On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres

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Toruń, Poland – November 2007

Legend has it that Nicolaus Copernicus was presented with a copy of his soon-to-be-published, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, on his deathbed. He emerged from his coma, looked at the culmination of his life’s work, and then drifted away.

Also legendary is the surliness of the staff at the Dom Mikołaja Kopernika, the museum that’s housed in the birthplace of the Renaissance mathematician. After many months in Poland, I’ve learned and come to understand the cultural reasons why Poles are frugal with their smiles. I no longer take it personally. If and when they finally offer a smile, it’s genuine and you have a friend forever.

A stocky, dark-haired man in a crisp white shirt and blue blazer stalks visitors from room to room. His glare spares no one, not even the young boy who listens intently to his father. We are all potential thieves and vandals. I linger at the exhibits of  the astronomical instruments. I feast my eyes on the ancient maps of the world and solar system. Copernicus was the first to present the theory of heliocentrism, which sparked a scientific revolution. The center of the universe was no longer the Earth, but rather the Sun.

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The museum also features an exhibit about the famous Toruń gingerbread. I pass on this in favor of buying a small bag of heart-shaped gingerbread at a shop near the main square. I sit on a bench and lift my face to the veiled autumn sunlight. The gingerbread frosting squeaks against my teeth as I chew. My brain hums with the thought of how much our universe has expanded since the time of Copernicus, and how much more remains to be discovered. I’ve read about theories of parallel universes, wormholes, and the universe as a hologram. When I think of formulas and equations, my mind grinds to a halt. It doesn’t stop me, however, from contemplating the infinite.

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32 thoughts on “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres

    • There are so many interesting and beautiful places in Poland. I tried to see as much as I could in the 2 years that I lived there, but still didn’t see it all.

  1. You were there! Oh, how wonderful it must have been to be close – to walk the same streets, to sit in the same square as Copernicus. Numbers have always danced in front of me without finding their rightful place as it does for others, who understand the squiggles in between the numbers. But you are so right – it does not prevent us from considering the infinite. BTW, I love gingerbread. And if you ever make it to Canada you must go to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia where they have the best gingerbread cake!!

    “To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”
    ― Nicolaus Copernicus

  2. I’m reading this with half an eye on another unsmiling Polish face- Radwanska in the ladies semi finals at Wimbledon. I’m cheering her opponent, Lisicki. I focussed well on your post though. Torun’s another Polish city I’d love to visit. 🙂

  3. Oh, magnificent photos here J and great story as always. I wish you a great Sunday and a super nice coming week. Glad to be back on your blog.

  4. Your pictures are amazing! I often sit and contemplate the infinite as well, it’s such an interesting and mind blowing conversation. So deep and simple at the same time, great post!

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog. Am not saying it out of courtesy but for the fact that it helped me find something interesting, your blog !
    With wide spectrum of things you think about, and your skill with words and camera makes it a marvelous experience to go through your blog.
    Thank you once again 🙂 \m/

    • It’s an experience, mostly because of the staff. I was impressed by the intensity of their surliness and that they managed to maintain it without so much as a look of boredom. 😉

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