Cosmology in Medieval Islam - Cosmology in The Medieval Islamic World - Astronomical Physics and Earth's Motion

Astronomical Physics and Earth's Motion

The work of Ali Qushji (d. 1474), who worked at Samarkand and then Istanbul, is seen as a late example of innovation in Islamic theoretical astronomy and it is believed he may have possibly had some influence on Nicolaus Copernicus due to similar arguments concerning the Earth's rotation. Before Qushji, the only astronomer to present empirical evidence for the Earth's rotation was Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (d. 1274), who used the phenomena of comets to refute Ptolemy's claim that a stationary Earth can be determined through observation. Al-Tusi, however, eventually accepted that the Earth was stationary on the basis of Aristotelian cosmology and natural philosophy. By the 15th century, the influence of Aristotelian physics and natural philosophy was declining due to religious opposition from Islamic theologians such as Al-Ghazali who opposed to the interference of Aristotelianism in astronomy, opening up possibilities for an astronomy unrestrained by philosophy. Under this influence, Qushji, in his Concerning the Supposed Dependence of Astronomy upon Philosophy, rejected Aristotelian physics and completely separated natural philosophy from astronomy, allowing astronomy to become a purely empirical and mathematical science. This allowed him to explore alternatives to the Aristotelian notion of a stationary Earth, as he explored the idea of a moving Earth. He also observed comets and elaborated on al-Tusi's argument. He took it a step further and concluded, on the basis of empirical evidence rather than speculative philosophy, that the moving Earth theory is just as likely to be true as the stationary Earth theory and that it is not possible to empirically deduce which theory is true. His work was an important step away from Aristotelian physics and towards an independent astronomical physics.

Despite the similarity in their discussions regarding the Earth's motion, there is uncertainty over whether Qushji had any influence on Copernicus. However, it is likely that they both may have arrived at similar conclusions due to using the earlier work of al-Tusi as a basis. This is more of a possibility considering "the remarkable coincidence between a passage in De revolutionibus (I.8) and one in Ṭūsī’s Tadhkira (II.1) in which Copernicus follows Ṭūsī’s objection to Ptolemy’s “proofs” of the Earth’s immobility." This can be considered as evidence that not only was Copernicus influenced by the mathematical models of Islamic astronomers, but may have also been influenced by the astronomical physics they began developing and their views on the Earth's motion.

In the 16th century, the debate on the Earth's motion was continued by al-Birjandi (d. 1528), who in his analysis of what might occur if the Earth were moving, develops a hypothesis similar to Galileo Galilei's notion of "circular inertia", which he described in the following observational test (as a response to one of Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi's arguments):

"The small or large rock will fall to the Earth along the path of a line that is perpendicular to the plane (sath) of the horizon; this is witnessed by experience (tajriba). And this perpendicular is away from the tangent point of the Earth’s sphere and the plane of the perceived (hissi) horizon. This point moves with the motion of the Earth and thus there will be no difference in place of fall of the two rocks."

Read more about this topic:  Cosmology In Medieval Islam, Cosmology in The Medieval Islamic World

Famous quotes containing the words motion, earth and/or physics:

    When desire, having rejected reason and overpowered judgment which leads to right, is set in the direction of the pleasure which beauty can inspire, and when again under the influence of its kindred desires it is moved with violent motion towards the beauty of corporeal forms, it acquires a surname from this very violent motion, and is called love.
    Socrates (469–399 B.C.)

    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
    Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892)

    The labor we delight in physics pain.
    William Shakespeare (1564–1616)