Thursday, September 06, 2007

From Dr. Thursday

Happy for more than a quarter of a billion miles

You can call it a year, or one solar orbit. If you calculate 365 days, each 24 hours long, with 60 minutes in each hour, and 60 seconds in each minute, you will get 31,536,000 seconds. But if you figure out the distance we have travelled during that time, you will get the even more gigantic figure of some 290 million miles, which is perhaps more easily phrased as "more than a quarter of a billion miles". This really adds up quick, when you multiply by your age... I've been flying for some 13 billion miles - too long to walk, but barely 1/2000 of the way to the nearest star. Whew.

As you might guess, I have had a major struggle to put this posting together, partly because of work, and partly because I wrote something else, quite long and emotional, which I have decided not to post. Instead you must be subjected to this posting, which (it is to be hoped) will induce a little laughter - or at least a few smiles.

In a previous post we recalled how "smiles" is the longest word of English (because there is a "mile" between the two S's!) and we looked at a few other long words, some of which were rather funny. Of course the synthesis of these two items (laughter and long words) leads to the famous modern magic fairy tale called "Mary Poppins" - where one hear nice long words (which I refuse to pronounce, or even spell!) - and one can see demonstrated with the full technicolor power of modern special-effects what happens when one takes one's self lightly... Hee hee. Tea parties on the ceiling, I ask you! Well, if Innocent Smith (of Manalive) can have a picnic on the roof, why not?

But let us proceed to something which links humor with the earth's orbit.

Perhaps you do not believe that the earth moves, not having seen proof... well, then why are you using the INTERNET, silly goose? You probably think this posting is about you - but it's not. (Hee hee.) It's about Chesterton, and his essay called "In Defence of Planets" and whatever else I can throw in in coordination and support of his ideas.

Now, there are two demonstrations for which we waited quite some time which tell us the truth of the motion of our earth - the first is called the parallax of the stars, and the other I omit for today. The idea of parallax is easily demonstrated, as you may know:
To Demonstrate Parallax:
1. Hold your arm out, with one finger raised.
2. Close one eye.
3. Look at the background of your room or office, or wherever you are, and note exactly where your finger is in relation to it.
4. Now for the "magic" - open the closed eye, and close the one which had been opened, and
5. You will see your finger "jump" against the background!
Alas, the even the closest stars are much further away than your finger - which is just at the end of your arm. And so it was not until 1837 that Bessel was able to measure the very tiny jump which just one star makes as we go from January to July - the equivalent of closing your left eye and opening your right eye.

But this is not funny - oh, no - but the idea of you sticking your hand out at work or school and blinking at it? Well, that is funny. But then these are the humiliations to which the true scientist will submit - for humility before the REAL WORLD is the first trademark of the Scientist. It is Jesus meek and humble of heart Who is also the storehouse of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (See Mt 11:29, Col 2:3)

Ah... but I said I was going to talk about Chesterton's essay. Well, after this depth, it may be too funny to turn to that, but here is a sample:
A book has at one time come under my notice called 'Terra Firma: the Earth not a Planet.' The author was a Mr. D. Wardlaw Scott, and he quoted very seriously the opinions of a large number of other persons, of whom we have never heard, but who are evidently very important. Mr. Beach of Southsea, for example, thinks that the world is flat; and in Southsea perhaps it is. It is no part of my present intention, however, to follow Mr. Scott's arguments in detail. On the lines of such arguments it may be shown that the earth is flat, and, for the matter of that, that it is triangular. A few examples will suffice: One of Mr. Scott's objections was that if a projectile is fired from a moving body there is a difference in the distance to which it carries according to the direction in which it is sent. But as in practice there is not the slightest difference whichever way the thing is done, in the case of the earth 'we have a forcible overthrow of all fancies relative to the motion of the earth, and a striking proof that the earth is not a globe.' This is altogether one of the quaintest arguments we have ever seen. It never seems to occur to the author, among other things, that when the firing and falling of the shot all take place upon the moving body, there is nothing whatever to compare them with. As a matter of fact, of course, a shot fired at an elephant does actually often travel towards the marksman, but much slower than the marksman travels. Mr. Scott probably would not like to contemplate the fact that the elephant, properly speaking, swings round and hits the bullet. To us it appears full of a rich cosmic humour.
[GKC, "In Defence of Planets", The Defendant]
Actually, this is by no means the funniest part - perhaps this is:
This sort of thing reduces my mind to a pulp. I can faintly resist when a man says that if the earth were a globe cats would not have four legs; but when he says that if the earth were a globe cats would not have have legs I am crushed.
But then, as GKC goes on to point out, he is not giving a technical study of physics - he has a somewhat larger, more comic purpose... (that is NOT a typo for cosmic! Hee hee)
it is not in the scientific aspect of this remarkable theory that I am for the moment interested. It is rather with the difference between the flat and the round worlds as conceptions in art and imagination that I am concerned. It is a very remarkable thing that none of us are really Copernicans in our actual outlook upon things. We are convinced intellectually that we inhabit a small provincial planet, but we do not feel in the least suburban. Men of science have quarrelled with the Bible because it is not based upon the true astronomical system, but it is certainly open to the orthodox to say that if it had been it would never have convinced anybody. If a single poem or a single story were really transfused with the Copernican idea, the thing would be a nightmare. Can we think of a solemn scene of mountain stillness in which some prophet is standing in a trance, and then realize that the whole scene is whizzing round like a zoetrope at the rate of nineteen miles a second? Could we tolerate the notion of a mighty King delivering a sublime fiat and then remember that for all practical purposes he is hanging head downwards in space? A strange fable might be written of a man who was blessed or cursed with the Copernican eye, and saw all men on the earth like tintacks clustering round a magnet.
Well, perhaps if we, like the king, tried hanging upside down in space, we might begin to take ourselves lightly.

And then it would not just be "that Poppins woman" who would come in for tea. No, there will be other, rather more important guests, who call us to the good wine of the wedding feast [cf Jn2, Ap 19:9]: "If any one love me, he will keep my word. And my Father will love him and we will come to him and will make our abode with him." [Jn14:23]

Happy they will be. So let us prepare well...

--Dr. Thursday


  1. On re-reading this very scrambled post, I find I must add something to increase the scramble...

    First, I was off by a factor of two in my estimate of the distance. It is more like twice as long, or about half a billion miles to go once around the sun. Which is somehow even more impressive. That makes my trip 26 billion miles so far, or just a thousandth of the way to Alpha Centauri, if it had all been along a straight line in that direction.

    Also! Even though The Defendant was one of GKC's earliest books (1901), he was still thinking the same way in 1929 when in The Poet and the Lunatics he wrote this:

    "The world is upside down. We're all upside down. We're all flies crawling on a ceiling, and it's an everlasting mercy that we don't drop off."

    However and wherever we are, we really do depend (Latin pendere = to hang) on the Mercy of God.

    --Dr. Thursday

    PS: according to the CRC Handbook. the orbital velocity of the earth is 29771 meters per second, which if I did the math correctly, comes out REALLY CLOSE to 19 miles a second, as GKC said. Wow.

  2. Have you ever read the Mary Poppins books? Better than the movie, but I can't remember if that particular long word is in the book. I don't think it is, actually.
    And if we are all tacks, what is Ms. Poppins when she's flying with her umbrella?

  3. "for humility before the REAL WORLD is the first trademark of the Scientist."

    And the first trademark of the saint.

    ~ Gramps

  4. Actually, if you read the books, Mary Poppins doesn't take herself very lightly. Quite the reverse; she's more like Prof. Higgins than Innocent Smith! Her cousin who has tea on the ceiling does, though!

  5. "more than a quarter of a billion miles". This really adds up quick, when you multiply by your age... I've been flying for some 13 billion miles"

    That's a lot of "frequent flyer miles"...shouldn't we get some sort of reward or premium? A universal discount?

  6. "LuciaRosa said...

    Actually, if you read the books, Mary Poppins doesn't take herself very lightly. Quite the reverse; she's more like Prof. Higgins than Innocent Smith! Her cousin who has tea on the ceiling does, though!"

    I think that would be her Uncle Albert. But you are correct, though. Mary Poppins was not very keen on people laughing themselves silly and floating up to the ceiling: "Such behaviour! Well, it's the most disgraceful sight I've ever seen, or my name isn't Mary


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