Google decided to highlight that today is the 540th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus. The honor bestowed by Google has resulted in dozens of articles in the mainstream media, from The Washington Post to BGR India.
Who is he? And why would we care after 540 years?
A mathematician, physician, and astronomer of Polish descent, Copernicus’ heliocentric theory wasn’t published until after his death in 1543 at age 70 from a stroke. And it wasn’t until 60 years later that the much-noted opposition from the Roman Catholic Church became official.
Copernicus was a visionary, a big thinker ahead of his time. And he took a stand, believing what he observed and measured, despite it being contrary to popular belief and doctrine at the time. In an age when big ideas now seem to become accepted within months, it seems ridiculous that such a central truth of the universe waited a hundred years before acceptance, helped along by Galileo Galilei. Perhaps if Copernicus had been able to spread his theory faster, acceptance would have come sooner. However, maybe the culture of thinking has simply evolved to the point where the barriers to innovation are few, and the environment for critical thinking is open.
The birthday is also a reminder of how specialized we have become – what person today can claim to know astronomy, philosophy, medicine, and mathematics while being fluent in five languages? Copernicus developed his ideas based on seeing connections between these fields, and his observations.
A systems-level view, and the connections between components of the whole are fundamental to the science of geography. Copernicus also represents a zeal for the truth, and the gumption to go against common thinking.