Apr 08 2014

Geocentrism – Seriously?

I just saw the trailer of a new movie, The Principle. The movie is produced by Robert Sungenis, who writes the blog Galileo Was Wrong. Sungenis is what we technically call a kook. He believes the earth is at the center of the universe and that there was no Jewish holocaust, but rather the Jews were conspiring with Satan to take over the world.

Sungenis, however, is apparently a kook with money, so he is making a documentary film preaching his bizarre notions to the world. This much is nothing new. There are plenty of such films out there, like What the Bleep Do We Know and Expelled. They superficially follow the science documentary format, but they have an ideological agenda.

This film, unfortunately, will be narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. Old Star Trek stars lending their fame to pseudoscience is also, sadly, nothing new.

I was surprised to see Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku in the film. I know that Kaku has been flirting with the edges of responsible science promotion, but not Krauss. I suspect that they were duped into being interviewed for the film.* Perhaps they were not aware of the film’s editorial stance. (I will be seeing Krauss this weekend and will ask him.)

Krauss did tweet about the movie: “It is nonsense,” in case there was any doubt there.

It seems that Krauss and Kaku are there to simply say how strange and mysterious the cosmos are, and to discuss the edges of our current knowledge. This is a common ploy – focus on what we do not currently know in order to make it seem like we don’t know anything. The movie trailer opens with Mulgrew saying that everything we think we know about the universe is wrong.

Apparently Sungenis thinks he is smarter than the entire scientific community. Perhaps he thinks that modern science is all a conspiracy.

That the sun is at the center of our solar system, the earth revolves about the center of gravity between the earth and sun (which lies beneath the surface of the sun, which makes it reasonable to say the earth revolves about the sun), and that the universe itself has no center, are all well-established scientific ideas. Most people take these conclusions for granted and may not know the lines of evidence that support them.

One line of evidence is simply precise observations of the movements of the sun and the other planets, combined with the physics of gravity, including general relativity. If our model of how planetary mechanics works were so far off, I doubt our probes would have reached the outer planets – an accomplishment of scientific precision that is utterly astounding.

If scientists were so profoundly wrong as Sungenis claims we would not have been rewarded by such pretty pictures of Saturn and Jupiter.

Another line of evidence is stellar parallax. Parallax is the apparent change in position of relatively near objects compared to the background of relatively farther objects. Nearby stars shift in position relative to the distant background stars. They do so with amazing regularity on a yearly cycle, resulting from the earth revolving about the sun.

Stellar parallax alone (predicted by Galileo before our observations were precise enough to detect it) is strong evidence for heliocentrism. How does Sungenis answer this?

He argues that, while the sun revolves about the earth, the rest of the universe revolves about the sun, so that they are shifting their relative position to the earth causing the parallax.

Of course, this causes more problems than it solves. First, the universe is no longer geocentric. Everything but the earth revolves about the sun. Second, such a system does not actually fit our obsevations. And finally – how the hell do distant galaxies revolve about our sun?

Sungenis’s answer is that the earth (but I guess really the sun) is at the gravitational center of the universe, and objects really revolve about the center of mass, which is the earth.

This, of course, is utter nonsense. There is something called the inverse square law. Gravity becomes weaker as the square of the distance. This means that objects are much more affected by the gravity of nearby objects than the tug of distant objects – even if that distant object is the center of mass of the universe (which, by the way, does not exist).

The sun, therefore, has a greater pull on the earth than any more distant object. The earth and the sun have to be revolving around their mutual center of gravity, with only slight tweaks from other objects in the solar system. Meanwhile the entire solar system is revolving about the center of gravity of the galaxy.

This is the way it has to be.

Sungenis does not have a workable system. He has a ridiculous kluge that falls apart if you even glance at it sideways, let alone carefully inspect it.

Conclusion

Sungenis has made a documentary that does document something useful – the notion that there is no belief so absurd that there isn’t someone who will not only believe it but dedicate their time and effort to promoting it. The human brain can get trapped in even the most astoundingly ridiculous belief, and can contort itself into a Gordian knot of logic and rationalizations.

There is also another lesson, one for science communicators. Carefully vet anyone asking you to be interviewed for their film. We should have learned this lesson from Expelled.

 

*Update: This is from Krauss’s blog:

“I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don’t know.”

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30 responses so far

30 Responses to “Geocentrism – Seriously?”

  1. MikeLewinskion 08 Apr 2014 at 9:09 am

    With regard to the ploy of focusing on what we do not know to make it seem like we don’t know anything, Isaac Asimov’s “The Relativity of Wrong” is worth a re-visit.

    In short, my English Lit friend, living in a mental world of absolute rights and wrongs, may be imagining that because all theories are wrong, the earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next century, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut shape the one after.

    What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.

    This can be pointed out in many cases other than just the shape of the earth. Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured.

    Copernicus switched from an earth-centered planetary system to a sun-centered one. In doing so, he switched from something that was obvious to something that was apparently ridiculous. However, it was a matter of finding better ways of calculating the motion of the planets in the sky, and eventually the geocentric theory was just left behind. It was precisely because the old theory gave results that were fairly good by the measurement standards of the time that kept it in being so long.

    http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

  2. Kawarthajonon 08 Apr 2014 at 9:30 am

    From his website (http://galileowaswrong.com/buy-the-book/), he is alleging that the education system has, for hundreds of years, lied to the public about the fact that heliocentrism is the truth (this despite the fact that the most powerful organization in the western world at the time, the Catholic Church, was against this idea). What possible motive could scientists and governments have in keeping the fact that the Earth is the centre of the universe from the public?? This is so ridiculous, I don’t even know where to start or what to say!

    I guess I could say that not only do we have all the evidence that Steve has already pointed to, but we have sent numerous space probes out far enough that they can take pictures of where the Earth is in relation to the Sun!

  3. carbonUniton 08 Apr 2014 at 9:33 am

    If distant galaxies are orbiting the Sun, wouldn’t they have to be going faster than light to get around in a year? That would be a really close horizon, wouldn’t it? The maximum orbit would in fact be just under a light year in circumference, so the maximum distance before things start doing the impossible would be r= 1 ly / (2 * pi) = about .16 ly. Can’t even get to the nearest star!

  4. Kostason 08 Apr 2014 at 11:10 am

    Seriously, you don’t need to argue against geocentrism. All you have to do is to direct people here!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyRJZbNmC7U&list=PLmWeueTF8l82THrHwihtcmhQdjcBQBXjT

    Exquisite series!

  5. banyanon 08 Apr 2014 at 11:15 am

    From the trailer, the reasons given for believing in geocentrism seem to be identical to the reasons for believing in creationism: the Bible says it, it emphasizes the importance of humanity, and science is all an atheist conspiracy.

    As far as I can tell, the only real difference between creationism and geocentrism is that the latter has already lost the public debate.

    Given this, part of me hopes that some prominent creationists will see this documentary, start taking geocentrism seriously, and start preaching geocentrism alongside creationism. Once it becomes obvious that the premises of creationism necessarily entail belief in a geocentric universe, people who would otherwise be undecided or lean toward creationism will be less likely to be creationists.

  6. jnankivelon 08 Apr 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Is there no recourse for scientists being exploited in this way? It’s bad enough when people are duped into providing an interview under false pretenses, but when people can just quote mine clips from the internet to make it appear as if a scientist is promoting their particular brand of junk thinking, there needs to be some consequences.

    I’m all for free speech and want to ensure every crank has it, but they cross the line when they misrepresent other people like this.

  7. elmer mccurdyon 08 Apr 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I once saw the president of the Flat Earth Society on a quiz show, and he got every single answer correct.

    And I once saw an episode of The Weakest Link with a team made up of Star Trek stars, and at the end of the show Anne Robinson announced that they’d gotten the highest score in the history of the program.

    Conclusion: smart people are not to be trusted.

  8. cporre1on 08 Apr 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Sadly, the story started a debate in on Not Even Wrong’s blog: http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=6624

    I recommend taking a look at it to see how Rick DeLano attempts to use CMB and Relativity to prove the geocentric model of the Universe. The truly unsettling thing is that, when pressed, he states that his reasoning is metaphysical, thereby showing that, no matter what, logic and reason will not encourage him to change his mind.

    I do, however, find it hilarious that he refuses to admit that his ‘science’ just as easily supports a Mars-centric model of the Universe.

  9. Marshallon 08 Apr 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Lawrence Krauss’s twitter has a few more updates:

    >Lawrence Krauss ‏@LKrauss1 7h
    >For all who asked: Some clips of me apparently were mined for movie on geocentricism. So stupid >does disservice to word nonsense. Ignore it.

    And he wrote a whole post about it here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/04/08/lawrence_krauss_on_ending_up_in_the_geocentricism_documentary_the_principle.html

  10. Steven Novellaon 08 Apr 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Marshall – thanks for the link. I added an update in the post.

  11. TheFlyingPigon 08 Apr 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Kate Mulgrew has also spoken out against the documentary, stating that she completely agrees with Krauss’s Slate article:

    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10151985862292466&id=7122967465

  12. BillyJoe7on 08 Apr 2014 at 5:41 pm

    “Coming Spring 2014″

    Not only does the author believe in a geocentric universe, he believes in a northern hemisphere centric universe.

  13. RickKon 08 Apr 2014 at 5:48 pm

    If you’re going to use Phil’s topic and Phil’s title, you should reference Phil’s post.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/09/14/geocentrism-seriously

  14. KeithJMon 08 Apr 2014 at 6:01 pm

    CarbonUnit — only if they were required to move around the sun in one Earth year, which is an arbitrary amount of time. Jupiter definitely orbits the sun and takes almost 12 years to do it. It’s a better argument that there is no known force that would make anything that far away orbit something so small (relative to the distance).

  15. Double Helixon 08 Apr 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Dr. Novella,

    Your concluding paragraph reminded me of one of Niven’s Laws: “No cause is so noble that it won’t attract fuggheads.” (I think that they misspelled that last word in the book “Fallen Angels.”)

    The new law that you propose could be phrased: “No cause is so kooky that it won’t attract devious True Believers with money.”

  16. Steven Novellaon 09 Apr 2014 at 8:21 am

    Rick – not sure if you are being serious. Sorry I failed to notice a blog post from 2010. The similarity in titles is purely coincidental – OK , it’s not that imaginative. Phil and I each have over a thousand articles online with a large overlap in topics. This is probably not the first time our post titles overlapped.

    I do thank you for the link, however.

  17. oldmanjenkinson 09 Apr 2014 at 10:10 am

    Michio Kaku has been stretching his “expertise” into fields he has cursory knowledge about. He appears to be going down the track of Oz. Started out as a evidence based scientifically literate researcher and found out Woo made more money. Read: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Michio_Kaku for a pretty spot on description of his transformation.

  18. Bronze Dogon 09 Apr 2014 at 11:01 am

    I remember reading about someone who “sanitized” some work of Copernicus or Galileo by stating in an inserted foreword that the rest of the solar system (universe?) revolves around the sun, which revolves around the Earth. It’s just the math is easier if you treat the sun as the center, so you so totally shouldn’t take the rest of this book as an endorsement of the heliocentric model.

    Of course, the more elegant math is one reason the heliocentric model makes more sense.

  19. Kawarthajonon 09 Apr 2014 at 1:24 pm

    A great quote from Lawrence Krauss: “It is tempting to say that both claims [geocentrism and holocaust denial] are obscene nonsense, but I believe that does a disservice to the word nonsense.” It’s funny cause it’s true!

  20. RickKon 09 Apr 2014 at 1:43 pm

    “Rick – not sure if you are being serious.”

    Nothing serious – sorry if tone was off – just wanted to make the connection

  21. Grim_n_Evilon 10 Apr 2014 at 10:31 am

    In my humble opinion this whole thing is a viral marketing campaign. This guy has generated huge interest in his blog and activities. All of these mean many many impressions and clicks. Making outrageous claims (without any consequence) in order to generate attention is the oldest trick in the book. And what generates more noise (and traffic) than indignation? Nerd indignation. Star Trek, Michio Kaku, geocentrism… It’s like he was trying to build the media equivalent of a nuclear weapon.

  22. neuromanon 10 Apr 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Didn’t Stephen Hawking present an argument supporting geocentrism? He an Leonard Mlodinow wrote in “Grand Design” about Model Dependant Realism wherein you can show geocentrism mathematically. His argument is that heliocentrism has simpler mathematics and therefore a more useful model of reality than geocentrism. Thoughts?

  23. steve12on 10 Apr 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Neuroman:

    Nor sure specifically what you’re referring to, but I was thinking about this in terms of relativity the other day.

    Since everything is relative to everything else (there are no absolute, fixed points) you could say that anything is the “center” (arbitrarily choose something as point of comparison for everything else) and describe everything else in the universe vis a vis that “center”. Of course, certain relationships become much harder to describe this way, such as the motion of the rest of the solar system compared to the Earth.

    Maybe this is what he meant?

  24. Aardwarkon 11 Apr 2014 at 2:44 am

    This subject strongly reminds me of one of my favorite passages from “The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek, where the characters of this satirical masterpiece discuss how a certain theologian they knew once heard that someone was getting regular letters from an aunt in Australia and responded by accusing the nephew of ‘receiving letters from the devil’, quoting as evidence the works of St. Augustine, where the existence of the ‘Antipodes’ (and, therefore, of Australia) was clearly refuted.

    The main point being, accumulation of arguments can, of course, prove a claim or a concept wrong, but most people will perceive it as ridiculous only after the contrary fact(s) become largely obvious. Sadly, all the observational data used to infer the structure of the Solar System, as well as the fact that all planets have been visited by unmanned probes (Pluto anti-demoters, please forgive me; in any case, just for two more years, until New Horizons arrives at its destination), are apparently not sufficient for many people to perceive that geocentrism (given what we currently know) is no less ridiculous than, say, Australia-denialism.

    P.S. My apologies to all Australians here for such an ‘Eurocentric’ comment. That was just because I like Hašek. The point would be unaffected if we choose, say, a philosopher from Rapa Island contemplating the likelihood that the sea does not extend indefinitely.

  25. BillyJoe7on 11 Apr 2014 at 6:56 am

    neuroman,

    “Didn’t Stephen Hawking present an argument supporting geocentrism? ”

    There is no problem with geocentrism, or even neuromancentrism.
    If you want to see where you are going, neuromancentrism is a good reference point from which to make your calculations. But, if you want to send a spaceship to Pluto, heliocentrism is a reference good point.

    The problem is with Geocentrism – which is the claim that geocentrism is the only true reference point. It’s just biblical literalism gone mad. It is simply unsupportable.

    Many observations are incompatible with Geocentrism. The Coriolis effect for one. The erratic movement of the planets when viewed from Earth for another.

  26. Khym Chanuron 12 Apr 2014 at 12:33 am

    Regarding the questions “why do distant galaxies revolve around the Earth” and “wouldn’t most everything in the universe be moving at way faster than the speed of light”, his answer is: aether. According to him, the aether in the universe rotates around an axis which goes through the Earth. The aether drags everything along with it, which is what causes everything to orbit the Earth, and everything is at rest in reference to its local aether, so locally the speed of light isn’t being violated.

  27. Newcoasteron 12 Apr 2014 at 1:06 am

    “I know that Kaku has been flirting with the edges of responsible science promotion”

    But yet you recently interviewed him on SGU, and didn’t take the opportunity to challenge some of his batshit crazy ideas, or promoting himself as an all round expert on every topic. Especially when his latest book is about the mind, which I thought would have been a great opportunity, given your own professional expertise.

    It was a weird interview, especially at the end where he suddenly had to take another call.

    Just saying.

  28. BillyJoe7on 12 Apr 2014 at 2:47 am

    Khym Chanur,

    “The aether drags everything along with it, which is what causes everything to orbit the Earth, and everything is at rest in reference to its local aether, so locally the speed of light isn’t being violated”

    Firstly, there is no aether (Michelson Morley)

    Secondly, you don’t need the aether.

    The distant galaxies can revolve around the Earth at one hundred times the speed of light and no physical law would be violated. The theroy of relativity simply states that no object can move past another object at greater than the speed of light. However, an object can move faster than the speed of light relative to any given coordinate system.

    In other words, you cannot use this fact about the distant galaxies as an argument against Geocentrism.

  29. BillyJoe7on 12 Apr 2014 at 3:07 am

    A better example of the above is a partical accelerator.

    Particles can be accelerated up to just below the speed of light (relative to the scientist outside the particle accelerator). And two particles can be accelerated up to just below the speed of light but travelling in opposite directions. From the point of view of the scientist, those particles would approach each other at just below twice the speed of light. However, from the point of view of each of the particles, the other particle approaches it at just below the speed of light.

  30. BillyJoe7on 12 Apr 2014 at 3:25 am

    Grim_n_Evil,

    “In my humble opinion this whole thing is a viral marketing campaign”

    No, he really believes this, and he’s not the only one.
    And, almost without exception, they are biblical literalists.
    It is called “motivated reasoning” – reasoning with a conclusion in mind.

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