Copernicus Sideways

    "I liked that other place. There was a God there." 
     

     

Attention, qualifying undergraduates: visit an earth like ours which is spinning with its axis of rotation in the plane of its ecliptic around the sun, its south pole always pointing at the sun. Faculty references required.

 

   Such a place would not be "an earth like ours." So dissimilar would it be, that we would want to call it by a different name: "earth2". 
   Imagine that we are standing on it, earth2, on its south pole. A line drawn up between our feet and through our nether parts and out the top of our heads would be the axis on which "this" earth revolved, clockwise under our feet. Extended out 93 million miles, this line would pass through the center of the sun, which for us would appear directly overhead. It wouldn't appear to move, ever, except perhaps seasonally when it might appear to get a bit bigger or smaller. 
   This is a hot place we are standing on. Very hot. All rock. An egg cracked on a horizontal surface sizzles and vaporizes instantly, discharging water vapor into an atmosphere in which little water vapor has ever existed. The sky is black, not blue, and we can see no stars, so brightly is the sun shining overhead. This would be a place to leave. 
   And leave it we do, using our flying machine, heading (in any direction) due north. We set the throttles so that we are flying at twice the speed of sound. (This happens to be the speed at which a sunset or sunrise transits these days from East to West along the equator of our "mother" earth: 15 degrees around that big circle every hour.) 
   The first hour or so of our trip is not interesting. Only more hot rocks below. We notice, however, looking out of the plexiglass bubble on the top of our airplane, that the sun is no longer directly overhead. It is a now a few degrees lower in the black sky and, could it be, now a bit to the right of the tail of our aircraft? 
   Another half an hour of flight brings us some three thousand miles to the north of the south pole of earth2, about half-way to its equator, and at a latitude of about 23 degrees. It's at this latitude on mother earth that a circle is drawn called the Tropic of Capricorn. There's no reason to have a Tropic of Capricorn on earth2, of course, since its axis of rotation is in the plane of its ecliptic around the sun, and not inclined at an angle of 23 degrees to a perpendicular to that plane, as is the case with mother earth. (It's at the latitude of 23 degrees on mother earth, and because of the tilt of its axis of rotation, that the sun appears directly overhead at noon on September 21 in the southern hemisphere, this day called for purposes of recognition and respect "the autumnal equinox.") 
   We land our flying machine here in the southern hemisphere of earth2, and take a look around. It's still very hot, and dry. Understandably so, since the sun never sets here. It goes around and around over our heads, counter-clockwise at a declination of 23 degrees, describing a full circle overhead once every 24 hours, and heating things up all the time. No "nights" for things to cool off a bit.. It's desert-like here, and dusty. The ground cover is thin and arid, with clumps of strange yellow-green things growing here and there. Are those clumps of yellow-green things actually growing on this endless savanna? Does it ever rain here? Does anything live here?
   Must be. The sky darkens suddenly and the wind picks up, blowing down upon us from the northeast as would the fringe of a clockwise-rotating cyclone, and bringing with it hints of moisture which condense ever so briefly on the hot leaves of the strange-looking plants. There is water on earth2! 
   The storm is violent and short-lived, and we find ourselves back in our flying machine, heading towards the north pole of earth2. Only, we have learned a very important lesson about navigating on earth2 using the position of the sun in the sky as a point of reference. Leaving the south pole, as we did earlier in the day, we thought that we would be heading towards the north pole by putting the sun behind us, keeping it always under the vertical hair of our airborne sextant pointing out towards the rear of our vehicle. However, we know now that the sun is circling overhead, and that 12 hours after our departure we would be heading "due north" only if we were flying into the sun, and not away from it.  Were we to follow our mother earth instincts and keep the sun always behind us, we would never get to the north pole of earth2, but would end by flying in a big circle somewhere over the southern hemisphere instead. We give the appropriate instructions to our man with the sextant in the plexiglass bubble of the flying machine, and soldier on, northwards and into a sky which is now blue, and not blindingly white. We're flying at twice the speed of sound. 
   The land below is now rapidly changing in its appearance. No longer savanna, but increasingly green. Not just green, but jungle like. This is tropical stuff like we've never seen before. Grasses and foliage and towering trees that have never seen anything but daylight. Albeit from a sun that is now a few degrees lower still. We're now over something like Brazil, and the sun is at half mast in the sky, which is now deep blue in color. We wonder what sort of animals (or people!) might be living in that dense, dark, green place below us. 
   There is little time for such speculation, at twice the speed of sound, heading north. The jungle soon begins to thin, and the land below now looks temperate. There are dwellings that can be seen, and now groups of dwellings, and now... cities!  We are now a thousand miles from the equator, and the sun is now very low in the sky behind us, but things beneath our flying machine are looking very familiar. Lots of buildings, lots of people, lots of smokestacks. It's looking very crowded down there. Lots of activity in long shadows. This is clearly where the action is. 
   But what about these long shadows, cast by a sun which is sinking ever lower in the sky? We twist our heads around and look behind us, back towards the south pole. It's brighter back there, and very much darker up ahead in the direction we are traveling. We recall our trips in airplanes on the old "mother" earth when we would leave the east coast of the United States at the end of the day and fly to Europe. We would then be flying into the night. We are now, too.
   The crossing of the equator has always merited a ceremony, and we perform one now by setting our airplane down. We choose a place called "Midway," situated thirty miles outside of a large metropolis of the same name located in a narrow province called "The Land of the Setting Sun." The reasons behind the choice of names becomes immediately obvious. This is a place, halfway between the south and north poles of this place called "earth2," where the sun is always setting. Not in just one place, however. The orange glowing sun transits around us in a circle, its lower edge just skirting the horizon. It does so once during each period of time called a "day." This place boasts a robust incoming tourism industry, which caters to newlyweds, to poets, and to others who pay to rent one of the "spin wheels". These are platforms on which you can stand, facing the sun, and which are caused by electric motors to rotate 360 degrees, counter-clockwise, every 24 hours. The landscape on the horizon appears to move, from left to right, but the sun does not. 
   Using the stereoscopic glasses and the rear-view mirror (provided at extra cost) the riders of the spin wheels are treated to the super-imposition, over the constantly setting sun, of a view of the stars behind them, to the north. Like the sun, these stars do not appear to move. 
   As for the moon as seen from earth2, it does move, and still rises in the east and sets in the west, but in a manner which is both predictable and boring. It's always a half-moon, its cusps first pointing to the left, as do the cusps of a typographer's closing parenthesis; then, when setting later in the night in the west, its cusps pointing to the right, as do those of an opening parenthesis. The parenthetical expression "full moon" never gets read, and a round, full moon never seen, this causing wolves to howl less plaintively, and lovelorn lunar songsters to look elsewhere for their inspiration. A partial eclipse of the constantly setting sun by the rising or setting moon is routinely observed, underwhelming spectators, and putting pressure on the profits of the spin wheel vendors. 
   Ceremonies are by definition short-lived, and we find ourselves back in our flying machine and heading again, due north, into the terrain they call "Duskland." This place is clearly inhabited, since there are thousands of lights flickering below. It's like flying over Iceland, or northern Canada, or Alaska, in the wintertime. There's still barely enough light to see the centers of population, and the fingers of cold water shining below in the night. We're told that there are miles of steam pipes down there, drawing heat up from the south, and nuclear reactors providing electricity to this vast area which has never seen the light of day. The people living in Duskland sometimes "go down for sunshine holidays," but not often. They are paid well to work in the dim light, and it is very much more crowded — excruciatingly crowded — down there just below the equator. 
   But, an hour's flight north from the equator sees even these signs of life extinguished. It's now pitch black down there, and very dark overhead, and it's getting cold on the ground. Anything that was water a while ago is now ice. The earthy permafrost has given way to its substratum of rock — the same rock we remember from the south pole, but now very cold rock. It's frigid up here in the northern hemisphere, and getting colder. By the time we arrive at the north pole, it's almost as cold as it gets on the dark side of our moon. 
   Here, even in this coldest of places, the stars blaze overhead with an intensity we have never seen before. Interestingly, the heavenly display of recognizable constellations and planets is very similar to the one we remember as seen from the equator of "mother" earth during the spring and fall months. We see Orion the Bear, the Little Dipper, and the Big Dipper. The bottom two stars of the Big Dipper point as expected towards Polaris, the "North Star," some seven segments away, but, wait... Polaris is not directly overhead, as it should be. There is some other star directly overhead. We call it Polaris2. And, around it in what appear to be perfect circles, all the other celestial bodies in the firmament are rotating, ever so slowly, fifteen degrees of clockwise rotation every hour. On the horizon, you can almost see them moving. The heavens are circling over our head, with Polaris2 at the center of these circles, and with a full circle of celestial rotation completed once every 24 hours. Once every day. 
   It would be nice if it were to be so simple, but it's not. A day goes by, and we look directly overhead once again, expecting to see Polaris2. We see Polaris2 alright, but it's no longer directly overhead. It's now what appears to be one degree to the right, to the East. The axis of the earth was pointing at Polaris2 yesterday, but it's not today. It's now pointing somewhat to the left of Polaris2. 
   Successive daily observations tell the same story. Polaris2 is declining along a path which will bring it to the edge of our eastern horizon within ninety days. It will then disappear altogether for six months, only to arise again to our left, on our western horizon, reaching its eventual zenith, at a point directly over our heads, one year to the day since the last time we saw it there. 
   This is of course because earth2, spinning always on an axis which is an extension of a radius of the sun, is also moving around the sun, counterclockwise, with its axis sweeping out an arc in the universe similar to that projected by the tungsten bulb of a beachside lighthouse. This axis points at Polaris2 only once a year, defining the concept of a "year" in so doing. 
   In the meanwhile, the remainder of the celestial bodies we see overhead are not rotating around us in perfect circles, as we thought, but in delicate spirals falling down towards the horizon at our right, like the extended wire coils of an immense "Slinky" toy. They will eventually disappear, all of them, beneath our eastern horizon. Six months later they will slowly spiral back up into the sky, having made their reappearance not in the east, as our sun and celestial bodies presently do, but in the west. 
   Just as it behooved us to leave the south pole of this planet, which was far too bright and too warm for comfort, so are we now inclined to put this north pole behind us, which is too dark, and too cold. We don't do so using our flying machine, however. Instead, in unison and in loud voices, we shout into the sky the command "restore". Three times we shout the command, this being a signal, pre-arranged in advance, authorizing our webmaster to take action. And he does, typing the command into the keyboard of his computer, and pressing "ENTER". 
   Visual data fade to black, sounds disappear into silence, and our awareness of inhabiting the body of a human being fades into an indescribable peacefulness. Only to be quickly reversed, this fade-to-black, as we find ourselves being reconstituted inside the metal walls of a reality chamber in the basement of the physics building at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York, in the United States. This was an experiment in virtual reality. 
   We are quick to remove the electrodes from our temples, and we stumble out of the oval hatch door, with its big circular locking wheel, past the wall of blinking leds and tally lights, and into the de-briefing room. There sits the president of the university, who is taking notes which she will use in order to appeal for additional federal funding for research of this sort. She asks us to recount our experiences, and we do so by reading to her a version of the text that appears above, ending with this sentence. 
   Not quite ending with that sentence. There is a misfit in our traveling group. A philosopher. He is whingeing on and on about "a lost opportunity." The president of the university stops taking notes, and looks annoyed. 
   "Came back too soon," the philosopher is insisting. "Lost a golden opportunity. Just about to formulate the argument, we were, and then the webmaster pressed "restore". Wicked bad timing. That place was as real as this place is, only, for it, there was no explanation... no plausible account for how it ever happened that an earth would end up spinning on an axis which was a radius of its sun, like a pig on a spit. For this earth of ours, spinning on an axis more or less parallel with the axis of rotation of its sun, there's an explanation. The conservation of angular momentum. The earth was once part of the sun, and broke away, taking its spin with it. But for that place, lying on its side with its south pole pointing towards the sun, so that it's always day or always night depending on where you are, there's no accounting for how it got that way. Spinning tops don't just lie down. No explanation for that pig on a spit baking on one end and freezing on the other. 
   Save perhaps for divine intervention, or for intelligent design. We had a ready-to-go proof for the existence of God in that place, and this guy pressed "restore". 
   I liked that other place. There was a God there."


Cf.,  Markle, G. S.,  "Are Deities Frame-Dependent?"  Virtual Reality,  1993. 

The creators of alternative "virtual realities" using machines would of course be able to provide experiences which would defy explanation using any then-current set of scientific theories. Participating players enjoying these experiences would naturally gravitate towards occult and/or creationist world views. This observation becomes provocative if it be considered that we may presently be such players ourselves, without knowing it.

 

 


 All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.