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Thread: Early Indian thoughts on heliocentrism

  1. #1
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    Early Indian thoughts on heliocentrism

    From wikipedia I found the following and would like comments from the Astronomy experts here.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliocentrism

    The earliest traces of a counter-intuitive idea that it is the Earth that is actually moving and the Sun that is at the centre of the solar system (hence the concept of heliocentrism) is found in several Vedic Sanskrit texts written in ancient India.[1][2] Yajnavalkya (c. 9th–8th century BC) recognized that the Earth is spherical and believed that the Sun was "the centre of the spheres" as described in the Vedas at the time. In his astronomical text Shatapatha Brahmana (8.7.3.10), he states:

    "The sun strings these worlds - the earth, the planets, the atmosphere - to himself on a thread."[3]

    He recognized that the Sun was much larger than the Earth, which would have influenced this early heliocentric concept.[1] He also accurately measured the relative distances of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth as 108 times the diameters of these heavenly bodies, close to the modern measurements of 107.6 for the Sun and 110.6 for the Moon. He also described an accurate solar calendar in the Shatapatha Brahmana.[4] The Aitareya Brahmana (2.7) (c. 9th–8th century BC) also states:

    "The Sun never sets nor rises. When people think the sun is setting, it is not so; they are mistaken. It only changes about after reaching the end of the day and makes night below and day to what is on the other side."[2][5]

    Some interpret this to mean that the Sun is stationary, hence the Earth is moving around it,[2] though others are less clear about the meanings of the terms.[5] This would be elaborated in a later commentary Vishnu Purana (2.8) (c. 1st century BC), which states:

    "The sun is stationed for all time, in the middle of the day. [...] Of the sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising."[6]

    BA comments on the depth and accuracy of the claim that the Indians in 800 BC had an idea about a sun center solar system?

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    I believe the Vedas are religious texts. I would be cautious about drawing any strong conclusions about the scientific, astronomical knowledge of any civilisation from their holy books.

    Perhaps a discussion of "What does heliocentrism mean?" is also in order. Maybe some people in ancient times believed the world was a sphere -- but did they come up with any kind of evidence to justify their belief? The ancient Greeks certainly did (see Aristotle).

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    I think there could be an element of nationalism to this, a kind of way for people to say well India was first...well ancient Romans and Spaniards was first..., ancient Peru was first....well Iran was first for whatever.

    Chinese also have a long and ancient history of understanding the motion of stars, the old Chinese had the concept of the Earth inside a giant celestial-sphere and the path of Jupiter was mapped and still China does not claim to be the father of modern astronomy.

    However just because you have a 'hunch' about something like the old Greeks or Chinese did, it does not mean you understand it. I think real scientific astronomy began with people like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, they didn't go on hunches or guess prematurely, they made calculations used instruments to observe their own theory.

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    I'm not suprised. The earliest document I've ever seen which accurately described the planet's orbits was, quite literally, etched on a stone in a museum in the Orient, dated about 5,000 years ago.

    It seems we really did go through a few dark ages before serious scientific effort was once again recorded and not hidden away.
    Last edited by mugaliens; 2007-Sep-23 at 10:23 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mugaliens View Post
    It seems we really did go through a few dark ages before serious scientific effort was once again recorded and not hidden away.
    I'm not saying we had a technological civilisation thousands of years ago here, but I do have to wonder just how much knowledge was lost and had to be rediscovered from scratch when we lost the Library of Alexandria.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent View Post
    I believe the Vedas are religious texts. I would be cautious about drawing any strong conclusions about the scientific, astronomical knowledge of any civilisation from their holy books
    The Vedas are religious texts, but I think that societies sometimes include some of their accumulated wisdom in such texts. For instance, the
    Ten Commandments encode some very sensible ways to live together somewhat harmoniously (e.g., don't steal, don't kill each other, don't bear false witness, don't mess around with some other guy's wife, etc.). I think the Vedas also include medical advice. The fact that this is a "religious text" does not negate the validity of what it says.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fortunate View Post
    The fact that this is a "religious text" does not negate the validity of what it says.
    Nor did I claim that it did. But it does make any claims of astronomical prescience problematic at best, as such books were never meant to be scientific treatises in the first place.

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    Did you ever read Cosmos? The ancient Indians were very advanced. If I had a time machine, I would invent a mini-photocopier and then go back to the Library of Alexandria and copy every document. Then I'd come home and have been gone for no time at all.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
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    Quote Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent View Post
    Nor did I claim that it did. But it does make any claims of astronomical prescience problematic at best, as such books were never meant to be scientific treatises in the first place.
    The phrase "negate the validity of what it says," in my previous post, was poorly worded. What I probably should have said is that the fact that the Vedas were religious texts in no way detracts from the fact that what they say, to a striking extent, approximates our current view. It seems unlikely to me that the picture painted by the authors of these texts was merely the result of uninformed whimsy.

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    Hmmm what we are left from Greeks are scientific and mathematical documents. They say how they came about their knowledge. Scientists are identified and logic applied. No levitating mythical beast.

    Religious documents with evidence of knowledge do not rise to that level.
    What good is a document to a scientist if he/she cannot verify the facts ?

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    Question

    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    Did you ever read Cosmos? The ancient Indians were very advanced.
    How ancient are we talking about, here? This is not just nitpicking. You need to be careful, because there were significant cultural exchanges between ancient Greece and India.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fortunate View Post
    It seems unlikely to me that the picture painted by the authors of these texts was merely the result of uninformed whimsy.
    I don't know. Give enough religious writers a pen, and sooner or later some of them are bound to write something that is astronomically accurate.

    Here are Aristotle's arguments for the sphericity of the Earth (4th century BC):

    (1) Matter is drawn to the center of the Earth by gravity. This tends to compress the Earth into a spherical shape.

    (2) As you move from north to south, new constellations are seen rising above the southern horizon.

    (3) During a lunar eclipse, the Earth's shadow on the Moon is always round. The only object whose shadow is always circular, no matter what its orientation, is a sphere.
    Did the Vedas contain arguments of this level?

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    http://www.crystalinks.com/indiastronomy.html
    http://home.versatel.nl/postbus/hats.html
    http://www.crystalinks.com/china_astronomy.html
    http://www.cas.muohio.edu/~devriepl/...my/Chinese.htm

    Shi Shen in the 4th century BC wrote about sun spots and eclipses and it seems to have been common knowledge that the moon and planets shown by light reflected from the sun as well as that lunar eclipses were the result of the earth passing between the sun and moon and solar eclipses were caused by the moon passing between the sun and earth. Alas, like the library of Alexandria, even more ancient knowledge was lost when Qin Shi Huang unified China and then began a systematic burning of books and execution of philosophers. And then compounded when the palace and state archives burned in the revolt that ended his son's short reign in about 207 BC (destroying the records that his father had spared from his great burning).

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    How ancient are we talking about, here? This is not just nitpicking. You need to be careful, because there were significant cultural exchanges between ancient Greece and India.
    You're right, there was. India is not my area of archeological expertise, so I'll just repeat that it was in the book.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
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    Thank you gentlemen for the information - it would seem we need more information. Perhaps the BA has contact with an Indian astronomer with a interest in the history of his art?

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    To bring up the obvious point, measuring the distances relative to the sizes of objects is ridiculously easy with a little trigonometry. angle = size/distance, if you use the small angle formula, so distance/size = 1/angle. For 0.5 degrees, I get distance/size = 115.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Manchurian Taikonaut View Post
    However just because you have a 'hunch' about something like the old Greeks or Chinese did, it does not mean you understand it. I think real scientific astronomy began with people like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, they didn't go on hunches or guess prematurely, they made calculations used instruments to observe their own theory.
    I think one thing we have to consider is that the Vedic texts were probably written by priests for the consumption of common people, so the process of how they came across the knowledge (whether by experiment or being told by someone else) is not something that they were really interested in writing about. This makes it hard to judge those kinds of works.
    As above, so below

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