Lyceum Society: Is Copernicus the Victim of a Bum Rap?
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Presented by the Lyceum Society
Copernicus not only introduced a heliocentric theory but also useful devices to describe the motion of the planets. Tycho Brahe, who never accepted heliocentrism, said that one of these devices was Copernicus's greatest contribution because it removed a logical inconsistency in Ptolemy's presentation.
In 1958 the discovery of a manuscript led to research revealing that Islamic astronomers had discovered these same devices some 200 years before Copernicus. Over the past 50 years, it has become conventional wisdom among science historians that Copernicus somehow became aware of these Islamic achievements and adapted them for his heliocentric theory without attribution. (Copernicus had claimed credit for the device praised by Tycho Brahe.)
I will show why I think Copernicus rediscovered this device independently. I will also argue that the accusation that he copied a second device from Arab sources does not stand up to scrutiny. I also hope to show how simple combinations of epicycles gave a satisfactory representation of reality until the time of Tycho Brahe and Kepler.