Conversing with the Planets

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Book Details

Author  Anthony Aveni
Publisher  Kodansha Globe
Publication Date   June 1, 1994
ISBN  1568360215
Pages  272

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Conversing with the Planets is the first popular work of astronomical anthropology, a field pioneered by Anthony Aveni, who has taught anthropology and astronomy at Colgate University for over twenty-five years. It interweaves the astronomy, mythology, and anthropology of ancient cultures by showing how to discover the harmony between their beliefs and their study of the sky. Modern scientists often dismiss the scientific contributions of archaic astronomers because earlier cultures wove their observations into elaborate, often weird - by our standards - mythologies about living planetary deities. The ancients spoke to the planets, and they believed the planets talked back. Aveni urges us to reconsider their discoveries and asks us to set aside for a while the ideas that our modern, technology-based astronomy has given to us about the sun, moon, and planets, in order to look at these celestial bodies through ancient eyes. Focusing on the belief systems of the Mayans, Babylonians, Chinese, and other cultures from antiquity through the Renaissance to the present, Aveni argues that we cannot separate the scientific contributions from the cultures that gave rise to them. Aveni's reexamination, based on in-depth anthropological studies, including the decoding of old Mayan and Babylonian texts, reveals that the ancients were far from the misguided, superstitious characters we now consider them to be. They were, in fact, deeply attuned to the motion of the sun, moon, and planets, and they used their naked-eye observations to create not only intricate astrologies and mythologies - in particular, those revolving around Venus - but also extremely accurate records and projections of meteorologicalphenomena. Conversing with the Planets asks that we reattune ourselves to the intersection of science, culture, and mythology and acknowledge that there is no such thing as an "absolute truth" about the natural world; every scientific discovery, whether made in 2000 B.C. or A.D., is true only for the culture of its time, its current beliefs and mores. Our scientific truth is defined by who we are and what we believe in. What have we moderns lost by turning our attention to the cold eye of the telescope, away from the natural harmonies of planet and sky? Why have we silenced the dialogue between observers and the sky? Aveni teaches us a new appreciation of the science of the past and affirms that our ancestors' discoveries provide a rich well of knowledge that modern-day science can and must draw upon.

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