Day the Universe Changed

This is an excerpt from "Day the Universe Changed", a 1985 documentary series and book by renowned historian and author James Burke. Burke's insights have had an incredible impact on my thinking vis-a-vis Zeitgeist.

universe changed josef albers.jpg

You are what you know. Fifteenth-century Europeans ‘knew’ that the sky was made of closed concentric crystal spheres, rotating around a central earth and carrying the stars and planets. That ‘knowledge’ structured everything they did and thought, because it told them the truth. Then Galileo’s telescope changed the truth.

As a result, a hundred years later everybody ‘knew’ that the universe was open and infinite, working like a giant clock. Architecture, music, literature, science, economics, art, politics everything changed, mirroring the new view created by the change in the knowledge.

Today we live according to the latest version of how the universe functions. This view affects our behavior and thought, just as previous versions affected those who lived with them. Like the people of the past, we disregard phenomena which do not fit our view because they are ‘wrong’ or outdated. Like our ancestors, we know the real truth.

At any time in the past, people have held a view of the way the universe works which was for them similarly definitive, whether it was based on myths or research. And at any time, that view they held was sooner or later altered by changes in the body of knowledge.

Line drawing by Josef Albers