Tag Archives: Ptolemy

Who says the Earth revolves around the Sun?

If you were like me, you were probably taught that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that it takes one year – a bit over 365 days – for the Earth to complete one such cycle.

And you probably also learned that we didn’t always believe that.

You might have learned about Ptolemy, who believed that the celestial bodies revolved around the Earth. It seems impossible to believe now, but that was the established wisdom for thousands of years. People were executed for disputing this scientific “fact”.

When Copernicus came up with his idea of the Earth revolving around the Sun, it didn’t make sense. The scientists of the day disputed his claims and showed through “science” that he was ‘wrong’, by demonstrating that his theories couldn’t explain what was happening any better than the established wisdom. In fact, Copernicus’ model offered worse predictions than Ptolemy’s model.

But with contributions from Galileo and Kepler united under Newton, our world experienced a paradigm shift (in the original/ Thomas Kuhn sense of the term). And suddenly our textbooks were rewritten. And so “The Sun revolves around the Earth. The Sun has always revolved around the Earth.” became, “The Earth revolves around the Sun. The Earth has always revolved around the Sun.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we of course know that we know the truth.

And yet, do we? Perhaps one abusing ‘Relativity’ might posit that it all depends upon where you are stationed – that from the perspective of the Earth, the Sun does revolve around it and vice versa. And maybe they are both wrong.

Such is the nature of “science”: The perpetual quest to prove oneself wrong.

The special challenge falls on those individuals who lead periods of revolution. Scientific, cultural, social, linguistic. Whether they are the revolutionary leaders of climate change or economics or politics or even intelligence.

You see it in someone like Howard Gardner in positing Multiple Intelligences back in 1983. Or Edward de Bono’s “Lateral Thinking”. Or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. From ‘ridiculous’ to ’self-evident’ in but a short few years.

If we are going to support and facilitate the development of more of these game-changing Great Minds – people with “capital C” Creativity – what sort of systems, policies, procedures, experiences and opportunities might we want to create?

In the past two weeks, I watched my four-month-old son learn to blow raspberries. Inspired by reading that this would be good for his language development (seriously!), and knowing that his mother can’t blow raspberries, I made the sacrifice and regularly blew raspberries at him. He was surprised at the start, then he started laughing. Then he started trying it out for himself. It took a while, and he ‘fell over’ a bunch of times. Even now, his raspberries are particularly sloppy. But he watched me and he did it – today, he can reliably exit a room and blow me a raspberry!

Interesting skills are usually the most difficult to transfer. We can learn Newton’s Laws, but it’s another story entirely to learn to think as Newton thought. Those tacit and almost invisible skills that sometimes leave behind traces of brilliance are the ones where we lack the language to teach the skills. Often we lack the explicit knowledge as to what is being done at all. Yet an infant can learn without language. They just look out at the world with eyes wide open and a willingness to explore, experiment and experience.

Ultimately, most of what we learn is false. It’s our best guess, but at best it’s almost certainly wrong or flawed. We want to get to those moments of joy and pure experience when we can create genius.

I wonder what would happen if  we would just choose to put our desire to control to the side, and accept the ambiguity, the obstacles and the knowledge that even our best work will probably be wrong. And just keep blowing raspberries.

(originally from TheGeniusProject.com)