Skip to main content

And Still it Moves

This past week was the anniversary of the trial of Galileo, and time for a predictable plethora of commentary all over the place along the good scientist bad prelates line. I have myself written about this in the past, here and here, and don't really want to do it again, but the pseudo argument sat jarringly with other happenings in my world. Particularly, I have been thinking about illusions. About lying, falsehood, deception, prevarications, elaboration of the truth, strategic silences and all the other devices behind which we hide from the light.

In the olden days we believed that the world was a big stillish thing, and that the sun was a much smaller moving thing. Why should we not believe that? It was painfully bleedin' obvious to anybody with eyes and more than two brain cells to rub together. Except of course it isn't true. And the realisation that it isn't true began for us Europeans in the late 15th Century with Nicholas Copernicus sitting on the roof of a Polish cathedral every night for year after year, observing the movement of the stars and the planets and saying to himself, "hang on a minute, something doesn't quite stack up here". He speculated that a mathematical model which placed the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the universe gave a better explanation of his observations, and in 1514 published his ideas. Nobody much read the book except pointy heads from Paris and Padua, but then why should they? It was just some crackpot theory from a bloke with obviously too much time on his hands and equally obviously not the common sense to see what was absolutely plain and clear to everybody else on the planet. Then, a hundred or so years later, Galileo armed with a new fangled invention, the telescope, which few people had ever heard of let alone seen, made Copernicus' theories available to a wider audience. Galileo couldn't make Copernicus' observations or his own ones fit with his (Galileo's) ideas on how the universe worked,  so he simply adjusted the geometry. He wrote his theory in the form of a hypothetical conversation between two blokes, one supporting the common sense view and the other the odd mathematical theory. It seemed obvious to most readers that the new theory character was a cypher for Galileo.  The dunderhead supporting the status quo had a habit of quoting Galileo's former friend, Pope Urban VIII, who, on reading the book, was not well pleased. It was all bound to end in tears.

So with the luxury of 400 years of hindsight, we look back and click our tongues at the princes of the church and fondly imagine that if we had been alive in 1614 we would have been on the side of truth and light. Hardly likely. Our growth into truth, as individuals and as a species, progresses partly through learning new ideas but mostly through us letting go of old ones, and what makes us think we would have sat any more comfortably with that than anybody else? Even Copernicus and Galileo were still informed by their own illusions: neither the Earth nor the Sun is actually the centre of the universe, and the universe is turning out to be a far different place than either of them imagined. And, no doubt, a far different place than any of us imagine either. This process of divesting ourselves of our illusions is not easy because some of the illusions (that the sun revolves around the earth for instance; or that matter is solid; or that time moves at the same speed everywhere; or that our personality exists) are so well supported by what we think we see every day of our lives.

Jesus said You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Knowing the truth is another of those things which is simple but not easy, because to do it we must first divest ourselves of our illusions, and they simply don't want to go.We all of us, I think, desire to move into the healing light. But the cost of giving up our comforting illusory shadows is too much for most of us to bear


Anonymous said…
It is indeed costly - and I spend time with some of the people who are paying that price (all the higher because they didn't always choose to move that way in the first place ,at Wakari. For Galileo as for me, the things that some people in the Church would prefer me to say, are not words that I would want to use in some of those conversations either. Jo
Elaine Dent said…
Strategic silences as illusions. That's a good one.
Anonymous said…
Wynston said…
"About lying, falsehood, deception, prevarications, elaboration of the truth, strategic silences ...". For a moment there I thought you were going to go on about politicians!
Kelvin Wright said…
No, Wynston, that would be ducks in a barrel. I was thinking of myself, mostly
Unknown said…
Anonymous said…

Popular posts from this blog

The Matter With Things. 2

  Last night I finished reading Iain McGilchrist's The Matter With Things, Our Brains, our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World , the biggest book I have ever read, in all senses of the word "biggest". Back in 2017 I wrote about books which had been important to me , and, however I would recompile that list now, The Matter With Things would go straight to the top. Really. It's that good. I've read every word: no skipping or coming to and realising that my eyes have been glazed over for the past ten minutes. It's taken me a couple of months to engage  with its 1300 or so pages of text, and, as well, there are another couple of hundred pages of  appendices and bibliography (well, OK, I haven't read the bibliography). At the end of the book proper there is an epilogue which is a "so what" chapter in which McGilchrist speculates about the implications of his hemispheric theory for the world in the immediate future. This epilogue is preceded by a

En Hakkore

In the hills up behind Ranfurly there used to be a town, Hamilton, which at one stage was home to 5,000 people. All that remains of it now is a graveyard, fenced off and baking in the lonely brown hills. Near it, in the 1930s a large Sanitorium was built for the treatment of tuberculosis and other respiratory ailments. It was a substantial complex of buildings with wards, a nurses hostel, impressive houses for the manager and superintendent and all the utility buildings needed for such a large operation. The treatment offered consisted of isolation, views and weather. Patients were exposed to the air, the tons of it which whistled past, often at great speed, the warmth of the sun and the cold. They were housed in small cubicles opening onto huge glassed verandas where they cooked in the summer and froze in the winter and often, what with the wholesome food and the exercise, got better. When advances in antibiotics rendered the Sanitorium obsolete it was turned into a Borstal and the

Camino, by David Whyte

This poem captures it perfectly Camino. The way forward, the way between things, the way already walked before you, the path disappearing and re-appearing even as the ground gave way beneath you, the grief apparent only in the moment of forgetting, then the river, the mountain, the lifting song of the Sky Lark inviting you over the rain filled pass when your legs had given up, and after, it would be dusk and the half-lit villages in evening light; other people's homes glimpsed through lighted windows and inside, other people's lives; your own home you had left crowding your memory as you looked to see a child playing or a mother moving from one side of a room to another, your eyes wet with the keen cold wind of Navarre. But your loss brought you here to walk under one name and one name only, and to find the guise under which all loss can live; remember you were given that name every day along the way, remember you were greeted as such, and you neede

Turn Sideways Into The Light

David Whyte speaks in his audio series What To Remember When Waking of the myth of the Tuatha De Danann. They were a mythical race from Ireland's past who were tall, magical, mystical people devoted to beauty and artistry. When another more brutal people, the Milesians invaded Ireland the Tuatha De Danann fought them off in two battles, but were faced with a third, decisive battle against overwhelming odds. So, lined up in battle formation and facing almost certain defeat, the Tuatha De Danann turned sideways into the light and disappeared. Whyte's retelling is, to put it mildly, a gloss, but I am quite taken with the phrase and with the phenomenon it describes. Turning sideways into the light is the realisation that there are some encounters that are damaging to all involved in them: no one wins a war. Faced with such an exchange, to turn sideways into the light is to seek another, more whole form of relationship. It is to reject the ground rules of the conversation as they


I arrive at the door, wondering if I have to pay admittance. I've never been an event photographer before and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. The young woman at the desk looks up and smiles.  "Oh, we've been expecting you. Come in " she says. She stands and I follow her into the foyer where the show is set up. I put my large camera bag on a table and glance around. There are children everywhere, and someone in a rainbow costume is singing and playing her violin, and radiating seemingly inexhaustible energy from the small stage at the front.  "Rainbow Rosalind" says my host. "She's fabulous, isn't she?" "Yeah. Great."  Who could argue? Who would want to? She's fabulous. "Is there anything I can get you?" she asks. "Coffee? Tea? The friands are actually very good. " "Ahh, no... I'm all good thanks. I'll just get on with it. OK if I put my stuff here?" She smiles and goes back to