At the end of the 5th century CE, a young man who lived in relative obscurity had a radical idea: it was the earth, and not the sky, which rotated and therefore was responsible for the changing positions of the stars.
And if you know your scientific history, you may be thinking that the 5th century is a little too early for this theory to be out in the world. About 1000 years too early. Copernicus and Galileo - famous for theorising that the earth orbits the sun - both lived in the 1500s.
The young man’s name was Aryabhata, and he was an Indian mathematician who practiced and recorded his science in Sanskrit sutras, as part of a broader oral scientific tradition called dhulikarman, which was intended to be memorised, not written down.
American mathematician Kim Plofker suggests it’s difficult for modern mathematicians to follow its logic: “The Aryabhatiya is not playing the same intellectual game… it’s got its own set of rules for the mathematics that it’s doing and what it’s creating.”
The story of Aryabhata and the Aryabhatiya echoes the story of Indigenous Australians who thought in terms of living matter rather than ‘dead matter,’ enabling a conceptualisation of dark matter well before Western science.
Human wisdom comes in many forms, and in thousands of languages. Each culture has a distinct way of understanding the world, possessing its own insights into nature, the cosmos, and the human experience. As some cultures are driven to extinction, humanity is facing the loss of not only a repository of wisdom, but also potential solutions to the challenges we are all facing.
If you've finished this article feeling like, ok, cool, I get it, but what should I do? Then read this.