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17 Ptolemaic Astronomy The body was taken to move on a small circle, the epicycle, the center of which itself moved on a circle, the deferent, around the center of the world. In most cases the deferent was an eccentric circle like that of the sun. In the case of the moon, the eccentric deferent itself constituted a large epicycle turning on a smaller deferent centered on the earth. From a starting position of conjunction with the sun, the center of the deferent revolved from east to west at about 11° a day, the center of the epicycle from west to east at about 13° a day (with respect to the earth), and the moon on the epicycle in the same direction as the deferent at about 24° a day. You learn all that and you’re not going to be too eager to let it go. Never mind how the world has to be, for theological reasons, the middle of everything, this is what you took years to master. And now that heretic Polack has shown it all up? Even supposing he’s right, who will believe it? Your mind follows your gut and you know that you must be the center, the others whirling around in circles and epicycles that stars and planets maybe imitate. “I” is the unwobbling pivot, the pole, and any other giddy idea affronts what we discovered when we first learned to stand.  The Copernicans are right. We are forced to give lip service to this. Otherwise no diploma, no job, no hope, and the fugitive life of Lollards, their eyes peeled, and meeting in secret. I dare not admit what I think, even to friends who will turn me in, or, almost as bad, just laugh.  18 String theory posits thirteen dimensions. Why not? If you keep a cat, you have a whole new set of dimensions along with those you live in. The ancient system had a center, which was, of course, where you were. Claudius Ptolemy, who figured it out, was named that having been born in Ptolemais Hermii. His center was an Alexandrian rooftop, but for each of us it’s different, which simplifies things.  And time, too, they have going straight from then to now to beyond that, like an arrow that never finds its target. We know better, can describe its whorls and curious loops, the chance conjunction of a moment on the knife-edge with another moment, still burning, alive, comet-bright, with that same elliptical orbit. No cataclysm comes, but a subtle prompting, a hot day and a dusty road with weeds, sumac, I think, verdant on either side, and I am seven or eight years old again. Einstein’s curving trolley cars in Zurich are fearsome, but I think they’re a parlor trick, and where I am, we believe our lying eyes.  You have to admire them all, those old astronomers whose calculations were all the more dazzling being wrong. That they could predict the sunrise was a triumph, but they did more and better than that. Insane adjustments and rectifications after a while, can approximate the world. Look at the dust motes dance in the shaft of sunlight and analyze them so that you can say, from moment to moment, where one speck will go, or how two specks 19 will appear to dance, even though that’s an illusion. You’re looking at chaos, or, rather, getting a glimpse of the chaos you have always looked at and lived in but could not recognize or admit to yourself. That you can get up in the morning, get to work, get back . . . These are all amazing achievements given that your basic assumptions are all arbitrary, conventional, probably wrong. But you make it up and, by an act of faith, put your foot where the ground is supposed to be, and seems to be, even if its atoms are whirling like that dust in Brownian motion, as is, indeed, your foot, which could go through the fragile altogether notional crust, where you’re dancing, walking on eggshells, walking on air. ...


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