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The Scientific Revolution


The Scientific Revolution brought many new ideas and beliefs not only to Europe but the entire world. The most widely influential was an epistemological transformation that we call the "Scientific Revolution." In the popular mind, we associate this revolution with natural science and technological change, but the scientific revolution was, in reality, a series of changes in the structure of European thought itself: systematic doubt, empirical and sensory verification, the abstraction of human knowledge into separate sciences, and the view that the world functions like a machine. These changes greatly changed the human experience of every other aspect of life, from individual life to the life of the group. This modification in worldview can also be charted in painting, sculpture and architecture; you can see that people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are looking at the world very differently. The Scientific Revolution brought about many changed in both biology and astronomy. The former was concerned with the basics of physiology and anatomy; the latter was concerned with the issue of the solar system. These (and other) developments tended to proceed along independent lines until the great scientific academies of the 18th century both brought them together and helped spread their findings to the rest of society.
Copernicus was a man who played a significant role in this revolution. Before Copernicus was the Ptolemaic system. Ptolemy's model of the universe was accepted throughout the middle Ages, though not without revision. His model was a little ragged at the edges and more accurate observations revealed discrepancies, particularly in regard to the movement of the planets. Using tables based on Ptolemy's model, medieval astronomers made predictions regarding the position of this or that planet and the planets did not show up on time. Even Ptolemy had known that the simplest model, which had each planet moving in a circular orbit about the Earth. To compensate, he invented the notion of epicycles; that is, a circular orbit whose center in turn moved in a circular orbit. For example, Venus did not move directly around the Earth, but rather moved in its own orbit. The center of this orbit, however, did move around the Earth. Everything moved in perfect circles, of course, because a circle was a perfect shape and Heaven was a place of perfection. However many question arose about this theory. By the later middle Ages, increasingly accurate observations had led to increasing elaborations of Ptolemy's systems. Epicycles were added to epicycles until the planets were clanking about in a ludicrous contraption of scores of intersecting circles. Many among the learned were uncomfortably aware that the situation was downright embarrassing. With as many as 200 and more epicycles wheeling about, the whole system was looking less and less divine. The invention of accurate timekeeping devices was, by the 15th century, badly fraying the fabric of the Ptolemaic universe. (Shapin)
The first bold step in the Scientific Revolution was taken by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). In De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, published in the year of his death, Copernicus suggested a new explanation of the apparent motions of heavenly bodies. Following the hypothesis of Aristarchus, Copernicus put the sun in the center of the motionless sphere of the fixed stars and had the planets (including the earth) move in concentric circles around it. The moon circled the earth, which rotated around its own axis and also slowly changed the direction of its axis. The heliocentric system of Copernicus challenged (and eventually replaced) the Ptolemaic system that had stationary earth as its center. The heliocentric theory gave modern astronomy a new direction but it did not remove the complexity that cumbered the Ptolemaic system. To reconcile the circular and uniform planetary motion with the available observational evidence, Copernicus also had to amend his system with epicycles and eccentricity of the planets' orbits in relation to the sun (Jeans, Growth 128-29). The real significance of the heliocentric system lay in the long-term changes, which it effected. "Major upheavals in the fundamental concepts of science, occur by degrees. The work of a single individual may play a preeminent role in such a conceptual revolution, but if it does, it achieves preeminence either because, like De Revolutionibus, it initiates revolution by a small innovation which presents science with new problems, or because like Newton's Principia, it terminates revolution by integrating concepts deriving from many sources" (Copernican Revolution 182). The Copernican exposition of celestial mechanics may appear less impressive than the Newtonian, but without one the other would not have been possible.
The Copernican theory was solidified and advanced in the work of Tycho Brache and Johannes Kepler. Tycho Brache (1546-1601) did not accept the heliocentric model of the universe, but through his work he contributed to its refinement. An excellent observer, he made new instruments, which significantly improved the accuracy of angular measurement, and then devoted most of his life to constructing new, precise planetary tables (Hull 132-33). Kepler, who became Tycho's assistant in his youth, completed the task and published the new tables after Tycho's death. In contrast to his teacher's preference for observation, Kepler had a theoretical slant and a strong belief in mathematics. Like many of the ancient Greeks, he assumed that celestial bodies must move according to simple geometrical laws, which could be discovered (Jeans, Growth 165). After decades of painstaking and frustrating investigation of the planets' orbits and velocities, he finally succeeded in proving his assumptions. In 1609 he announced that the orbit of Mars is an ellipse with the sun at one focus, and that the planet's velocity changes in such a way that the line joining Mars to the sun covers equal areas of the ellipse in equal times. In the following years, Kepler extended these laws to the other planets and formulated a third law which stated that, for all the planets, the square of the periodic time is proportional to the cube of its mean distance from the sun (Hull 136-37). Kepler's discovery was as important for the development of science as the work of Copernicus, in spite of its apparently limited, technical character. The achievement of Copernicus was revolutionary in content, but not so in method. All the main propositions of De Revolutionibus were based on ancient authority. Copernicus had the sense to give the heliocentric concept serious consideration and the mathematical skill to develop it in detail, but he never questioned the Greek assumption that celestial geometry must be based on the figures of sphere and circle because of their supposed perfection (Hull 128). He was a typical Renaissance man, freed from the oppressive authority of the church, but unable to sever himself from dependence on the authority of the classics which brought him that freedom. Kepler, on the other hand, represented a truly modern scientific spirit. He was the first to introduce important scientific notions for which there was no ancient authority (Hull 135). With his discoveries, Kepler gave modern science a spirit of independence, a sense of freedom from any preconceived notions, regardless of the authority, which might stand behind them. He thus further strengthened the belief in the power of human intellect as a primary means of learning to understand the world.
Isaac Newton was a man who took all of these ideas, and wrote them out mathematically. Newton’s synthesis was just brilliant. Newton was secretive, petty and vindictive. He was also a genius. This meant that all of his brilliant achievements were conceived alone. He worked intensively on problems being debated within Europe's scientific community. One problem concerned planetary orbits. Relying on their own observations, astronomers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler determined that the natural (inertial) motion of planets was circular or elliptical. Basing his theory purely on logic, he insisted that the natural motion was a straight line. Newton began tackling this problem with the assumption that planetary orbits were elliptical (as Kepler had maintained). This meant that he could not make his calculations with Euclidean geometry, which provided formulas for only "regular' shapes, such as circles, squares and triangles. He therefore developed calculus a major breakthrough in the history of mathematics. Newton did not want to share his invention with anyone else. So he made his discoveries with calculus but wrote them out in the conventional mathematics of his time. His first rough calculation set the moon's orbit time at 27.25 days-- just about the exact time Newton had uncovered a law of nature that was both universal and susceptible to mathematical calculations. This discovery would fundamentally alter the way human beings viewed themselves and the universe in which they lived. With his work, Newton made the natural world seem knowable to those who employed the scientific method of observation, experimentation and calculation. (Shapin)
Galileo was also a huge contributor to the Scientific Revolution. His scientific successes were due to his ability to make what some historians have called "thought experiments." Galileo also contributed to the development of the scientific method. He was drawn to the system of Copernicus and Kepler because they made use of geometric reasoning. Galileo's preference for mathematical calculations to knowledge derived only from his senses does not mean that he never made us of observation. Indeed, he was the first to use a telescope in astronomical work. The first telescope was made in Holland, by a Dutch lens maker who hit on the idea of putting two lenses at each end of a tube and looking through it. Galileo read about this invention in a letter and forthwith built his own. He ground his own lenses, constructed his own tube, and produced a telescope with a power of magnification of about 10 -- more than twice as powerful as the one the Dutch had made. That Galileo could do this after merely having read a description of the device is a testament to his skill as a craftsman. Galileo built his telescope in 1610 when he was living in Venice. The first thing he did with his invention was tried to make money from it. Galileo soon had orders to build more telescopes. Had he done only this, he would have been known as a great inventor. But he went further. He pointed his telescope up to the night sky, and what he found there changed the scientific world forever. He studied the moon and found that it was composed of the same substances as the earth and that it produced no light of its own, but only reflected rays from the sun. He turned his telescope on the sun itself and saw that it had spots. The sun was not a perfect substance and since the spots moved, the sun rotated on its axis in the same direction as the planets moved in their orbits. He found the four satellites of Jupiter and saw that they revolved around the planet. These discoveries conformed his belief in the heliocentric system and suggested that other heavenly bodies had the same properties as the earth.
The Scientific Revolution was the single most important factor in the creation of the new worldview of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Many ideas were brought into light that changed views and perceptions of the world. The most important idea of the enlightenment was that the methods of natural science could be used to examine and understand all aspect of life. This is what the intellectuals meant reason. Nothing was to be accepted on faith. Everything was to be submitted to the rational, critical, scientific way of thinking. However this brought the Enlightenment into a conflict with churches, which rested their beliefs on authority of the Bible and Christian theology. Another key of the enlightenment was the scientific method was capable of discovering laws of human society as well as those of nature. This led to the birth of social science. This led to that of progress. With the skills needed to discover laws of human existence, Enlightment thinker believed it was possible for humans to create better societies and people. Therefore the enlightenment was secular. It revived and established the Renaissance on worldly ideas. Enlightenment in return had a huge effect on the culture and thought of urban middle classes and aristocracy. However it did not appeal to the poor and peasants. These groups were confident in old popular beliefs that enlightenment was trying to change.
Overall the scientific revolution has transformed Europeans and their perception of the world. Europeans as well as others began to venture to other countries, trade and develop new social groups. It improved navigation, which in return facilitated overseas trade and helped enrich leading merchants. In another aspect some people had change of views when it came to religion and their beliefs on the world and what they believed in. This revolution I believe had few consequences for economic life and living standards of the people. The revolution was a significant period in time that showed points in social, economical, religion, and educational points in that era. Overall it was a benefit to that era and the time we live in today.










The Scientific

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