A Brill Calendar: March 13
The Discovery of Uranus
Few elements of human knowledge are more intriguing than the act of refutation.
Applying all conjectures to obey Sir Karl Popper’s ‘Falsifiability Criterion’ became almost 'de rigeur' in the previous century. Empiricism (especially in the sciences) often acted as arbiter in the heated discussions, for excellent rhetorical reasons in that discourse: one single verifiable observation, correctly attested and documented, suffices to dismantle a widely accepted and socially powerful theory.
A fine early example of this was given by the discovery on March 13, 1781- in the city of Bath, County Avon, England - of the planet Uranus by William Herschel (Hannover, Hanover, November 15 1738 – Slough, Buckinghamshire, August 25, 1828), an addict to watching nightly skies and a perfect embodiment of an 18th century dilettante, 'exonerated' from formal academic study.
When it occurred to him that this peculiar luminous object wasn’t just a star out of millions, he discovered the first new planet since the dawn of Western civilization; Herschel became a trans-national cult-figure overnight. His perspicacity refuted the assumption that God’s Universe was beyond change; many a sage maintained earlier that the very fabric of biblical logic impelled His earth to have no more than seven planets. See also: mankind’s Seven Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins.
However, in scholarly inquiry – as contrasted to empirical science – it is seldom that the refutation of a well-established paradigm can be achieved on so short a notice. Assumptions and suppositions precede propositions and opinions for each & all of us; including scientists & scholars. The fascinating element is that it is impossible to make a complete inventory of them. An archetype of slow refutation is the dawning conviction among all kinds of scholars, as late as the 19th century - by the concerted efforts of Messrs Lyell & Darwin - that the age of the solar system and its cosmos is measured in billions, not in thousands of years.