Xuejing Lei studied on Nicolaus Copernicus, the first mathematician in MCL genealogy, and shared her study with MCL members in the pre-seminar sharing on September 12, 2022. Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473 in Toruń, Royal Prussia, Poland and died in 1543 aged 70. He was a Renaissance polymath, who made contributions in a wide variety of fields including astronomy, canon law, economics, mathematics, etc. He is best known for Heliocentrism, Quantity theory of money and Gresham–Copernicus law.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in a powerful family. His father was a well-to-do merchant who dealt in copper, and died about 1483. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy Toruń patrician and city councilor, deceased after 1495. After his father’s death, his maternal uncle, Lucas Watzenrode the Younger, took the little boy under his wing and saw to his education and career. Lucas formed close relations with three successive Polish monarchs Watzenrode and many rulers. He came to be considered the most powerful man in Warmia, and his wealth, connections and influence allowed him to secure Copernicus’s education and career as a canon at Frombork Cathedral.

Nicolaus Copernicus’s study in University of Kraków (now Jagiellonian University) gave him a thorough grounding in the mathematical astronomy and initiated his analysis of logical contradictions in the two “official” systems of astronomy — Aristotle’s theory of homocentric spheres, and Ptolemy’s mechanism of eccentrics and epicycles. He then went to Italy and studied in University of Bologna for 4 years and University of Padua for 2 years, and obtained his Doctoral degree of Canon Law in University of Ferrara in 1503.

Although Nicolaus Copernicus was best known to his contemporaries as a doctor and the Canon of Frauenburg Cathedral, he is best known by us for formulating a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center, that is Heliocentrism. In contrast to geocentrism where the Earth is the center of the universe, Heliocentrism explains all observations such as objects closer to the sun orbit faster, and the retrograde motion of a planet like Mars is the results of earth overtaking the Mars at a particular time in their respective orbits. Copernicus also estimated the distances from the sun to each planet with great precision. There were also some criticisms of the heliocentric model. If the earth goes around the sun, the apparent position of the stars should shift. It would be hundreds of years before we have telescopes powerful enough to see it, but this shift does indeed occur. It is just incredibly small because of the staging distances to the star. We use this slight shift today to measure the distance of a certain object in space.

There were some successors who developed and promoted the heliocentric model but resulted in being tried for or convicted of heresy, such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei. Giordano Bruno proposed that if the sun is the center of this system of planets, and all the countless stars in the night sky are just suns like ours, possibly with their own planets, and perhaps even living creatures, then mankind is no longer the pinnacle of creation. The Catholic church, very much in political power at the time, saw this way of thinking as a threat to its supremacy. As a result, Bruno was trapped for heresy and burnt at the stake. At that time, mankind was not quite ready to be dethroned from its status as the only reason the universe exists. Copernican theory was not widely accepted until the late 17th century – over 150 years after Copernicus’s death. Copernicus’s book was banned as heretical by the Catholic Church until 1835.

In the field of economics, Copernicus proposed the Quantity theory of money in 1517 and Gresham–Copernicus law in 1519. Quantity theory of money tells us that the general price level of goods and services is directly proportional to the amount of money in circulation, or money supply. The Gresham–Copernicus law states that any circulating currency consisting of both “good” and “bad” money (both forms required to be accepted at equal value under legal tender law) quickly becomes dominated by the “bad” money. This is because people spending money will hand over the “bad” coins rather than the “good” ones, keeping the “good” ones for themselves.

Nicolaus Copernicus is a giant that contributes a lot in different fields, especially in astronomy. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we humans are able to better understand the universe and explore the truth of the world. As said by Nicolaus Copernicus, “to know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know that is true knowledge”. As a MCL member, we need to remember what Nicolaus Copernicus brought to us, be proud of him and contribute to the field we choose.