Friday, February 1, 2013

Nicholas Oresme

Nicholas Oresme (c.1325-1382) likely came from humble beginnings; we assume this because he attended the College of Navarre, a royally funded and sponsored college for those who could not afford the University of Paris. He had his master of arts by 1342, and received his doctorate in 1356. He became known as an economist, philosopher, mathematician and physicist.

One of his published works was:

Livre du ciel et du monde
(The Book of Heaven and Earth)
In this work he discussed the arguments for and against the rotation of the Earth.
  • He dismissed the notion that a rotating Earth would leave all the air behind, or cause a constant wind from east to west, pointing out that everything with the Earth would also rotate, including the air and water.
  • He rejects as figures of speech any biblical passages that seem to support a fixed Earth or a moving sun. (Keep in mind even today we unanimously speak about the beauty of the sun setting when it's really the Earth rising!)
  • He points out that it makes more sense for the Earth to move than for the (presumably more expansive and massive) heavenly spheres and Sun to move.
  • He assures his readers that all the movements we see in the heavens could be accounted for by a rotating Earth.
  • Then he assures the reader that everyone including himself thinks the heavens move around the earth, and after all he has no real evidence to the contrary!
Years later, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) wrote his theories out in a way so similar to Oresme's that it is assumed he had access to Oresme's writing.

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