Past Worldviews and Memories from Yesterday:

“Modern” religions really come from the stone age:


The Mesopotamian gods Marduk and Tiamat battle.
Many creation myths have an early hero battle a great monster 
or the waters of chaos that existed before creation.


Inanna Ishtar Astarte - greek Gaia Γαια
Earth Mother Goddess - Easter comes from her
 - note her dainty feet!


Bible: Earth is flat, square and has corners

"The church says the earth is flat, 

but I know that it is round, 

for I have seen the shadow on the moon, 

and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church." 

        – Ferdinand Magellan

Even though I grew up as an only child and the first grandchild on both sides, one day I learned that I was not the center of everything. After a while, I got over it.

Similarly, in the past and even today, western humans were taught that they were the reason for the existence of the universe and lived in the center of it. The universe was thought to be either made by or inhabited by earlier magical beings which were like some kind of super humans. This was called the geocentric model.

As we gathered more information, we learned the Earth is not the center, that there are at hundreds of billions of stars besides our Sun  in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and furthermore at least a trillion similar galaxies. We now know that we humans are not the center of everything. It is time to get over it.

While it is true that we are mere specks in the universe, the achievement of thinking intelligence makes us one of the universe's more marvelous and probably rarer features. See Rare Earth, by Ward and Brownlee.

Here are some of our worldviews across time:

Animism: Long ago we sat around our campfires in Africa, exchanging interpretations of our short lives as both predator and prey. There were lions and tigers hunting us. Erring on the side of caution, we thought rocks, streams and trees were persons too. After all, a false positive idenfification of a bush as a lion is safer than a false negative identification of a lion as a bush. There were storms and bad weather. This early form of religion is called animism - the notion that everything is alive - and out to eat us. Some of this still remains when we as parents are asked by our kids to check under the bed and in the closet at night.

Supernaturalism: We came to believe in superhumans called gods and demons that also roamed the world and were responsible for lightning, fires and other calamities if angered. We saw the Sun as Apollo driving his chariot across the sky. This is closely related to a belief in magic. We saw natural activity as coming from other beings like ourselves, but with super powers - like children’s comic books today.

Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox: When I was a child, my parents would take me to movies in Atlanta at the Fox Theater, one of those large 1920s venues, built in an imitation Moorish style not unlike the Alhambra, with domes outside and an imitation Arabian garden inside. A key feature of the inside garden was an overhead moving night sky, with stars and clouds. Sometimes I watched the ceiling more than the movies. 

foxceiling781px-Side and elevated view of Fabulous Fox Threater

Next, from the Fox to the Alhambra, one of my favorite places on this planet, I was given a private tour once while there on an astronomy  project. Here is the Adagio from Rodrigo’s  Concierto de Aranjuez:

The Three Layer Universe: One ancient view, also found in the Bible, was that the world was like the Fox theater, with three layers, surrounded by chaotic waters that existed before creation. The Earth, where people lived on the ground, was in the middle and floated on the waters. The underworld was beneath our feet and could be accessed through caves, etc. And the sky above was a ceiling, like the ceiling in the Fox, with stars attached to it like lights. The Sun and Moon also moved across the sky, around the Earth at the center. Some people were afraid of falling off the edge of the Earth. 

Religion: Long ago, religion used to be like what we call science today. When we were nomads, we gathered around our campfires, questioned what was going on and shared our speculations. But when we became settlers instead of nomads, cities and society developed, religion became an institution - an institution of society. Religion's goal became not understanding, but control. Institutional religion became quite organized and elaborate. There was something in it for every lobbyist and interest group of rulers and priests. [Sound like modern politics?] As the Roman Seneca the lesser said: "The common people find religion true. The wise find it false. And the rulers find it useful."


Thinkers: But there have always been careful thinkers as well. While many early people thought the world a flat three layer cake - heaven above, earth in the middle and an underworld beneath - some others realized that the earth was round like the sun and moon, even calculating their size and distance. And while some believed in gods and saw them as badly behaved super humans, there were others who did not indulge in magic thinking.

Science: As we developed other methods of learning, using more verifiable tests and less untested speculation, we moved from alchemy to chemistry as we learned about the elements of matter, which we now arrange in the periodic table of elements. As Archimedes, Galileo and Newton studied motion, we became aware of forces which were not hidden magical persons moving things like the Moon or cannonballs about, but natural interaction instead - And that we could actually calculate their movements in advance.

galileo telescope

One of Galileo's early telescopes.

Technology: Sometimes advances in technology helped. Galileo's use of the telescope radically changed our view of the Earth's position in the universe, no longer at the center but instead in orbit around the Sun. And then van Leeuwenhoek's development of the microscope radically changed our notion of life through the discovery of cells by Hooke and others, displacing the activity of demons by the microbial theory of disease.



Next >>>> Physics Calls - Setting Sail

© Gareth Harris 2017       --------        Contact email: garethharris@mac.com        --------         see also: GarethHarris.com