Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? In My Reality, author Stan Green examines and attempts to answer these three basic questions confronting humanity. Writing from the perspective of a well-read and educated person who has lived through the last half of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, Green presents his ideas based on the study of both history and science.
My Reality tracks the historical events that molded the scientific, political, and religious thinking that has shaped the world. Beginning with the Big Bang, Green traces the development of the universe, life, and history of humanity over thirteen billion, seven hundred million years to provide a snapshot of human existence today. He bases his thoughts on the understanding that reality changes as the knowledge base regarding the state of everything changes, with even the smallest modification resulting in our species or culture being significantly different.
As Green examines our understanding of the universe and our place in it, he offers several probable scenarios that could mark our future.
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My RealityAs It Appears at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century
By Stan Green
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Stan Green
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho Are We?
What is science? A simple answer is that it is the development of a set of rules and laws based on our sensory input, or alternatively, the verification of a set of rules and laws by comparing these against our sensory data, both human and machine. The sensory data used is checked rigorously, using a procedure known as the scientific method, in order to minimize the errors caused by our senses or those of our machines. Science continuously questions its own premises. Note that the three pillars of modern science—the theory of evolution, relativity theory, and quantum theory—all contain the word theory. These propositions are labeled as theories even though there has been no significant credible challenge to or conflict with these concepts since they were proposed. All scientists are always trying to find exceptions and contradictions to these theories, since this would ensure that they would become one of the significant scientists of their generation. Thousands of scientists have attempted to topple these pillars; however, not one has succeeded, although new generations are continuously devising experiments or checking data with the hope that they will be able to level one of them.
Western science had its beginnings in ancient Greece. Greek scientists were among the first to question the world around them and use their sensory information in an attempt to determine the workings of nature.
Thales of Miletus, who lived in the seventh century BC, and whom many consider as the progenitor of Greek science, was active in mathematics and astronomy. In mathematics he postulated that:
An isosceles triangle is defined as a triangle that has two equal base angles.
Alternate interior angles of intersecting lines are equal.
A right triangle can be completely expressed by the length of one side and the acute angle that it forms with its adjacent side.
Based on these simple postulates, Thales was able to determine the distance of a ship from the shore and, by using the length of their shadows, the heights of various structures on land. His main contribution to astronomy was in realizing that eclipses of the Sun were a natural and not a supernatural occurrence. He, however, was not aware that the Earth was a sphere.
Anaximander expanded on Thales's work by inventing and/or popularizing the sundial. This would at first glance seem to be a trivial occurrence in Western science; however, it should be pointed out that science cannot exist without an accurate means of measuring the passage of time, since this is the only way that events can be placed in a precise chronological order.
The concept that the Earth was round and moves through space was first proposed by Pythagoras (570-495 BC). He may have been led to this idea partially by his belief that a sphere was the perfect geometric object. Pythagoras is best known for the Pythagorean theorem, which states that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two remaining sides.
The Greek astronomer Anaxagoras realized that the Moon was illuminated by the light from the Sun and proposed that eclipses of the Sun were caused by the Moon's shadow on the Earth. He also proposed that the Sun was a conglomeration of burning iron and conjectured that all animals breathe and that fish respire by extracting air from water using their gills. Not the first and certainly not the last scientist to be misled by his senses, he assumed the Earth was flat and calculated its distance to the Sun at four thousand miles, and the Sun's diameter at thirty-five miles. Ignored by Anaxagoras was the suggestion by Pythagoras, made a hundred years earlier, postulating that the surface of the Earth was shaped like a sphere.
Empedocles, who was born around 494 BC, observed that the pressure of air supported the weight of water contained in an inverted tube and also theorized that light actually moved through space. He could also be looked on as the first "evolutionist" as he is said to have stated: "Hair and leaves, and thick feathers of birds, are the same in origin, and scales too on strong limbs.... But on hedgehogs sharp-pointed hair bristles on their backs."
Democritus, who was born in the year 460 BC, postulated that all matter was built up from unique single entities, which he called atoms. Unfortunately, most subsequent ancient Greek scientists did not pursue this line of thought further.
Hippocrates (460-370 BC) is considered to be the father of medical practice. He was the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine, which established medical practice as a separate discipline from other areas of science and philosophy. He is best known for being the author of the Hippocratic Oath, which serves as the basis for the practice of Western medicine.
Socrates (469-399 BC) is considered to be the gadfly of Ancient Greece. While being primarily a moralist and an ethicist, he contributed to science by his probing questioning and thinking, which he passed on to his most outstanding disciple, Plato.
Plato (about 429-347 BC), considered by many to be the world's greatest philosopher, contributed to ethics, political systems, morality, and metaphysics. He is also known for mentioning in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias that a huge island empire, Atlantis, existed around 10,000 BC. Plato noted that Atlantis was a naval power beyond the Pillars of Hercules that had dominated a large part of the known world. (The Pillars of Hercules were rock formations that marked the entrance to the Straight of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean side.)
However, and most importantly, his writings in the seventh book, The Republic, form the basis of modern science, for it is his allegory of prisoners chained in a cave and determining reality from shadows cast on a wall that indicates that the data we are capable of accumulating using our senses or our machines must always be suspect. Unfortunately, many scientists throughout history have ignored or forgotten this basic fact.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) became the symbol for Greek science. He accepted the fact, as postulated by Pythagoras, that the shape of the Earth was spherical and gathered observational evidence to support this. He stated: "As to the figure of the Earth it must necessarily be spherical. If this were not so, the eclipses of the Moon would not have such sections as they have ..."
He noted that the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets seemed to circle the Earth. Based on this observation, he proposed that these objects were mounted on concentric spheres rotating around the Earth, which was, of course, located at the center of the Cosmos. This concept roughly described the motion of the objects that Aristotle could see in the sky. Unfortunately, it was incorrect, as have been all proposals that have tried to give our species a unique and special place in the Universe. An expanded version of this line of thought, using the concept of epicenters, was subsequently proposed by Hipparchus and popularized by Ptolemy to remove some of the discrepancies between Aristotle's theories and observations. An epicenter was defined as a circle on whose circumference an observed heavenly body orbited. The epicenter, in turn, circled the Earth. This concept was considered correct until Copernicus challenged it more than 1,000 years later.
Why was this proposal, which postulated the Earth as the center of the Universe, accepted for over one thousand years? The reasons were:
* Humans were placed at the center of the Universe, which played to our ego.
* Telescopes and accurate timing devices did not exist.
* The theory seemed to roughly explain what was observed.
* It seemed compatible with major Western religious beliefs and myths.
Herophilos (335-280 BC) was a Greek physician who is thought to be the first anatomist who performed dissections on human cadavers to increase his knowledge of human anatomy. He meticulously recorded his findings, but unfortunately all of these writings have been lost. Because he dissected human cadavers to learn his field, he is considered to be one of the first medical practitioners who used scientific methodology.
Euclid, who lived around 300 BC, took the basic mathematical ideas of Thales and Pythagoras and expanded them into the mathematical branch we define as geometry. Students in secondary school today, when they study plane geometry, learn this branch of mathematics in almost the same form as created by Euclid.
The founder of the science of mechanics, Archimedes, who is best remembered for the Archimedes principle, was born in 287 BC. His work with levers and his principle, which states that submerged objects displace their own volume in water while floating objects displace their own weight in water, insured him a primary place in the history and evolution of science.
The first reasonable calculation of the length of the circumference of the Earth was made by Eratosthenes (276-195 BC) using concepts postulated by Thales, Pythagoras, Euclid, and Aristotle. He compared the noon shadow at midsummer between Alexandria and Aswan (at that time named Syene) and, using these measurements, calculated the circumference. Depending on the value of his unit of measurement when compared to our modern unit of measurement, he may have been as close as 1 percent to the accepted circumference today. Eratosthenes also was involved in the preliminary development of prime number theory.
Hipparchus (190-120 BC) is considered by many to be the greatest astronomer of antiquity. He created trigonometry and generated its first tables. He also solved several problems in spherical geometry. His main claim to fame was his work on the theory of epicenters, which was subsequently documented and popularized by Ptolemy.
The ancient Greeks developed a science that, for all its inaccuracies and errors, gave them a way to make predictions about the world around them, even though their ability to make measurements was primitive and they lacked any way to measure time accurately. Because of their inability to measure time accurately, their science of objects in motion was flawed. However, their science of statics, or objects at rest, was close to what we accept today. The Greeks developed the mathematics of geometry and postulated the existence of the atom.
The Romans expanded on this and developed a technology that made use of these new concepts.
Strabo (63 BC-AD 24) was a geographer. It is our good fortune that many of his works have been preserved to modern time. In his works, he summarized the state of geography in his time and criticized the work of his predecessors. This criticism serves to give later generations more knowledge about how science was progressing. For instance, he criticized Eratosthenes for spending so much time in his discussions that prove that the world is round and states that this aspect of his work "should have been disposed of in the compass of a few words." What this indicates is that, during the time span between Eratosthenes and Strabo, the fact that the Earth was spherical had moved from a contentious idea to an accepted fact. He comments that Plato's Atlantis may have actually existed and points out that it had also been described independently by Egyptian priests.
Ptolemy, whose last recorded observation was made in AD 151, is probably the best-known astronomer of antiquity, specifically due to his work on detailing and expanding much of the work originally done by Hipparchus. His writings as they appear in his work Almagest became the standard for astronomy for the next thousand years. Ptolemy was also very active in geography, and his works in this field were used throughout the Middle Ages. He may have invented latitude and longitude; he certainly popularized these concepts and calculated a plethora of locations using them—on land. Determining longitude at sea was not easy until inventions made it possible to keep accurate track of time while at sea. The grid system employed on modern maps is attributed to Ptolemy.
One of the great physicians and physiologists of his period was Galen (Claudius Galenus), who lived at the same time as Ptolemy. He divided the vertebrae into groups and named them and postulated that nerves are responsible for sending impulses between the brain and the spinal cord. He was an advocate that diet and exercise were responsible for maintaining a healthy body, a premise that we in the modern world should probably pay more attention to.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages descended on the Western world. The science developed by the Greeks and Romans was preserved in the West by monks in monasteries through the copying and recopying of manuscripts. Thus, the Catholic Church was largely responsible for saving the concepts of the science of antiquity, even though it would be these concepts that would lead to ideas that challenged the fundamental premises of Judean Christian beliefs to their core.
Meanwhile, the advancement of science was continuing in the East.
Aryabhata (AD 476-550) was an Indian mathematician who proposed a number of trigonometric functions such as sine and cosine and generated the first-known rudimentary trigonometric tables.
Another Indian mathematician and astronomer, Brahmagupta (AD 598-668), was the first to define zero as a number. He applied his knowledge of mathematics to calculate the times of future lunar and solar eclipses and realized the fact that objects fall toward the Earth because of a law of nature. His work is considered by some to form the basis for subsequent developments in astronomy by the Arabs, who also took the works of Brahmagupta and Aryabhata to popularize what would become known as Arabic numerals.
In the mid-seventh century AD, an Islamic lunar calendar was proposed that consisted of twelve months, which are defined by sightings of the crescent moon. The need for accuracy in these sightings and the resultant calculations that they entail caused mathematics, especially in the area of spherical geometry, to advance from Greek and Roman mathematical techniques. This calendar is still the basis for calculating Muslim holy days.
Subsequently, Abu Abdullah Al-Battani, who lived between approximately AD 850 and 930, while confirming the measurements made by Ptolemy, noticed that the Sun's position in relation to the stars during its apogee seemed to have shifted from its previous measured position. The simple explanation for this is that the Sun moves through the cosmos; however, because of all the previous conclusions by Aristotle, Hipparchus, and Ptolemy, this explanation hadn't been considered.
Al-Battani determined the length of the calendar year to an accuracy that approaches our current calculations, and made a number of observations on lunar and solar eclipses, which were later used by Richard Dunthorne in 1749 to compute the apparent acceleration of the Moon. Following in the footsteps of Aryabhata, he used trigonometric functions rather than Greek chords in his mathematical calculations.
Al-Battani wrote a number of books, the most famous of which, De numeris stellerum et motibus, was translated into Latin in the twelfth century. This book consisted of his understanding of astronomy, along with supporting tables, which further established the use of empirical methods and testing techniques in scientific inquiry. Copernicus (1473-1543), in his book De revolutionibus, which was to shatter the idea of an Earth-centered Universe forever, cited and quoted him.
Subsequently, another Arabian scientist, Abu Ali Al-Hasan ibn Al Haytham (965-1039) made considerable advances in optics. He proposed that, when light is reflected, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection, and that twilight continues until the Sun is nineteen degrees below the horizon with the height of the atmosphere being about thirty miles. The latter two propositions, while being close to actual values, are not correct because of some of his measurements and assumptions. He is considered by many to be the father of modern optics, with Roger Bacon and other scientists of the Renaissance citing his work in this field. He was the first to propose that light from an observed object impacts the eye and causes vision.
Shen Kuo (1031-1095) was a Chinese scientist who, had he lived in the West, would have been considered to be one of the first great Renaissance scientists, perhaps comparable to Leonardo da Vinci. Like Leonardo, he was interested in a multiplicity of subjects, including magnetism, astronomy, mathematics, geology, archaeology, anatomy, and pharmacology. Among his many accomplishments were:
* He described the use of the magnetic compass for navigation and was the first to propose a difference between true north and magnetic north.
* He proposed a land formation model, based on his observations of marine fossils located in land areas and deposits of silt, that stated that geological structures were formed by erosion over long periods of time. This concept predated the theories of Charles Lyell (1797-1875) by many centuries.
* He realized that local environments and climates change slowly over time, which is one of Darwin's fundamental premises that led to his theory of evolution.
* His work on the lengths of arcs of circles was a precursor to the field of spherical geometry.
* He theorized that rainbows were formed when sunlight passed through water droplets.
* He documented the fact that Bi Sheng, who lived in China during the middle of the eleventh century, invented a type of printing involving ceramic movable type.
It should also be noted that the Eastern world was also responsible for copying and protecting the classical science writings from antiquity, which allowed Western science, when it again started to advance, to not have to start from scratch.
Excerpted from My Reality by Stan Green Copyright © 2012 by Stan Green. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Who Are We?....................1
Chapter 2: Where Did We Come From?....................57
Chapter 3: Where Did We Come From?....................63
Chapter 4: Where Did We Come From?....................79
Chapter 5: Where Did We Come From?....................87
Chapter 6: Where Did We Come From?....................103
Chapter 7: Where Did We Come From?....................155
Chapter 8: Where Did We Come From?....................249
Chapter 9: Where Are We Going?....................402