Free Trial

Safari Books Online is a digital library providing on-demand subscription access to thousands of learning resources.

Share this Page URL

The Universe Is Steadily Getting Larger > How Did Technology for Observing the ... - Pg. 120

Kant brought about a revolution in epistemology by providing a rebuttal to the existing assertion of empiricists at that time--that all knowledge and concepts held by mankind arise through experience. Kant asserted that cognitive contents provided through experience are processed intellectually, enabling people to continue to gain further knowledge or new con- cepts (this is considered to be a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism). Kant also turned his thoughts toward the universe. He became aware of the disc- shaped model of the galaxy early on and wrote that the reason systems like the Milky Way galaxy can be seen is that stars are often organized in a lens-shaped pattern. Incidentally, Herschel may have read this and may have begun counting stars to try to scientifically prove Kant's idea, but we don't know for sure. Kant's greatest insight related to understanding the universe is his hypothesis that the entire universe contains many "island universes," which are systems (or collections) of stars like the many islands in the ocean. The stars that mankind had observed until then were just one island universe called the Milky Way. Kant suggested that there were also countless other similar island universes, which together constituted the whole universe. In the latter half of the 18th century, when Kant was active, many other nonstellar heavenly bodies came to be known because of advances in observation technology. These were named nebulas because they shone faintly like clouds. For example, the "Great Andromeda Nebula" and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are classified today as galaxies, exist in ancient records, since they could be seen even by the naked eye. However, soon after telescopes were available, it became apparent that these objects that were thought to be cosmic clouds were actually uncount- able collections of stars.