This course will introduce the major ideas which have been invented to account for astronomical phenomena and it will trace how the history of astronomy interacts with and reacts to the larger history of ideas in Western civilization. Emphasis will be given to evolution of the conceptions of space, time, and motion from ca. the second millennium BCE, to Einstein and beyond, to current multidimensional ideas arising from string theory, both driven by, and impacting, astronomical observation and discovery. Though largely nontechnical, the course will examine the logic of scientific discovery and the relation of the ways of knowing in science to ways of knowing in other aspects of human experience.
The course will cover these major topics: i) ideas of space and time, ii) ideas of terrestrial and celestial motion, iii)astronomy as an example of a scientific theory, and iv) interaction between scientific ideas and the larger culture.
The historical overview will include Mesopotamian celestial forecasting, Hellenistic astronomy and the emergence of scientific theory, Arabic continuation and development of the Greek tradition, the reemergemce of the Greek tradition in medieval Europe, Copernicus and his heliocentric cosmology, Kepler and his three laws of planetary motion, the 17th Century Scientific Revolution (Newton), the 20th Century Revolution (Planck, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, and Bohr, and the Quantum Revolution; Mach and Einstein and the demise of absolute space and time in the General Theory of Relativity; Hubble's discovery that the expanding Universe, and the Big-Bang cosmological model), and Grand Unified Theories and Multi-Dimensional Universes.