In the center of Prague stands a monument to scientific discovery. An artistic achievement. An engineering marvel.
On the side of the old town hall stands the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. It not only keeps track of time, but also keeps track of the phases of the moon, the position of the stars, and the date.
The clock isn’t just practical, it is beautiful. Another feature is the moveable display of sculptures called “The Walk of the Apostles.”
In 1410, when it was first installed, this clock was the equivalent of an iPhone. Technology out of control.
Absolute Truth that was not True
The clock is amazing, and should be celebrated as an incredible achievement.
But the clock is wrong.
In the predictions of the position of the stars and moon and son, the clock shows the earth as the fixed center of the universe. The sun revolving around earth. A belief, that at the time the clock was constructed, was considered indisputable.
An absolute truth. Of sorts.
Of course today we laugh at how wrong they were back then. We laugh at how so many believed something wrong for so long. We laugh at those who insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that sun revolved around the earth.
Heliocentrism, the sun as the center of the solar system, is well accepted and proven. But at one point heliocentrism was not only considered false by the scientific community, it was considered heretical by the church.
How the Truth Changed
Copernicus is credited for being the first to suggest that this considered truth was anything but. Just before his death in 1543, he wrote a book entitled On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres detailing his observations.
The idea still struggled to gain traction until Galileo defended the argument. But he was persecuted for his position. Eventually he was arrested, declared a heretic and sentenced to prison in 1633. Eventually he was allowed to be under house arrest, but he was always condemned.
Galileo had many other scientific accomplishments, but perhaps the thing he is best know for is seeing a truth that few others were able to see.
Copernicus and Galileo saw something new because they were willing to see. While everyone else was looking through the lenses of what they were believed to be true, these two men were willing to see what could be true. And they were willing to question accepted absolute truth.
Albert Einstein, another scientist willing to question scientific fact, would refer to Galileo as the “Father of Modern Science.”
Is There Absolute Truth?
Am I suggesting that there is no such thing as absolute truth? No. The earth revolved around the sun before Copernicus suggested it did. It revolved around the sun before people believed him. It still revolved around the sun when the church declared Galileo a heretic. It still revolves around the sun today. I think.
This truth was always true, but it took a long time for anybody to see it. And it took even longer for people to accept it.
I am saying that we hold to truths we consider to be absolute, that are not true. Beliefs about science. Beliefs about politics. Beliefs about medicine. Beliefs about life. Beliefs about God.
We are all wrong about something, we just don’t know what it is.
I don’t think the mistake is in believing something to be true when it isn’t. It happens. We are all doing it.
To me, the mistake is believing that everything you believe must be absolutely true. And then being unwilling to question perceived truth.
Dreams that Matter
What does any of this have to do with Living a Better Story?
Better Stories happen when we dream. And dreaming involves challenging truth.
Dreaming involves imagining a different reality than what we experience. Dreaming involves the desire to become a different, better person. Dreaming is about believing the impossible. Dreaming is about hoping for more.
And dreaming is about seeing something that which is hidden.
Our dreams should challenge the reality surrounding us. Our dreams should ask why. They should not accept the truths we see as truths. Our dreams should stretch and pull and poke at such truths to find out if there is something we have never seen before.
New discoveries can only be made when we challenge what is held to be absolutely true.
What Truths Do you Believe?
I can’t do this.
It’s too hard for me.
It isn’t even worth trying.
I’m not smart enough.
That will never work.
All perceived truths. All worth challenging.
Have you known any truths in your life that turned out not to be true? Do your dreams challenge perceived truth?
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