Science: Magical Common Sense

Science Goes Beyond Common Sense Systematized

Some say that science destroyed our old illusions with relentless explanations:

“Geocentrism”, the illusion that the Sun turns around the Earth, is often quoted as an example:

However, geocentrism appeared only after it became clear that the Earth was a rounded sphere. That revelation came from observing the Earth’s shadow (prehistoric man has got to have thought that the Earth was flat). It confirmed what looking at ships already indicated.

Soon after, by studying the shadows more carefully, the distance of the Sun was found to be at least three million kilometers. Hence, shortly after the Earth was found to be round, it was found that the sun was bigger than Earth, thus it was more natural to suppose that Earth was rotating around it.

Aristarchus of Samos actually proposed exactly this theory, within at most three centuries from the earliest suggestion of the geocentric theory.

So geocentrism was not common sense, far from it. Common sense displaced it nearly immediately after its creation.

So why did geocentrism triumph so long?

It is actually the establishment of political dictatorship, indeed outright plutocracy, and the intellectual eclipse it entailed, that brought the neglect of heliocentrism. That was accentuated by the forceful imposition of the divine character of Aristotle’s physics… Aristotle, whose plutocratic political philosophy fit dictators like a glove (hence dictators loved everything Aristotle, and felt we should share the love too).

Dictators wanted We The People to believe everything about Aristotle, as if he were wisdom incarnated including his completely silly, easy to disprove, physics.

That was no unfortunate accident. It is precisely the very fact that Aristotle’s physics was stupid which made it an instructive example: believe what your master tells you to believe, even, and, especially, if it looks idiotic; thus your mind shall be like that of a dog! Masters need dogs. (The Trinity played a somewhat similar role, of training to violate credulity.)

Heliocentrism was reborn after Buridan, around 1320 CE, introduced inertia (Anglo-Saxons call this “Newton’s First Law”). Buridan was immensely famous, so the Church suppressed him, actively, five generations after his death. As part of the Church’s general crackdown on intellectuals (started with treacherously burning Hus alive.)

Buridan’s work is now attributed to Copernicus. (So the Church is still winning that one! Just as it does every day it forces to celebrate the monster Saint Louis as a “saint”.)

In truth, much common science is just common sense, systematized. A lot of modern mechanics and aerodynamics was perfectly mastered, intuitively, by Genghis Khan’s archers (say). A Mongol prince hit a dummy with an arrow, in a competition, at a distance of half a mile. The archers did not know the equations, but they knew what they say.

The rise of modern mechanics came from Middle Ages gunnery, especially after the French invention of field guns around 1430. Gunners quickly found that Aristotle’s physics was wrong, and established their own empirical science.

Commodity traders anxious to know first what the ships carried, developed telescopes. Galileo perfected them later (and had a scientific fight with his friend the Pope… about tides, and Galileo was wrong…)

Did the discovery of genes change everything?

That’s what snake oil salesmen want us to believe. Read Dawkins:

“… when you are actually challenged to think of pre-Darwinian answers to the question ‘What is Man?’ ‘Is there a meaning to life?’ ‘What are we for?’, can you, as a matter of fact, think of any that are not now worthless except for their (considerable) historic interest? There is such a thing as being just plain wrong and that is what before 1859, all answers to those questions were.” (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 267)

What is he saying?

That Englishman Darwin found all wisdom prior was worthless. Darwin, who thought of himself as a Lamarckian (and so did Wallace about Darwin!), would have been shocked.

The Anglo-Saxon debate about Darwin is a funny thing: in this vision, religiously propagated by Dawkins, evolution was discovered in 1859, by the British empire. (Dawkins may despise the Christian god, but he reveres the English empire.)

Why was Lamarck  so hated after 1815? For the same reason that anti-Judaism was made into the law over most of German speaking Europe, at the same time (thanks to Metternich and company).

It was the same mood: the Lord of Heavens, Jesus Christ, was back, complete with anti-Judaism, and research professor Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s evolution theory (which Lamarck demonstrated by studying fossilized mollusks, around 1800), which had attacked so fiercely the Christian god, was out. Teaching evolution was strictly forbidden in British universities. (Darwin turned around that, two generations later, by not being a vulgar professor.)

Britain had been allied, used and encouraged as a weapon, the anti-Judaic, anti-Slav, rapacious kingdom of Prussia, since 1756. The dirty evolutionary, over-intellectual, anti-lord, and anti-plutocratic French theories were anathema. Especially in the Anglo-Saxon world (nevertheless, they percolated, from Darwin, to geologist Lyell…)

But did not science’s evolution theory, Lamarckian or not, debase man, by showing man was just an animal?

No. British universities forbid the teaching of Lamarck for two generations because evolution theory debased Christianity, which says god looks like man. Thus, god was a monkey, or dog. But that would not have shocked Indians, just stiff upper lip Brit, whose empire depended upon smooth sailing between lord in heavens, sovereign and force.

Most of the 10,000 religions or so that we know, did not make a sharp distinction between the human and animal realms. Many saw a continuity, a complicity, a coming and going between beasts, men, and gods, with various transmutations.

Evolution was known, de facto, for millennia:

Even large prehistoric dogs, 35,000 years ago, were obtained with heavy breeding from wolves (they did not look like wolves at all). Xenophon and Macedonians, obsessed by the breeding of horses, knew perfectly well that artificial selection worked. Natural selection was an obvious extension: the Spartans themselves used it sociologically in their eugenics program.

So science is very far from having “de-legitimized” all of the theories that came before. And some of these theories seemed most likely even tens of thousands of years ago: a discipline such as ethology had to be well mastered, for prehistoric man to survive, let alone thrive. Practice often primes theory (even the thinking cow, Martin Heidegger, guessed that one).

Practice precedes theory: it is particularly true in mathematics, where detailed examples suggest general theories.

Physics and biology confirm, systematize much of what men have observed, ever since there are men, and they think. Many phenomena are simply better observed, and understood.

So nothing is new under the sun?

Not quite. What science brought that’s really new, like neurons, or Quantum Physics, if anything, has made the world into an ever more complex, mysterious, magical place.

The more  we see, thanks to science, the more beautiful, and complex, it gets. Who needs gods, when we have what we found? And is now part of us?

Patrice Ayme’


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27 Responses to “Science: Magical Common Sense”

  1. ianmillerblog Says:

    A bit tough, here, on Aristotle! From what I can make out, his efforts in physics were amongst the first things he did. If you read Prior analytics, Posterior analytics and the Sophist Refutations, you see Aristotle had correctly worked out how to carry out the scientific method. His big problem came when he ventured into mechanics and cosmology where he overlooked his own methods! (Possibly because he had yet to formulate them. As I indicated, he may well have done his investigating in the wrong order.) However, Aristotle had several problems in getting to the heliocentric theory (and remember, Aristarchus got there after Aristotle, and did not really provide evidence that the more complicated Ptolemaic system was wrong.)

    I wrote a couple of ebook novels on this topic, in which a Roman had to prove the heliocentric theory, amongst other things. The first step is obviously to refute the worst part of Aristotle’s mechanics, which is his overlooking of frictional forces, which meant constant force had to be applied to maintain velocity, and that requires some actual experiments, but it also requires some inspiration. My view is, it is a lot easier to accept a physical relation when someone explains it to you than it is to discover it. It might be obvious in retrospect, but it never is before hand. It is also a bit easier once you have Archimedes’ Principle.

    But after that, using Aristotle’s methodology properly, you still have two problems. The first (why don’t you or small objects fly off the earth? If the earth is orbiting the sun, it is continually turning corners, so why don’t you feel the effects?) can only be addressed by discovering the equivalence principle, and that is not sufficiently obvious that you would get around to doing it. I think you need inspiration there. The second is even if you get your mechanics right, you still do not prove it. Everything else can still orbit the earth, although it gets more difficult. You need to find something that fills an “if and only if” statement to say with confidence the earth must orbit the sun. Essentially, this gets down to proving the earth moves, because if it moves and stays at a constant distance from the sun, it must move in a circle. The only way you can do this at that time was to properly analyse the tides, and that would have been impossible for Aristotle because near where he lived, there were none of significance.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      hi Ian! Thanks for the reflective comment.
      I decided to make Aristotle a free firing zone after American philosophers accused me of a “crusade” against him, and told me to give him “slack”. As my Aristotle Destroyed Democracy showed, we would have been better off, if Aristotle had never existed.

      Aristotle was really good about biology (yet that Greek word was coined by Lamarck).
      He was completely idiotic about mechanics. As you said, he did not suspect friction. Probably never galloped full blast on a horse like his lovers, and students, and “executors”, Alexander, Antipater, Craterus, etc.

      Now, as far as the heliocentric theory is concerned, we know, indirectly from Archimedes, the obvious questions, like “why are not clouds flying away if the Earth rotates?” had been asked to Aristarchus, and he had answers for them.

      Buridan had the answers… Not all of them as the universal attraction law had to wait Bullialdus (generation before Newton).

      The tides were still misunderstood by Galileo Galilei… Heliocentrism a la Buridan, 300 years before Galileo, did not need the tides…

      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Hi Patrice, Again, in fairness to Galileo, he probably could not have lived in a worse place to guess the nature of the tides. There are apparently tides in Venice, but because of wave interference, their origin is hardly easy to guess.

        My point about Archimedes was that Aristotle saw smoke rising and guessed that air rose, especially if it came from under a cup inverted in water. He then decided that if air rose, and we could breathe, the universe had to be full of air. Oops! Another experiment he did was to throw a stone into the air, and it came back to where he threw it, therefore the earth was not rotating. Strictly speaking, coming down should be the opposite of going up, so there is a logic error there, but suppose he did it right, and dropped a stone from a tower, the stone will fall, moving to the east, and where you live, to the south. (North for me.) The problem is, of course, this is a very difficult experiment to do properly even now. With the instruments he had, it would have been impossible.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Hmmm, Ian. My more general point is a lot was discoverable, if one had a civilization determined to find things out (and the whole point is that one did not!… Thanks to the philosophy in command). One could have put a Foucault(us?) Pendulum inside the Pantheon… The one in ROME!
          In any case, by throwing out Aristotle’s error, and inventing inertia, Buridan, in 1320 CE, wrote that heliocentrism and geocentrism were equally plausible.

          Bullialdus (inverse square law) and Borelli (equivalence principle: attraction = centrifugal; Newton had his book, it was found after his death!) came 320-330 years after Buridan. In other words, these were details. The big picture (heliocentrism), given the dimensions, of the Solar System, was more obvious.

          Could we be in an equivalent situation now? I think so.

          • ianmillerblog Says:

            Could we be in an equivalent situation now? I think so too.

            Meanwhile, I must find out more about your B’s. I confess my ignorance – I had never heard of them. Nevertheless, I think the real trick to proving the heliocentric theory is to prove the earth moves, which is what Galileo claimed he had done.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              You mean Buridan? Copernic just re-published a simplified version of Buridan’s theory. In the history of thought, Buridan was most probably more important than Newton, as his multi-dimensional revolution seems to come out of nowhere (Newton was on the shoulders of giants, as he said). Buridan brought forth many giants, including the Oxford calculators…

            • ianmillerblog Says:

              Starting afresh – previously was getting a little skinny. No, I had not heard of Buridan. However, Copernicus certainly borrowed. Apparently in his earliest script he had a page acknowledging Aristarchus, but he ripped that out. Also, I would not put too much on Newton saying he stood on the shoulders of giants. The most likely reason he said that was to get at Robert Hooke. Hooke may well have announced the inverse square relationship of gravity first, but Newton hated Hooke (Hooke apparently rejected Newton’s paper to the Royal Society on light – an early sign of the problems with peer review) and Hooke was apparently a remarkably short man, and what Newton was really doing was to announce to the world he owed nothing to Hooke.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              Newton himself recognized Frenchman Ballaldius (Himself a member of the Royal Society by the time of Newton’s birth) found the inverse square law (Kepler thought it was just inverse). Newton did not talk of Borelli (who put together Buridan + Balladius in his book)… But he knew of his book.

              Hus was burned alive, and the hatred in the East was great. As the Vatican pursued its crusade, universities in the East refused to partake in the Indexation of Buridan, and kept him mandatory reading. That’s how Copernicus learned heliocentrism. Why he did not acknowledge Aristarchus and Buridan may have had simply to do with not having his book put at the Index. So maybe Copernic was not dishonest at all, but just outsmarted his vicious superiors in the catholic hierarchy. That’s what I believe.

              Hooke found a few remarkable things. Newton, although a genius, was one among many in the 17C, and probably not the greatest

              Although measuring geniuses is in bad taste, not to say perilous, reducing 17C to Newton is grotesque. The absence of Newton would not have changed anything, the main discoveries were already basically in, this is what the fight with Hooke was about.

              While before Descartes or Fermat, analytic geometry and calculus did not exist.

              In other words, somebody playing the role of Descartes or Fermat had to come along. Newton, had he not existed, would have been replaced: his first law is word for word in Buridan, 350 years prior… Three hundred fifty years is really a long time… Tellingly, Newton said he delayed publication by a very long time (20 years?) because he could not prove what we know as Gauss’ theorem, which does not seem very complicated to me to prove (even with Newton’s tools). That tells me that he did not view the rest of the celestial machinery explanation as very revolutionary… But it was! So, if newton felt it was not, it’s because Borelli and the like had basically put the argument out already…

              OK, I’m getting my neck out here, giraffe style, but, well…

            • ianmillerblog Says:

              As you say, elongated neck! Still, while I have a great respect for Newton, the fact of the matter is had Newton not been there, either Leibniz or someone using Leibniz’ new invention (calculus) plus Galileo’s Equivalence Principle would have sorted it all out.

              More interesting if you want to criticise Newton is to look at his attempts at chemistry. If you see what he did, it is quite surprising how he managed to avoid getting anywhere. As for the difficulties in proving the centre of mass concept, my guess is Newton was not entirely convinced it was right, and there wasn’t some shape or something that would not follow it. I still think it is a lot harder to discover something in the physical sciences when you don’t actually know for sure it is true. I think also the arguments that Newton had everything sorted out but for that very quickly are probably wrong. Newton was probably slower. We shall never know for sure.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              I have great respect for Newton. He had his own way to look at calculus, geometrically. Leibnitz had infinitesimals, but it’s Fermat who, a generation earlier, demonstrated the fundamental theorem of calculus, that differentiation and integration are inverse of each other (sort of).

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          BTW, Newton invented telescope based on mirrors. Thus theory compels instrumentation. It is still true today: Haroche in Paris had to create the world’s best mirrors for watching light with atoms…

  2. John Rogers Says:


    It’s often seemed to me that if there is a proper role for religion (man’s relationship to “god”), it is the exact opposite of the popular “The Book” approach, whether “The Book” is the word of God, his prophet, Aristotle, or something else .

    Assuming the existence of “god” for religious purposes, his relationship with man has not been to ordain “the truth”, but rather to present man with an exquisite puzzle (“reality”) for him to figure out.

    Man has variously done better or less well at this task.
    The rest is pareidolia and the image of the Virgin Mary showing up in grilled cheese sandwiches.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear John: We all need (!) superstition (!!!), be it only to use our brain’s logic (by filling the hole between hope and ).
      Pareidollia is superstition gone too far.

      The relationship with superstition can involve the god(s). I have no problem with that, as long as they are not used offensively for no good reason (taboo as in Polynesia quite often had very good ecological reasons, as modern ecology is presently re-discovering!)

  3. gmax Says:

    Most people were born yesterday, so they feel science was born yesterday too. Lots of hubris around, really. Yet, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes and no, as I tried to say. Science has made our world more complex by introducing completely new explanatory systems (neurology, Quantum)… Although, in a sense, as even dogs do (some sort of) calculus… even calculus is not really new. As I have argued, some math may be too new, to the point of error.

  4. Alexis Helligar Says:

    “…believe what your master tells you to believe, even, and, especially, if it looks idiotic; thus your mind shall be like that of a dog! Masters need dogs.”
    — Patrice Ayme

    Alexi Helligar: And apparently, dogs need gods. You only need gods when you fail to intelligently rule over your own life.

    “The more we see, thanks to science, the more beautiful, and complex, it gets. Who needs gods, when we have what we found?”

  5. johsh Says:

    “Who needs gods, when we have what we found? And is now part of us?”

    bigger gods !! Lets not presume anything, we are probably in stone age, relatively, still.

    science is common sense, yes, but currently it carved out a narrow path. For unraveling the mysteries of this world, science is VERY slow and error prone, philosophy/introspection is much faster.

    Science is external knowledge, no matter what it finds/discovers. For example, I guarantee you 90% of humans never heard of “quantum”. Even if they did know what that means, it means literally nothing to their “self”.

    gods (religion, culture, philosophy, indoctrination) are much more efficient than science! They nurture lives of humans like no other. They are real salvation.

    Science, currently, is clueless. And you singing its praises come off as ignorant. It doesn’t matter if you have all the knowledge in the world (the best tech/science/tools) if you lack wisdom.

    Science is so slow >~50% of US sheeple still think earth was created some 5k/2k years ago. who do you think won science or god ? god! . Its all about karma…you dig something you will only find what you dig for. Current craze is quantum, or what ever the latest fad is, the more they dig, the more amazing things they will find in that space.

    I hope science changes it karma/quest, to be more holistic.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Josh: You make good points. But science and philosophy, both extremities of the same spectrum of inquiry, are bodies of knowledge, yes, and indeed, as such, limited.

      However science and philosophy are all also methods. Two methods to converge towards truth, and they are complementary (also often not complimentary of each other… and erroneously so…)

      Science as a truth method is stronger and more penetrating than ever. It is also a model for finding deeper and more rigorous truth. There is absolutely no contradiction with philosophy. I do agree that those who feel the Earth was created 6,000 years ago by some Guy in the Sky are mental cases of the worst type, namely a nasty crowd mania. They are actually, greatly, the cause of Islamist Jihadism, modern version, because they claimed the American Guy in the Sky was alive and well, so the Jihadists felt challenged…

      As, of course, those who pull the strings, knew quite well would happen… As they want, war, gore, population control that way, oil, feudalism, money from their accomplices Lors of the Middle East, etc.

      • johsh Says:

        mostly agree, my point was that science (currently) is not holistic. It is like a kid thinking he knows everything (it’s his reality, no-doubts in him). That’s fundamentally unscientific, ironically.

        Reality is what it is. How does it help humans if they knew earth revolves around sun…boo.hoo. It is what it is. Conversely, if they didn’t know earth revolves around sun, like currently they dont know what is beyond quantum, or further.

        We need a much deeper quest than science, something more personal, soul-stirring, intense, something that challenges you every instant of existence. Science is not-personal like this. Huge gaping gap.

        science, at best, is a good tool. It is no where near philosophy. or the topic of “god”.

        Science is like a blind man relying entirely on touch, or sound. If only he could open his eyes.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Things, or rather ignorance, piles up, dear Josh.
          Now to believe the Sun turns around the Earth, one has to be living under a rock, or being deranged, either from viciousness, or madness.

          Indian traditional medicine is certainly a science, and it is certainly holistic (that’s it’s fundamental approach). The Quantum is also holistic, as it is everywhere.

          As I said, there is a set of scientific methods to ascertain certainty. There is not even one scientific method, but several. If you said to the Hubble, Keck or ESO operators: “Science is like a blind man relying entirely on touch, or sound. If only he could open his eyes.”, what do you feel they will say? Or do? Laugh, if they are polite?

          • johsh Says:

            BTW, that blind man metaphor, applied to non-blind-men, is what is referred to as “third eye” in indian thought.

            Humans “think” with their 5 senses + mind…including scientists. So hubble or any other future instrument cant get past this human limitation.

            But, using just philosophical/meditative “method”, third-eye-thinking was found. It is not unlike blind-men discovering vision. Science is clueless, currently, of what i am talking about. Blind men leading blind men.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              Well Josh, are you aware of the last Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine? I mentioned it here more than once. It revealed a sense that is hyper-important, and still had not even been suspected by the “Third Eye People” (Nice to meet you, 3rd I people, hope u guess my name…)

            • johsh Says:

              did they describe the 2-eyed-reality in one more way ? too bad they have no clue what i mean by 3rd eye.

              I guarantee there will be more such amazing 2-eyed-realities in the future, and there will be nobels, more and more.

              the more you dig…

              btw, you hit a blind wall with your “hope u guess my name” question.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              It was an allusion to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”… The Devil was known as “Le Malin” (the crafty one) in the Middle Ages. If the Devil is in the details, does that mean science is evil? it all depends whether one is predator, or prey.

  6. johsh Says:

    prey -vs- predator is 2-eyed view of the world. Turns out, every predator is a prey itself, mental if not physical. Science alone wont let you be the best predator you can be.

  7. The Folly Of Big Science Prizes | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] Aristotle (320 BCE) taught physics which was obviously false (Aristotle taught that a force had to be continually applied for continuous motion; Buridan overturned this in 1320 CE). I have argued that the very fact that Aristotle’s physics was obviously false taught the suspension of common sense (and that was exactly what the powers that be wanted!) […]

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