Tycho: the first Flat-Earther

Except he recognized that the Earth is spherical

Was Tycho Brahe really akin to flat-earthers?

Yes, in a way. Tycho admired aspects of Copernicus’s heliocentric model, but disliked it for offending against both the obvious facts of perception and religion. Of Copernicus’ extremist revision of the universe, Tycho said:

This innovation expertly and completely circumvents all that is superfluous or discordant in the system of Ptolemy. On no point does it offend the principle of mathematics. Yet it ascribes to the Earth, that hulking, lazy body, unfit for motion, a motion as quick as that of the aethereal torches, and a triple motion at that.

1. Common sense says the Earth does not move

The common, every-day intuitions about local nature carry cosmological theorems. Take our lack of proprioceptive awareness of Earthly orbit and rotation. The Earth, as any flat-earther will attest, is obviously motionless. It is, indeed, the standard of motionlessness. And it will stay motionless because, well, who or what could move it? The Earth is the Rock of Ages, the most stable datum of spatial position, the origin of all measurement.

We cannot deny the obvious facts of our senses. So Tycho properly held that the Earth was just too sluggish and heavy to be continuously in motion. That was the first of his empirical-seeming bases.

2. Aristotelian physics says the Earth cannot move

The second basis came from a common metaphysical supposition about the nature of physical matter. According to the accepted Aristotelian physics of the time, space and matter above the lunar orbit were made of a totally different stuff. The stuff of Earthly (sublunar) objects is heavy, pliable, entropic, and has an internal drive for being-at-rest (it resists change in velocity). The stuff of Heavenly (superlunar) objects is light, strong, unchanging, and has an internal drive for circular motion (it is spontaneously driven). From SEP:

Natures as inner principles of change and rest are contrasted with active powers or potentialities (dunameis), which are external principles of change and being at rest (Metaphysics 9.8, 1049b5–10), operative on the corresponding internal passive capacities or potentialities (dunameis again, Metaphysics 9.1, 1046a11–13). When a change, or a state of rest, is not natural, both the active and the passive potentiality need to be specified. Natures, then, in a way do double duty: once a nature is operative, neither a further active, nor a further passive capacity needs to be invoked. Even so, as will be clear from Aristotle’s discussion, this general thesis will require a host of qualifications.

It obviously follows that the Earth cannot be a flying planet—the essential disposition of its substance prevents that. The Earth is a “lazy” body that can only be moved by applying an external force.

Similarly with the Earth’s rotation. While Tycho acknowledged that the daily rising and setting of the sun and stars could be explained by the Earth’s rotation, such a fast motion could not belong to the Earth, a body very heavy and dense and opaque, but rather belongs to the sky itself whose form and subtle and constant matter are better suited to a perpetual motion, however fast.

3. Lack of noticeable parallax entails abnormal stellar distances

The third reason Tycho gave was the lack of noticeable stellar parallax. Copernicans explained the lack of parallax by saying that the stars were at such a great distance that Earth’s orbit was insignificant by comparison.

Well, if that were true, Tycho calculated that the distance to the stars in the Copernican system would have to be a whopping 700 times greater than the distance from the sun to Saturn. Worse, given that the typical star measured approximately a minute of arc in size, the only way the stars could be so distant and still appear the sizes they do would be if even average stars were gigantic—the size of the orbit of the Earth around the Sun:

Deduce these things geometrically if you like, and you will see how many absurdities (not to mention others) accompany this assumption [of the motion of the earth] by inference.


What shall we say of all this? On one hand, I see this as a sign of an admirable consistency. Tycho was the first thoroughly empirical practical cosmologist. The same esteem for observation that midwifed his masterful tables of planetary positions and times also anchored him to geocentrism. Proprioception yields no movement—true. The notion that the Earth moves violates its manifest fixity—true. His only mistake was equivocating the certain knowledge of magnitudes (space-position, time-position, distance, duration) with the immediate “knowledge” of Earthly fixity. Also … had he never ridden in a carriage? He should know that uniform motion

Excursion: How are we really moving?

It’s far worse than Tycho imagined:

Your current speed is 3,037,670 km/h

You are not sitting still, really

Tychonic system was once orthodox

In schools we learn that it was the Bible and Ptolemy one day, and then Copernicus and Newton the next. The real history is more dramatic and embarrassing—for people who feel that the legacy of Sky Alpha should contribute more to human welfare than it has.

Bible (400 CE – 1758)

First Chronicles 16:30 states that “The world also shall be stable, that it be not moved” (1 Chron 16:30).

“Yahveh, who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever” (Psalm 104:5).

“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose” (Eccl 1:5).

Copernicus v1 (1514)

May 1, 1514: Copernicus circulates his 40-page outline of the heliocentric theory, called the Commentariolus (Little Commentary), among friends and peers. It contained seven astonishing postulates:

  1. Celestial bodies do not all revolve around a single point
  2. The centre of Earth is the centre of the lunar sphere—the orbit of the moon around Earth
  3. All the spheres rotate around the Sun, which is near the centre of the Universe
  4. The distance between Earth and the Sun is an insignificant fraction of the distance from Earth and Sun to the stars, so parallax is not observed in the stars
  5. The stars are immovable; their apparent daily motion is caused by the daily rotation of Earth
  6. Earth is moved in a sphere around the Sun, causing the apparent annual migration of the Sun; Earth has more than one motion
  7. Earth’s orbital motion around the Sun causes the seeming reverse in direction of the motions of the planets.

Copernicus v2 (1543)

Copernicus published the complete version of his system in De Revolutionibus (1543). He started it in 1506, finished it in 1530, and then sat on it until his death. It contained a preface that said that the system simplified calculation even though its hypotheses were not true, so it was never strongly attacked. People who believed in it were punished by the soul-searing question,

Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?

Tycho’s geo-heliocentric system (1587)

(See above).

Galileo v1 (1613)

Galileo discovered that Sun rotated and that Venus exhibited a full range of phases, and with this single act of observation the geocentric system was dead. So the Jesuits (and then the Church as a whole) adopted the Tychonic system. He published his observations in Letters on Sunspots (1613).

Galileo v2 (1615)

In his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, Galileo defended Heliocentrism, and also noted that this fact does not contradict scripture, since poetry and song use perception and not objective truth as their matter.

Copernicanism banned (1616)

In April of 1616, Cardinal (and Inquisitor) Robert Bellarmine wrote that holding= Heliocentrism as true would be “very dangerous" and would harm “the Holy Faith by rendering Holy Scripture as false.” In January, and educated-sounding letter to Galileo, rebutting Copernicanism, was published. In February, it was officially banned by an Inquisition council, which called it

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture

It’s main non-dogmatic argument was the problem that Heliocentrism requires the stars to be much larger than the sun (see above).

Bellarmine then delivered to Galileo his infamous order:

to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it... to abandon completely... the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.

Then, all books and letters that advocated the system were banned. (Yet in 1618 the Holy Office recommended that a modified version of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus be allowed for use in calendric calculations, even while banning the book (and its theory) 1758.

Kepler (1617–1621)

In the Epitome astronomia Copernicanae, the world finally received the first accurate description of the Sol system. The orbits were not circles, but ellipses. Once again, the sensibilities of otherwise revolutionary peers were offended. Just as Tycho felt that a moving Earth offended common sense, Galileo felt that ellipses offended God’s perfect taste, which would naturally prefer (perfect) circles.

Galileo v3 (1632)

After Pope Urban VIII encouraged Galileo to publish the pros and cons of Heliocentrism, Galileo wrote Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems (1632). The work showed the superiority of Heliocentrism but pretended to be agnostic, like Galileo were merely offering a viable and elegant alternative.

Galileo was taken to trial, after being showed the instruments of torture to be used on people whose minds have been corrupted by Satan’s untruth. The trial was about the difference between “teaching” and “holding and defending as true.” Galileo said he was merely doing the former (legal), while his accusers held that he had done the latter (illegal). He relented and remained under house arrest until he died.

Everyone agrees with Copernicus and Kepler (1686)

Even the man on the street.

Newton (1687)

Newton discovers the mathematical laws of gravitation and brings the whole cosmos inside an elegant and totalizing coherence. This placed Heliocentrism on a firm theoretical foundation and thus the paradigm was finally settled.

Church (1758)

In 1758, the Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating Heliocentrism from the Index of Forbidden Books. 1758—72 years after the chimney sweeps and street urchins realized the truth, and 2028 years after Aristarchus of Samos. This is the chilling effect that Sky Alpha has on the discovery of actual physical laws via empirical methods.

Prologue: Flat Earthers

What about the dignity of Man!? Man is important, a being stamped in the image of Sky Alpha himself, as proven by the Book of Sky Alpha. It doesn’t matter what your observations tell you—Sky Alpha (i.e., fear of punishment) is the primary good. Would you rather be happy and wrong, or miserable and correct? The damn liberals and their scientists have moved the hearth of the world from the center to the periphery, reducing the dignity of Man. This feel has returned and, thanks to some bad YouTube videos, has gained more than a handful of (uneducated) followers.

But there is another reason, a non-evil one. We really do live in a They Live! universe. Consent about objective reality really is socially manufactured. Capital really does control politics, law, religion, and metaphysics. So being distrustful of “common sense” surely is proper and noble.

But the spherical Earth is not part of this conspiracy.