Sources returnpage

Kepler, Johannes

Category: Genius

Johannes Kepler ( 1571 –  1630) was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his laws of planetary motion, and works such as  Astronomia nova, and Harmonices Mundi. These works  provided one of the foundations for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation.  Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics and invented an improved version of the refracting telescope (the Keplerian Telescope). 

While Kepler considered most traditional rules and methods of astrology to be the "evil-smelling dung" in which "an industrious hen" scrapes, there was an "occasional grain-seed, indeed, even a pearl or a gold nugget" to be found by the conscientious scientific astrologer.  To this end, he wrote Tertius Interveniens (Third-party Interventions) which set out Kepler's general views on the value of astrology, including some hypothesized mechanisms of interaction between planets and individual souls – destiny and personality. He  earned a reputation as a skillful astrologer, casting horoscopes for fellow students.

Kepler also  incorporated spiritual concepts into his work, motivated by the conviction that the world had been created and was evolving according to an intelligible plan – the Great Work.

Johannes Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt. His father left the family when Johannes was five years old. He was believed to have died in the Eighty Years' War in the Netherlands. His mother Katharina Guldenmann was a healer and herbalist who was later tried for witchcraft. Born prematurely, Johannes was weak and sickly as a child. Nevertheless, he often impressed travelers at his grandfather's inn with his phenomenal mathematical faculty.  Childhood smallpox left him with weak vision and crippled hands, limiting his ability in the observational aspects of astronomy.

Quite a number of Kepler's more inspired discoveries were derived from spiritual experiences. 

Kepler had 'an epiphany' – a spiritual experience - on July 19, 1595, when  he realized that regular polygons bound one inscribed and one circumscribed circle at definite ratios, which, he reasoned, might be the geometrical basis of the universe. Not the physical universe however but the spiritual universe.  Kepler began experimenting with 3-dimensional polyhedra. He found that each of the five Platonic solids could be uniquely inscribed and circumscribed by spherical orbs; nesting these solids, each encased in a sphere, within one another would produce six layers [the levels and layers plus the still centre].  He had in fact confirmed what Plato already knew and Pythagorus had described – the musical intervals between levels and layers – the music of the spheres and the songlines.   Mysterium Cosmographicum was published late in 1596.

Kepler used the Platonist polyhedral-spherist cosmology of Mysterium Cosmographicum in all his subsequent astronomical works, which were in some sense only further developments of it, concerned with finding more precise inner and outer dimensions for the spheres.  In 1621, Kepler published an expanded second edition of Mysterium, half as long again as the first, detailing in footnotes the corrections and improvements he had achieved in the 25 years since its first publication.

Remember that this is a spiritual work, based on levels and layers and ratios between levels.  He describes planets, but these are not physical planets, they are the old names for the Intelligences – the spheres.  This is simply not understood today.  Modern commentators now look on the Mysterium, as “an important first step in modernizing Copernicus' theory”. But Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus" is a physical description of a sun centred physical planetary system based on  'Ptolemaic devices' - epicycles and eccentric circles- describing the physical orbits of solid objects in space.  Kepler was describing the ratios of the spheres in the Egg.

Kepler also turned his attention to chronology – time -  and "harmony," the numerological relationships in musical scales and its connection with mathematics .  If music is one expression of the intervals between vibrational levels and layers in the spiritual world, then harmony had to be a reflection of some spiritual truth.  Kepler was convinced "that the geometrical things have provided the Creator with the model for decorating the whole world."  He attempted to explain the systems of the universe in terms of music. The central set of "harmonies" was the musical universalis or "music of the spheres," which had been studied by Pythagoras, this was published in  Harmonices Mundi.

Kepler looked upon all apparently physical phenomena such as the weather and movement of the physical planets to be the manifestation of spiritual systems.  He did not know how to describe this, having none of the advantages I had of software as an analogy, so he called it an Earth 'soul' – in effect a set of functions that governed the Earth.  He later extended the idea to all bodies – in effect all aggregates have a set of functions that govern their behaviour.

In December 1599, Tycho Brahe invited Kepler to visit him in Prague.  On January 1, 1600, before he had received the invitation, Kepler had set off in the hopes that Tycho's patronage could help him – a little bit of inter composer communication.    On February 4, 1600, Kepler met Tycho Brahe near Prague at the site where Tycho's new observatory was being constructed. Over the next two months he stayed as a guest, analyzing some of Tycho's observations; Tycho guarded his data closely, but was impressed by Kepler's theoretical ideas and soon allowed him more access.

Kepler returned home hoping to return to Tycho, but political and religious difficulties in Graz dashed his hopes.  Needing an income and employment, Kepler sought an appointment as mathematician to Archduke Ferdinand. To that end, Kepler composed an essay—dedicated to Ferdinand—in which he proposed a “force-based theory” of lunar motion: "In Terra inest virtus, quae Lunam ciet" ("There is a force in the earth which causes the moon to move").  This is equivalent to saying the earth systems affect the moon systems, which is correct, they interact -  function dependencies.

On August 2, 1600, after refusing to convert to Catholicism, Kepler and his family were banished from Graz. Several months later, Kepler returned,  with his household, to Prague. Through most of 1601, he was supported directly by Tycho, who assigned him to analyzing planetary observations.  Tycho unexpectedly died on October 24, 1601, two days later Kepler was appointed his successor as imperial mathematician with the responsibility to complete his unfinished work. The next 11 years as imperial mathematician would be the most productive of his life.  Synchronicity was in evidence.

Kepler sought to use physical observations to deduce spiritual – that is system or functional law.  In order to do this, he slowly continued analyzing Tycho's  observations—now available to him in their entirety.   Through most of 1603, Kepler paused his other work to focus on optical theory; the resulting manuscript, presented to the emperor on January 1, 1604, was published as Astronomiae Pars Optica (The Optical Part of Astronomy). In it, Kepler described the inverse-square law governing the intensity of light, reflection by flat and curved mirrors, and principles of pinhole cameras, as well as the astronomical implications of optics such as parallax and the apparent sizes of heavenly bodies.

He also extended his study of optics to the human eye, and is generally considered by neuroscientists to be the first to recognize that images are projected inverted and reversed by the eye's lens onto the retina. Kepler suggested that the image was later corrected by the "activity of the Soul."  This is dismissed by scientists today.  But it is a clear recognition that 'software' – spirit controls how we see – that it is a software system not a hardware system.

Kepler introduced the idea of continuous change of a mathematical entity in Astronomiae Pars Optica. As the foci of a hyperbola merge into one another, the hyperbola becomes a pair of straight lines. If a straight line is extended to infinity it will meet itself at a single point at infinity, thus having the properties of a large circle. The Egg.

What is fascinating about his perhaps most well known findings – the laws of planetary motion, is that they were derived by a combination of meticulous analysis of observations [the first two laws] and an 'epiphany' – a spiritual experience [the third law]. Kepler calculated and recalculated various approximations of Mars' orbit  eventually creating a model from the observations – this is 'bottom up analysis' to derive the rules of a system.  It is a well known method in systems analysis work [see Simple Introduction to Data and Activity analysis].  Based on more measurements, he created a formula in which a planet's rate of motion is inversely proportional to its distance from the Sun. Kepler's second law of planetary motion.  Using the data and after approximately 40 failed attempts, in early 1605 he at last hit upon the idea of an elliptical orbit that fitted the data, he immediately concluded that all planets move in ellipses, with the sun at one focus—Kepler's first law of planetary motion.

On March 8, 1618, Kepler had an epiphany – another spiritual experience, in which he discovered what was to become the third law of planetary motion.  This was pure inspiration or perhaps more correctly spiritual wisdom.

"The square of the periodic times are to each other as the cubes of the mean distances."

The extent of his spiritual experiences were not confined to wisdom and inspiration. Kepler published 'astrological calendars', which were very popular and helped offset the costs of producing his other work.  Some of his forecasts were based on his models, for example he forecast planetary positions.  But he also 'forecast ' the weather and political events; the latter were often uncannily accurate.  Some have said this was due to “his keen grasp of contemporary political and theological tensions”, but I think he also had the gift of prophecy.

And Kepler also had out of body experiences.  Around 1611, Kepler circulated a manuscript of what would eventually be published (posthumously) as Somnium (The Dream).  The manuscript described a fantastic trip to the moon; it was part allegory, part autobiography, and part treatise on interplanetary travel.  Some people these days call it “the first work of science fiction” but it is no science fiction – he went out of body to the stars.  The problem with this text is that it may have instigated the witchcraft trial against his mother, as in the 'story', the mother of the narrator consults a spirit helper to learn the means of space travel. Following her eventual acquittal, Kepler composed 223 footnotes to the story—several times longer than the actual text – in an attempt to protect her from further harrassment.  But we have the explanation as to how he at least achieved his out of body experience – his mother helped him.

What is so special about Kepler is that he combined inspiration and wisdom gained spiritually, with meticulous 'bottom up' analysis and deduction from observations.  Ernst Friedrich Apelt—the first to extensively study Kepler's manuscripts, saw in Kepler 'the unification of rigorous mathematics, aesthetic sensibility, straightforward unbiased observation and spirituality' – a complete unified system of thought.

In his final years, Kepler spent much of his time traveling.  He died on November 15, 1630, his burial site was lost after the Swedish army destroyed the churchyard where he was buried.  Only Kepler's self-authored poetic epitaph survived:

Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras
Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet
I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure
Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.

Observations

For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.