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Russell wrote his book because he was tired of seeing the idea quoted in elementary, high school, and college history text books. He has, of course, had little impact. It's a short book. Before people ever allow 'flat earth' to escape their lips again, they should read it. This is as elegant a piece of historiographical work as I have ever read. --MichaelTinkler, who is tired of typing the ISBN, and from now on will simply cross reference.
Article seems one-sided, even argumentative. Not that I believe in a flat earth myself, I consider my views well-rounded.

Instead of saying that Russell debunks all the myths, why not cite a myth or two and show how Russell debunks 'em? --Ed Poor


The article, I think, goes overboard on its scope, and if this is the position taken by Russell then he's done the same. There is no doubt people once thought the world was flat, and educated people no less - you can see it in the early Greek philosophy which portrayed the world as a circular disk floating in the ocean. That the idea was given up much sooner than most people think doesn't mean it was never popular, and as for flat earth beliefs among the uneducated, they verifiably exist today at the very least.

Added circular disk thing and another bit. Russell retains 81% of the coverage, though. Fair enough? --Ed Poor

Has anyone else noticed that this article contradicts itself? Also, which Greek philosophers thought that? Also, from the way this is written, oone could infer that Russell is writing outside his field. Russell is a medievalist who specializes in History of Christianity and the problems of evil and the Devil -- however, he *has* been teaching the first third of the western Civ sequence for about 25 years...and is well-respected by his peers. I am removing the links to Amazon and Pricescan, since I see no valid reason for thier existenceunless they are sponsoring the wikipedia. JHK

Thales and his friends thought so. Or at the very least, some of them did. And even without them, it would still be quite definitely the general impression the early Greeks had of geography. Noone suspects the world is round until you've journeyed far enough to have a reason to suppose otherwise. I suspect what Russell was really saying is that no educated people during late Antiquity and the Middle Ages thought the world was flat, but I'm not going to change the page since I have no way to be sure. It's a mess as it stands, though.

I read that pythagoras wrote the earth was round, and some other greek guy a few hundred years later calculated (fairly accurately!) the circumference of the earth somehow by measuring sun angles between two cities. I've also heard that sailors were pretty sure the earth was round since they could see boats go ever the horizon of water

--alan d

Yup. But these were later Greeks, and besides, not everyone decided the world was round at the same time.

Hmmm. No one suspects the world is round until you've been somewhere? Even besides the tremendous geographical condescension to ancient people, who travelled rather a lot, there's the old disappearing mast example. You yourself don't have to sail to see the masts gradually disappear. --MichaelTinkler

You do have to be by the ocean, which a lot of people aren't. besides, it might not occur to people even by the water, as much as people who traverse it because it is a more frequent and relevant occurance.

Well that sure wouldn't apply to the Greeks, all of whom lived reasonably close to the sea. --MichaelTinkler

The thing is that the connection between the masts and a curved Earth will not come up unless you start thinking about one or the other. Why do you suppose an ancient mariner would find it the least bit unusual that ships disappear, when he does not understand geometry or light and so much else in the world? Also, before the Greeks, it would be hard to say that people habitually tried to sort such problems out. This is not condescension, it's simply the way things were, and besides I doubt most modern people would make the connection. Things hide in plain sight all the time - that the universe is non-static is an obvious conclusion of Newtonian physics, but it took until relativity for it to be noticed.

Now various ancient peoples made various voyages of various lengths. The Greeks had begun sailing all over the Mediterranean by this time, the Phoenicians a while earlier and farther, and before that there were various commercial contacts all over the place. And there's no doubt the Mesopotamians kept records of the stars of far higher caliber than is needed to notice the differences between latitudes. But that doesn't mean they actually concluded the world is round, and far more to the point that doesn't mean they told everyone. If the Egyptians had figured it out (something I don't know about), it would say nothing about whether the Greeks knew. In their early descriptions, they have the world as a disc ringed by the river Oceanus, between the heavens and the underworld. That comes from their mythology, and then from the early philosophers like Anaxaminder, and is unquestionably flat.


Come on, you guess are just speculating. As Greg might say, it's time to hit the books. Ed Poor

If you are keeping a lookout for other ships, or landmasses you are approaching, then the curvature of the earth could very well become something you notice, since it interferes with your job. additionally, you don't need to know geometry to notice that if something goes over a curved hill, it disappears because of the curvature. I also suspect that some sailors knew at least basic geometry, considering it was used for navigation even back then. As to wether they told everyone, I agree that thats important. I also suspect that they would see no reason to write it down or casually tell anybody on land about it. I also happen to believe that the theory is almost completely unprovable, but I brought it up because its mentioned all the time, and its not as implausible as all you seem to think. its just as easy for me to validly argue its plausible as it is for anyone else to argue its not. that doesn't mean its true, but don't tell me its not true because its not plausible.

I'm not arguing that its not plausible, just that it's equally plausible that people would miss this despite it being easily available. And Ed, I am not just speculating. Here, a quick search pulls up http://library.scar.utoronto.ca/Classicsc42/Halkidis/carto-geo.htm, which confirms a decent list of names: Anaxaminder, Hecataeus, Herodotus and so forth. Plus it says that Pythagoras is questionable on the issue. Actually, it would be good info for the article, which I might work in some time if noone beats me to it.

And actually, looking at the reviews of Russell's book, noone says anything about him claiming anything about the times beyond the Middle Ages. So I've assumed that he is following the conventional wisdom and just changed the article to what is actually the case. Plus, Russell it would seem is not beyond criticism (http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/swartz/flat_earth.htm), and I've mentioned that to.


It's flat, dammit! Flat! Flat! Flat!


Well, of course he's not beyond criticism. No one is. His argument is, however, overwhelmingly well documented and thorough. And yes, there are people who believe it's flat, and I suppose that means it's really flat for them. The idea that the inhabited world was a disc did not exclude the idea that said disc floated on a sphere of water. Probably most ancients who held the spherical world believed in an inhabited disc. I've also dealt with Cosmas Indicopleuses. --MichaelTinkler

Good, good. I've nothing against Russell, note, so long as he isn't claiming things that are obviously untrue, and the idea that the flat Earth dominated the Middle Ages is an important falsehood to debunk. I added the criticisms mainly because I ran across them while searching for details. In Greek Mythology, the world is definitely flat-flat, but it would be fair to say that in most Classical thought it was a curved disc on a sphere. I don't think anyone had much faith that there was stuff on the other side of the ocean.


All that stuff about Washington Irving creating stories of Columbus besieged by flat earthers and thus needing to PROVE the earth was round by his voyage, would be better put in another article. Perhaps an article about Russell's book -- or about Columbus -- or even about Irving. I tried to make this article simple: it's about the flat earth theory, and its #1 competitor -- and nothing else. --Uncle Ed 22:44 Feb 12, 2003 (UTC)
Eloquence, let's work together. I think the article doesn't need so much of an introduction as I had tried to give it. We can just launch straight into the debunking by the Greeks, right? I mean, after talking about the real old stuff like before 1,000 BC. --Uncle Ed 22:47 Feb 12, 2003 (UTC)

I think it was wrong to take Russell out, when I read an article about the flat earth, I expect to find discussions of how this idea has changed over time therein. We're not even close to the 30K limit here, so we have enough room. If you let me work for a few minutes, I'll try to develop a reasonable compromise. --Eloquence 22:50 Feb 12, 2003 (UTC)

OK, I have provided a more comprehensive discussion, I'm not up to date regarding the naming convention esp. for "Saints" etc., so I would appreciate it if someone could go over the link titles. --Eloquence 23:55 Feb 12, 2003 (UTC)


Very nice article. Just a few minor bits:
  • Does Stonehenge at all show knowledge of a round earth? If so, can that be included somewhere in this article?
  • When is are the classical times? Is this a known epoch? Should it be Classical times? Could it be Classical times (xxx-xxx)?
  • What is "astonishes some modern writers" in reference to? It sounds like it is referring to reactions of specific writers. If so, please elaborate enough so we know.
  • In the Middle Ages section, it begins "One popular belief." Among whom? Please include. Kingturtle 22:31 Apr 16, 2003 (UTC)

Think the Earth's horizon does look a little bit round, from the window of an aeroplane. (Not enough, that I can be sure I'm not just biased, but anyway...) كسيپ Cyp 08:57 29 Jun 2003 (UTC)



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