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Cosmology since Einstein makes it clear that it's not quite right to say one body in space "revolves around" another, right? Einstein wrote: "The two sentences, 'the sun is at rest and the earth moves,' or 'the sun moves and the earth is at rest,' would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different coordinate systems."

So: Could a scientifically sophisticated people develop space travel and an accurate cosmology etc while also preserving the notion that their planet was the center of the universe? What would their scientific milestones be?

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    $\begingroup$ They could think this and in a sense be correct, see astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/669/… $\endgroup$ – rtpax Apr 13 '18 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ What percentage of your population do you want to believe their world is the centre of the universe? Technically, we are a spacefaring species where an appreciable percentage of our population believes our planet is the centre of the universe. Hell, a worrying percentage of our population (i.e. any at all) still think the world is flat... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 13 '18 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ we have developed space travel, yet there are still people believing the Earth is flat... $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Apr 13 '18 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ They can use coordinate system that puts their planet at (0,0,0) coordinates. Would it be sufficient? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Apr 13 '18 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ They need a center for practical reasons : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_meridian_(Greenwich) $\endgroup$ – Vincent Apr 13 '18 at 20:40
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Yes, but only in the metaphorical sense if the species is arrogant and thinks that they are the be-all and end-all of culture, ethics, scientific knowledge, wealth, etc. Everyone else, every other planet is second, third, etc rate.

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    $\begingroup$ You could also do this with love, not arrogance. One might state that grandma was the center of the family, even though she does not have a job and does little work around the house. She is the metaphorical center. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 13 '18 at 17:55
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Make it their religion.

We all, I'm sure, have anecdotes about people displaying absurd levels of rationalization when their religion conflicts with current evidence. This is, of course, neither new nor unique to any specific religion. Religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are a pretty heated topic in the real world, but they need not be in your world.

Your space-faring, geocentric society could be:

  • Theocratic - the world's leadership has declared that the Creator made their planet the Center of the Universe. Perhaps the scientists largely disagree with this interpretation, but since they continue to get funding for their projects, they tend to shrug their shoulders and move on.

  • Monoreligious - everyone belongs to the Church of Geocentrism, even the scientists. They rationalize this cognitive dissonance by assuming that other parts of the universe are speeding away from themselves in varying directions.

  • Polyreligious - the largest single religion is the Church of Geocentrism, but there are many others and not all of them agree. This is most analogous to our own world; even though there are a lot more atheists among scientists than among the general population, even scientists are pretty diverse in their beliefs.

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The closest real world example would be the acceptance of sun centered model of the solar system as opposed to an earth centered model. The early models where the earth is the center could be used to make predictions about the some movements of celestial bodies. The solar based model was better because it predicted the movements better and better fit the data. Using your example, space faring people could have a model of the universe that works for them most of the time and that model has them at the center of universe. Their astronomers may develop a different model where they are not the center but the model explains their unanswered questions from the other model. Today, we have the scientific method to decide which model is better. Does your space faring people have the scientific method? If not, how did they become a space faring people without the scientific method?

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  • $\begingroup$ "If not, how did they become a space faring people without the scientific method?" That's how we know they have the scientific method... $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 13 '18 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn maybe not... the scientific method is a structured way of evolving knowledge, but it might not be the only way to do it. Advancements in our civilization have been the result of bouncing back and forth between theory and empiricism (theory points to where we should look next based off what we know now, and empiricism works out the details expanding our knowledge). What if this race is way concrete and not abstract at all. They could develop some very advanced tech while still thinking about the world in a way that takes everything observed at face value. $\endgroup$ – MParm Apr 13 '18 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MParm and what empiricism is going to derive the theory of General Relativity**? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 13 '18 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn None of course, the Theory of General Relativity is a Theory. However the theory was used to predict gravitational lensing and time dilation effects both of which were confirmed via observation. So they can know all about those phenomena even if they don't have a theory to tie everything together with a bow. $\endgroup$ – MParm Apr 16 '18 at 20:30
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Sure, from our point of view it looks like the Earth is the center of the Universe. The common wisdom is that every point is expanding away from every other point so it only looks like the Earth is at the center of the universe. Now I'm not sure if we have evidence to back that up, or if we as a civilization are still a little gun shy from the whole geocentric solar system business and are making assumptions that let us avoid making the same claim that turned out to be wrong last time.

So what if your civ didn't have the geocentric solar system problem, or weren't particularly bothered by it if they did. Maybe their models of the solar system and universe didn't develop in sync with ours, so they determined that everything appears to be expanding away from their planet at the same time that they realized their star is the center of their solar system - 'No big deal, we were right that our world was the center of the universe. It was simply at a more cosmic scale than we initially believed!' Sprinkle in some arrogance and/or religious dogma and they could hold on to that point of view for a long time.

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