Circling the Sun With Copernicus

Nicolaus CopernicusOn this day in 1924, the chess Grandmaster David Bronstein was born. In 1951, he made it to the World Chess Championship to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik. And over the course of 24 games, they ended tied with 12 points each—five wins each, and 14 draws. So Botvinnik retained the championship. Garry Kasparov claims that based upon the quality of the play, Bornstein should have won. He was an extremely innovative player and one of the greatest chess writers. And shockingly, he won a major tournament at the age of 70.

John Frankenheimer was born in 1930. He was a great director whose films included a string of three in the early 1960s: Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, and Seven Days in May. He is best known for thrillers, such as Black Sunday. And then there is Ronin. I’m very fond of it: a very intelligent action film. It had some of the best car chases I had ever seen. This included a chase going the wrong way down a freeway. And then, I started seeing that in just about every movie. I’m pretty sure Ronin was the one that started it. Now, I hate to see it. But I still think this is pretty cool. Those other directors are amateurs.

The singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson is 74 today. I don’t have a lot to say other than he really is one of the greatest songwriters ever. Here he is doing “Tears of a Clown”:

Other birthdays: playwright David Garrick (1717); physical chemist Svante Arrhenius (1859); sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876); expressionist painter Gabriele Munter (1877); actor Merle Oberon (1911); actor Lee Marvin (1924); game designer Danielle Bunten Berry (1949); novelist Amy Tan (62); fine actor Jeff Daniels (59); novelist Helen Fielding (56); actor Justine Bateman (48); and another really good actor Benicio del Toro (47).

The day, however, belongs to Nicolaus Copernicus who was born on this day in 1473. He’s the guy who put together the first model of the solar system with the sun in the middle. That was a brilliant insight. I remember a story about student talking to his teacher, “Those primitive people were so stupid to think the sun goes around the earth.” And the teacher replied, “Yes, just imagine how it would have looked if that were true!” The point is that it would look the same. There is nothing obvious about thinking the earth goes around the sun. Indeed, did you see this article, Poll: 26 Percent in US Do Not Know Earth Goes Around Sun. And the funny thing? “[Americans] did better than EU residents on the question about whether Earth moves around the sun.” Go figure.

There’s an interesting thing about Copernicus’ model, though. It wasn’t very successful. He had a brilliant insight, but it still wasn’t right. He had planets moving around the sun in circles. Well, they don’t move in circles. The world had to wait almost a hundred years for Johannes Kepler’s insight that the planets moved in ellipses. (Yes, I know that circles are ellipses!) So all those old models with the earth at the center of the universe might have been complicated, but they were still better at predicting where things would be in the sky. So old Copernicus made a necessary (And difficult!) contribution to knowledge, but all alone, it wasn’t sufficient to improve the practical science.

Also: Copernicus was old. And wise. He waited until he was dying to publish his book. No torture for him! That’s my kind of guy.

Happy birthday Nicolaus Copernicus!

5 thoughts on “Circling the Sun With Copernicus

  1. @mike shupp – Ah! I must admit to not being very up on such things. But I do remember after [i]Ronin[i], it seemed to become standard. But that may just be my perception–a reflection of the films I watched at that time.

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