Give New Ideas a Chance

Nicolaus Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543. In this famous, revolutionary work, he proposes that instead of the Sun revolving around the Earth (as everyone at the time believed), the Earth revolved around the Sun. We now know that the Earth indeed revolves around the Sun, so Copernicus’s basic idea was correct. Some of his specifics weren’t, but that’s no big matter.

But during Copernicus’s time, everyone was too hostile to accept that Copernicus might have been correct. Everyone believed that the Sun must revolve around the Earth. Let’s journey into the mind of someone from the 16th century.

The Sun moves around the Earth. That’s common sense. You can see it rise in the morning, and set in the evening. That’s just the same as everything else: the moon rises and sets, the stars too. So everything is moving around the Earth. Why should the Sun be any different?

Copernicus is a nutcase. His ideas are not worth listening to.

And why should we have thought any differently? For a start, the heliocentric model worked out much better than the geocentric model. After scientists began working with the heliocentric model, astronomy was simplified greatly. In the next 200 years, Galileo, Newton, and Kepler would discover numerous fundamental laws of astronomy. Copernicus changed the world.

Today, we should treat new ideas not as threats or as nonsense, but as validly as we treat old ideas. Tradition is not an argument for truth. Some of what we “know” is wrong, even some of what we think is common sense.

A better future awaits if we’re open to being corrected.