Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Posted by Arjendu on July 23, 2013

I was lucky enough this weekend to visit the Clementium complex of Jesuit buildings in Prague  (a 2.5 hour train ride from Dresden), and in particular to climb up the observatory tower where Johannes Kepler worked in the early 1600s. Kepler was invited to Prague by Tycho Brahe (who was court Mathematican in the court of Rudolph II) and after Brahe’s death, Kepler used Brahe’s astronomical observation data to figure out Kepler’s Laws.

Kepler’s Laws, in case you didn’t know, were a huge step in the intellectual transformation of the world in multiple ways among which are that: (a) their existence meant the Earth and humans did not occupy the center of the Universe, (b) they indicated that all planetary motion could be understood by three simply expressible mathematical and geometric ideas and (c) when shown by Newton to be derivable from his Universal Law of Gravitation later in the 16th century completed the leap to modern thinking about physical nature as something that can be understood as explainable by models including forces and math.

A few hours later, right off the Old Town Square, and a few hundred yards from where we were staying, I found Tycho Brahe’s grave  in the Church of Our Lady before Týn. The whole place is gorgeous, and was a deeply meaningful day for me.

The first photograph below shows the view from the Klementium (Czech spelling) observatory where Kepler worked; you can see the castle where Brahe presumably spent some time. The second shows the Church of Our Lady before Tyn.



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