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What You Know is Wrong

I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

Josh Billings

One interesting thing about things we know that are wrong is how often we use them to assert our superiority. We know things that validate our position is not only correct, but correct in a way that makes us better than those who hold other positions.

My favorite is a common believe, one I was taught in school, about why the Catholic Church resisted the Copernican model of the solar system. I have written some about the intermediate steps between the old Ptolemaic model and why, although heliocentric models were correct, and intermediate form by Tycho Brahe was actually the better theory, in terms of accounting for observations, despite having the Sun revolve around the Earth even the the other planets, and the Moon, revolved around the Sun.

Today is less about how we moderns forget the objections and the evolution of observations. It is instead about what we assume about Catholic theology in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. I was taught, and have heard enough people repeat to conclude it is a common understanding, that the Earth was held to be at the center because it had a privilege position in the universe and that placing it in orbit of the Sun would diminish it. It is not uncommon to hear discussions about how science removed the favored position from Earth and does so more and more with each discover, such as the Sun being an unexceptional yellow dwarf star.

Read it all, not just The Inferno to get the full picture.

Except, the theology that placed the Earth the center of the solar system was not about elevating the Earth. Placing the Earth among the spheres, that is among the other planets, was elevating it. I have read a couple of individuals claiming that the elevation of Earth spiritually drove Copernicus as much as science did, but to date I have not confirmed it. If that was not a motivation, Copernicus was a monk and the possibility of such an interpretation, even if rejected by him, must have crossed his mind.

Earth was the second lowest place in the Medieval mind and the lowest place, Hell, was beneath it in a physical manner. If you read all of The Divine Comedy by Dante, not just The Inferno which read in isolation provides a warped view, you confront the nature of Purgatory. Dante’s Purgatory is a mountain driven forth from the Earth opposite where Lucifer fell when cast down from Heaven. It was the mountain of Purgatory, created by the formation of Hell, that connected the Earth to the Heavens. Paradise is among the sphere, the planets.

The key point is not that the model is right, but that we attribute motives, motives modern people find stupid, to people and use those to judge them. While it makes it easy to feel superior, it does not help understanding.

I was reminded of this desire to be right even if it means knowing wrong things in a debate about winning RPGs that raged over Twitter. This tweet in particular struck me.

If youre playing DnD to “win” you have officially missed the point of the game. Gygax would be rolling in his grave. Go play a wargame or something, DnD is about collaborative storytelling.— HephAEstus (@H3ph43stus413) January 28, 2020

I still love that 70s science fantasy art. That screams D&D to me.

That Gygax would be rolling in his grave at the idea of competitive RPGs show a lack of knowledge about Gygax and the early days of the hobby. Gary wrote extensively about competitive play in the 70s. It was a facet of early play as was every other popular play style today. Thus, when someone says play style $FOO is new, they are probably wrong. To get a good grasp of how broad play was in the early days I keep recommending the article, Referee, Declare Thyself from The Space Gamer issue 18, page 9. This was published in 1978.

Do the various styles in that article look familiar?

No one is going to be under house arrest for not knowing about older RPG play styles, but much as someone talking about the Earth was in a favored, not lower, position in the center of the universe, you risk looking foolish, and having other arguments carry less weight, by knowing things that are not true.

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