Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Medieval cosmology DESPERATELY need help

  1. Jan 27, 2007 #1
    I am an public health/environmental student.... I'm never taken any philosophy or anstronomy courses in my life. I am taking a course this semester that I thought was going to be more about the environment and turned out to be very abstract and philisophical. My first assignment is due this week and while I've done All the reading and studied so Hard to understand this, I am no more comfortable with it then when I entered the class (I just CANNOT grasp this material)
    Anyway, I'm really getting worried because I have been staring at the essay topic for the past 2 days and have nothing. I don't even understand the Question! we have been learning about the story of the universe and essentially we are asked to think about what that is to us, our influences and how this helps us define nature. I could MAYBE come up with something for that. This next part is where i'm lost
    "imagine how the world would appear to you, in every day life, from within a medieval cosmology and compare your perception of it"

    Is anyone able to give me an idea of what she may be asking for by this? I am just trying to understand the question.. not looking for answes obviously, but any help would be SO appreciated!

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2007 #2
    What you may be looking for is the Aristotelean view that was prevalent before the Copernian view was accepted. You mentioned medieval cosmology and you are in a beginner course so this may be what your instructor is asking about. I would "google" aristoltelean universe and see what comes up. This idea was accepted as fact far into the middle ages.
  4. Jan 27, 2007 #3
    actually... I'm not allowed to use and references outside of the notes I have for class. it's actually a 4th yeur environmental course...I wasn't expecting philosophy. Maybe I'll just try that though and see if it helps me understand what she's asking though. Thanks so much for your response :)
  5. Jan 27, 2007 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I wouldnt call the medieval cosmology "Aristotelian"

    I would call it Ptolemaic.

    The guy who constructed the picture of the universe as concentric spheres with the earth in the center was named Ptolemy.


    I doubt that you need to google Ptolemaic system either, because it is so obvious. Picturing the earth as the centerpiece surrounded by these concentric shells with sun moon planets and stars has a very different FEEL from our kind of universe.

    In one case the earth feels very important. It is bigger than the sun or moon or any star.
    they are just decorative things revolving around us to give us light, and riding on their spheres which are really just SCENERY for us.

    Medieval people didnt know that Jupiter has moons. they didnt know we live in a galaxy. they didn't know there are millions of other galaxies.

    Have you ever seen a photograph of a spiral galaxy------they are made of billions of stars. A spiral galaxy is made of billions of stars. The Milky is just one galaxy among billions of galaxies.

    The earth is not in the center of diddly squat.

    Haven't you ever seen photos of other galaxies or of the moons of Jupiter and all that other stuff medieval people didnt know about?

    When you look up at the sky, what do you think you are looking at?

    If you think you are looking at a a large turning sphere with holes poked in it, which are stars, which surrounds the earth to give us earth people light, because we are the very important descendants of Adam and Eve, then write your essay saying to your teacher that your feeling about experiencing the Cosmos is the same as a medieval persons. Tell her that your experience is the same as someone in Charlemagne time 800 AD. that will be correct.

    But if you think your experience of living in the cosmos, and your perspective on it, is DIFFERENT from a medieval, then tell her how it is different.

    I don't see what the difficulty is.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2007
  6. Jan 27, 2007 #5
    Since this is a environmental course, the Aristoltelean Universe has the Earth and thus man at the center and everything revolves around mankind. An idea that is not environmentally sensitive.
  7. Jan 28, 2007 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    It sounds like you imagine that the medieval outlook was LESS 'green' than the modern.

    But I think you would find that in several ways the medieval outlook was MORE green exactly because the EARTH was the center of creation and all creatures were integrated (in the minds of medieval people) in a "great chain of being".
  8. Jan 28, 2007 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member


    I think that this picture of the Universe predated Ptolemy by a long shot and deserves to be referred to as "Aristotelian". The view that the Universe was composed of concentric rotating spheres was accepted way before Ptolemy. Even the ideas of epicicyles (a refinement of the purely uiform circular motion) predated Ptolemy. What Ptolemy did was to refine these ideas even more in order to have agreement with the observations known at his time. I am not sure 100% but I think he is the one who introduced the idea that the circles were a bit off-centered with respect to the Earth and that the circular motion was uniform as viewed from a different point than the Earth (the concept of deferent is introduced here).

  9. Jan 28, 2007 #8
    In my view the Aristotelean view is alive and well in religeous and human thought today and a more so in the recent past. A view that since man is at the center then he has the right to do what he wants with the environment. A much better "green" theory is the Gaean philosophy, the mother earth view. I am only a high school graduate but do a lot of reading so my ideas may be a little off the mainstream but I think they hit the mark the instructor is looking for since this is an environmental study. IMHO
  10. Jan 29, 2007 #9
    This is a really weird class, it seems. I have taken a lot of philosophy classes but they are engineered more towards formal logic systems and philosophical critiques of various philosophers. It seems quite odd that one would invoke the term philosophy, without being exposed to some actual philosophy. I am not sure how rigorous your course is but I would definitely start by defining a few axioms, postulates and concepts regarding your interpretation of 'medievial cosmology' or whatever it is that you want to prove and then through deductive, inductive or dialectical reasoning (or perhaps a combination of them), construct and prove your argument.

    With philosophy, you want to construct a logically rigorous argument (using the axioms of logic or by creating your own logic system), from which interesting properties and conclusions will emerge. Read about 'logical fallacies', types of reasoning and logic systems if you are curious. Even if you do not wish to conduct rigorous philosophy, it is still extremely helpful to understand the nature of logic, even if you are a car mechanic.

    Although, it seems as though you are simply required to presuppose some aspect or property of the early universe and expand through imagination. If this is the case, then I suppose you can completely ignore logic, although, I feel constructing a rigorous logic system allows for the emergance of sound arguments.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2007
  11. Jan 31, 2007 #10
    Please excuse my spelling. I had taped some old "ROME" from HBO and watched it again just last night. Volarious was telling Pollo about the concentric spheres. He said that the stars were only points of light shining through from heaven through the concentric sphere. Pollo had a hard time with this explaination and had another theory that I will not elaborate on. I think the point is that without conclusive evidence one theory is as good as another.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook