Suppose that, for whatever reason, neither Copernicus nor anyone else had discovered the heliocentric model, and cosmology remained stuck in the geocentric model. ("For whatever reason" could mean that the Church violently and successfully suppressed this line of research; funding for astronomy dried up; scientists just lost interest & worked on other fields; etc.).

However, suppose that all other fields of science, technology, engineering, and invention proceeded apace.

Which technologies/inventions of our modern world could exist even if people still thought the Sun revolved around the Earth, and which couldn't?

I'm assuming, for example, that space probes sent to other planets wouldn't exist; you couldn't properly calculate the trajectory based on a fundamental misunderstanding of cosmology. But could you have artificial satellites in Earth orbit? Travel to the Moon?

And what about non-obviously-space-related inventions? Do you need heliocentric cosmology to invent/design the steam engine? The cotton gin? The automobile? The airplane? Antibiotics? Skyscrapers? The nuclear bomb? The IBM PC? The Internet? The iPhone? Or could most/all of these exist even if everyone mistakenly believed the Earth was the center of the universe?

What I'm really asking about, I think, is about path-dependence. My instinct is that most if not all modern terrestrial technologies could have been invented with the wrong cosmology, but maybe I'm wrong...?

  • $\begingroup$ Quantum mechanics could have developed without the Copernican view of the solsr system. In fact, it can be said that the universe is rotating around the Earth, the Earth being at the center. Relativity showed that all motion was relative. Also rotational motion. So the old geocentric view is there again! $\endgroup$ Jul 22 '21 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @DescheleSchilder No, it's all revolving around me. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Jul 22 '21 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ This is next to impossible to answer. Physics, for one, would have been severely handicaped (much of it stems form Newton's laws of motion applied to celestial bodies). In a dystopia like you paint, biology/medicine won't have gone far (Evolution?! Heresy! To the stake!!), mathematics (study of non-theoleogy in the abstract) was frowned upon, ... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Jul 23 '21 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ How is supposing that "all other fields of science, technology, engineering, and invention proceeded apace" supposed to work? Much of the developments in the 17th century physics were based on universalist ideas, like "the world is particles in motion", "as below, so above" and so on. If physics proceeded apace heliocentrism would have been a quick result, if not by Copernicus then by someone else, if not then then a bit later. Alternative history is always a tricky and opinion based proposition, but in this case the premise is basically incoherent on top of it. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Jul 23 '21 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DescheleSchilder Relativity showed that there is no single privileged frame. Geocentrism held that the Earth's frame is privileged, not that it is as fine as any other. Moreover, it turned out to be worse than many others because it is non-inertial. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Jul 23 '21 at 4:40

Copernicus theory was crucial for the development of all sciences. It made possible Kepler's discovery of the true planet orbits, and this lead to the discovery of the Law of the Universal gravitation. The Law of universal gravitation was a real scientific revolution. Among its immediate practical consequences were establishing of the true shape of the Earth, explanation of tides, explanation of the motion of the Moon, and later the discovery of new planets.

More generally, and more importantly, it established a "paradigm" for the whole future development of science until the middle of the 19 century. One can say that the work from Galileo and Kepler to Newton showed convincingly for the first time the power of application of mathematics to the real world. This is the basis of all modern exact science. And the work of Galileo, Kepler and Newton would be impossible without Copernicus discovery.


A lot would have changed. General relativity would have been discovered sooner. But this time with a velocity of light that was direction dependent. The universe would be rotating around the Earth. Relativity says that it could be viewed the other way round as Copernicus did. Newton's laws might not even have been discovered firstly. There would be no need for them. Relativity was already there! The heliocentric view of Copernicus could be considered. But the prevailing view would be that the Earth is in the center of it all. In the center of the "heelal", Dutch for "universe" ("whole all").

All other forms of science, apart from the heavenly, would have developed in the same way and probabky much sooner. But by other people. So thanks to the church science would have evolved more as it has now.

So maybe we would have lived in a world with much more advanced science and technology, a healthy planet, a less reductionist, and less materialistic view (which is not to say that material is less valid, only less contentive). Maybe the vision that the mind is an executed program working on data didn't took hold as it did in the present world (dataism). Maybe the brain was viewed as it is. An ongoing process in an ongoing body in an ongoing world that cannot be turned on and off like a computer. It could have been established that quarks and leptons are not fundamental and the Higgs particle is just a particle made up of the more (most) elementary stuff and that the Higgs mechanism is just an imaginary one.

Now I could write a lot more about how it could have been (for example that the gene-centered view on evolution could have been replaced by a view which puts the whole organism in the first place in which genes have a pure altruistic and secondary function or that maybe a deterministic view on quantum mechanics was the accepted view) but it will always be my speculation and airing of my personal view. Who knows for sure how the world would have looked like? Nobody.

So to answer your question, all of science could have seen the light. All kinds of technology too. One can even argue that the heliocentric view has been a holdback. Sticking to the geocentric view would have taken us many steps ahead from where the sciences are today.


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