On February 19th in the year 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Royal Prussia in the Kingdom of Poland. Despite dropping out of two university degree courses, he went on to become proficient in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and economics, and practiced for a time government and diplomacy.
He is celebrated for his book "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), a book that created a revolution in thought. For 1,300 years people had supposed from Ptolemy’s Almagest that the sun revolved around the Earth, the centre of the universe. This accorded with what appeared to be an everyday observation of the sun moving across the sky, and with the religious view that the Earth, the abode of humanity, was the centre of God's creation.
Copernicus had formulated his heliocentric view by 1510, but told only close friends, holding back publication of his ideas because of the controversy he expected they would cause. He finally allowed publication just before his death in 1543, the story being told of how a copy of the newly printed book was rushed round and placed into his hands so that he could see it before he died.
It aroused curiosity at first, and controversy later. The Catholic Church banned Copernicus’s book completely in 1616, regarding it as a threat to its authority, and in 1633 convicted Galileo of heresy "for following the position of Copernicus, which is contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture."
His significance is that Copernicus helped pioneer a scientific revolution that saw observation and intelligence as a pathway to knowledge, instead of using only the interpretation of scripture. Knowledge could be advanced, not by authority, but by competition between different ideas, provided that people were free to assess them, to evaluate them, and to choose between them. It parallels the way in which economic progress can be made by people freely choosing between competing products.
As an economist, Copernicus developed in 1517 a quantity theory of money, a very modern idea, and in 1519 put forward the idea that where there are alternative currencies, the more valuable will disappear as people hoard it and pay out with the inferior one. This is now called Gresham's Law. His truly was a revolutionary mind.