Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Music of the Spheres: The Sun Is A Morning Star

Students in my Ancient and Medieval Philosophy class are required to spend at least four hours outdoors, gazing at the skies.   
The Morning Star, Good Earth State Park (SD), December 2013

That may sound odd, but it arises from my conviction that philosophy needs labs.  I call it my "Music of the Spheres" project, in which I invite them to consider what it would have been like to be Thales (who was one of the first to predict a solar eclipse), gazing at the night sky and thinking about the laws that seem to guide the motions of the celestial bodies. 

The students are given specific instructions and they must come up with a clear research project that can be accomplished using only the tools available to ancient astronomers. 

For me, the best part of the class comes at the end when I read their work, and I get to see their offhand comments, like this: 
"I saw the Milky Way and its Great Rift for the first time."
My heart leapt when I read that one.  This next one didn't make my heart leap, but it did make my heart glad, because it too is an important discovery:
"Stargazing is much more fun with a friend."
We live beneath these skies but so rarely do we lie on our backs beneath them and gaze upwards.  Rarely do we lift our eyes to the heavens to see what is there, and when we do, we are quick to turn away in boredom, as though it were a small thing to gaze into the greatest distances.

If you don't know what planets are visible right now; if you can't quickly identify a few constellations; or if you aren't sure what phase the moon is in, why not go outside and have a look?  And why not share the moment with a friend?

The heavens are not yet done revealing themselves to us, and "the sun is but a morning star."