Centuries ago, when Aristotelian science ruled, people believed that Earth was at the centre of the universe with the sun, the moon and the other planets revolving around it. This was known as geocentric cosmology. Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was among the first to suggest that we live in a heliocentric cosmos, which put the sun at the centre of the universe.
Later, Galileo’s scientific evidence of Copernicus’s hypothesis virtually confirmed the idea that the cosmos was indeed heliocentric—the sun was stationary and the Earth and other planets circled around it.
What did Copernicus and Galileo do? Did they change the equation between the Sun and the Earth? Of course not! All they did was discover the truth. But in spite of evidence in favour of their theories, most people of their time wanted to continue believing that the cosmos was geocentric. It took a long time for the Aristotelian scientists and the religious organisations of that era to concede defeat to science—that the cosmos was actually heliocentric.
In his time, Galileo faced considerable opposition and had to confront charges of heresy—all for discovering and declaring what was true.
But being in minority did not change what Galileo was proclaiming. Truth doesn’t need anyone’s support to be established. Truth simply is, independent of anyone’s beliefs, convictions or affiliations.
The truth about truth
There are two important lessons we can learn from Galileo’s experience:
1. Truth is not determined by the majority
In conducting our daily affairs, we are often tempted to find safety in numbers. If we are indecisive, we side with the majority, reasoning that if so many people believe something, it must be true. But, truth is not elected democratically. In simplest terms, democracy means that the majority has a right to decide. So, democracy is nothing more than a fair system of governance in absence of a better alternative. But to think of it as a barometer of truth is a blunder. The truth is that the ‘majority’ has nothing to do with truth.
2. What you perceive is not always true
Prior to Galileo’s discovery, people believed what they saw out there in space. And from their viewpoint, Earth appeared to be stationary while the sun and planets seemed to be moving. Since popular wisdom says ‘seeing is believing’, people assumed the Earth was at the centre of the universe. Yet, the truth was something else. So, don’t believe everything you perceive with your senses (or read in religious books)—because perceptions are often deceptive (and religion is often wrong).
In our pursuit of truth, we will be more discerning if we remember these two lessons from Galileo’s life. Because then, instead of siding with the majority, we’ll choose to be on the side of the truth.
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