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Schiller

University

European History I

The scientific achievements and discoveries of the late 16th and 17th
centuries - The Scientific Revolution
European History I (HI225)

Alina Becali
14.06.2014

Assignment for European History I - June 2014


Schiller University - Heidelberg

Assignment: The Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution



The Scientific Revolution of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries radically changed the perception of
the West European people. 'By tradition, the "Scientific Revolution" refers to historical changes in thought &
belief, to changes in social & institutional organization, that unfolded in Europe between roughly 1550-1700;
beginning with Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), who asserted a heliocentric (sun-centered) cosmos, it ended
with Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who proposed universal laws and a Mechanical Universe' (The Scientific
Revolution). In other words, the scientific revolution can also be seen as the development of modern science
throughout the early modern period. The discoveries made in physics, mathematics, biology and astronomy
brought about theories that changed old views of nature and society. Some argue that the scientific revolution
had started in Europe at the end of the Renaissance period and that it continued until the late 18th century,
being the force that influenced the Enlightenment movement. However, as our book tells us, it is certain that
'it began in the mid-sixteenth century and continued into the eighteenth century' (The West. Encounters &
Transformations. 3rd ed.). It is important to note that the scientific culture which arose in the West until the
end of the seventeenth century was the consequence of a set of cultural encounters. It derived from
interaction between scholars proposing diverse ideas or theories of how nature functioned. Some of the ideas
proposed came from the Greek philosophy while others from Christian ones. Also, some ideas had as a source
the late medieval science that had been modeled by the Islamic Middle East scholarship. In contrast to other
revolutions such as the political ones, the scientific revolution matured smoothly, over a longer time period.

Firstly, we will discuss the discoveries made within the field of astronomy. The most important change in
astronomy was the acknowledgement of the theory that the Sun was the center of the Universe and not the
Earth, as previously thought. Until the acceptance of this new idea, philosophers approved Claudius Ptolemy's
concepts which were based on calculations and on observations that supported Aristotle's cosmology. Both of
them thought that the stationary Earth was the center of the universe and that all planets including the moon
orbited it. Later on, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), a polish cleric, tried to find a simpler and a more
credible model of the universe. In 1543, 'The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres' was published, just after his
death. In his book, 'Copernicus argued that the universe consisted of eight spheres with the sun motionless at
the center and the sphere of the fixed stars at rest in the eighth sphere. The planets revolved around the sun
in the order of Mercury, Venus, the earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The moon, however, revolved around the
Assignment for European History I - June 2014
Schiller University - Heidelberg
Alina Becali

Assignment: The Scientific Revolution

sun' (Western Civilization, 5th ed.). Although his book was read, his theory did not really gain credit at the
beginning. Only a few very learned astronomers understood his mathematical arguments, but even so, they
were not keen to entirely accept Copernicus' theory. Only in the seventeenth century did support for his idea
start to rise. In 1609, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) demonstrated the central position
of the sun in his 'New Astronomy' book. He also explained that the planets did not follow circular orbits, but
elliptical ones and those they were governed by physical laws. At that time, Kepler's accomplishments were
not really taken into consideration.

Nevertheless, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was the one that succeeded to be the most credible, as his literary
skill helped him gain support. Using proofs gained from his observations made with the telescope, he
presented his ideas through a dialogue 'between the advocates of the two competing worldviews', being able
to 'demonstrate the plausibility and superiority of Copernicus' theory' (The West. Encounters &
Transformations. 3rd ed.). In 1632 he published the 'Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems';
although along with this he lost an important support from Pope Urban VIII, on the other hand, he won
support and appreciation from people that previously rejected the sun-centered theory of the universe. Due
to a trial that came from the Catholic Church, he had no other choice but to abandon all the support he had
for the Copernican model of the universe. In spite of the fact that Galileo's book was sent to the Index of
Prohibited Books, by 1700, the Copernican model had gained strong support among the educated public as
well as among scientists.

A second area which contributed to the Scientific Revolution due to the discoveries made is Physics. Galileo
was present here as well, making contributions to the problem of motion. In the first place, he used
experiments to demonstrate that if an uniform force would be exerted over an object, it wouldn't move at a
constant speed, but at an accelerated one. Secondly, he came up with the principle of inertia when he claimed
that unless diverged/ curved by an external force, a body in motion continues moving forever. He also
explained what Copernicus had tried to put forward, that even though we do not feel any movement, the
Earth moves; this was due to his discovery that proved that an object's motion only occurs in connection to
things that don't move. In 1638, he published the 'Discourses on the Two New Sciences of Motion and
Mechanics'.

Assignment for European History I - June 2014


Schiller University - Heidelberg
Alina Becali

Assignment: The Scientific Revolution

The English scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) had the greatest accomplishments in physics (in the
scientific revolution). As a child, he built wooden models of machines such as windmills. He came up with a
group of mathematical laws that provided explanations for the physical world's operation. In 1687 the
'Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy' was published. The focus of his work was the universal law of
gravitation, which illustrated that the force, which holds an object to the Earth, is the same as the force
holding the planets revolving. 'The implications of Newton's universal law of gravitation were enormous, even
though it took another century before they were widely recognized. Newton had demonstrated that one
universal law, mathematically proved, could explain all motion in the universe, from the movements of the
planets in the celestial world to an apple falling from a tree in the terrestrial world' (Western Civilization, 5th
ed.).

Continuing with the third field in which valuable discoveries were made, we will comment on a different
scientific field: chemistry. Medieval medicine was dominated by the teachings of Galen (physician). He had
great influence in physiology, anatomy and disease. Treatments of disease was for instance based on Galen's
doctrine of four bodily humors: Yellow bile, dry and warm: blood, seen as moist and warm; black bile, dry and
cold; and phlegm, moist and cold. The imbalance of humors was seen as the cause of the disease, which led to
the patient's urine becoming the main diagnostic tool. When we refer however to the seventeenth century
chemistry, we associate it with Robert Boyle (1627-1691). Boyle put an end to the prevailing concept that all
fundamental constituents of matter have the same structure. He argued that the organization of their
components was the source determining their characteristics. Atoms or corpuscles represented the
arrangement of the components. Additionally, he made experiments on the pressure, volume and density of
the elasticity of air and on the density of gas. His experiments made with the air pump, which was invented by
him in 1659, demonstrated the fact that the vacuum existed. Thanks to Robert Boyle's discoveries, chemists
were finally accepted as being 'accredited' members belonging to the company of scientists.

Continuing with the last set of discoveries, William Harvey (1578-1657), an English physician, achieved to
demonstrate that blood circulated in the human body. This occurred in 1628, when he published 'On the
Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals'. He explained that the liver was not the source from which the
blood ran into the veins, but the heart was responsible for this. Also, through his observations and
experiments, he sustained that a complete circuit was made by the blood as it passed through the entire body.
Harvey's theory concerning the circulation of the blood was the one that created the basis for modern
physiology. A single question that was not really answered was how was the blood able to reach the end of
the veins from the end of the arteries. This was not really touched by his theory. In 1661, an answer was given
Assignment for European History I - June 2014
Schiller University - Heidelberg
Alina Becali

Assignment: The Scientific Revolution

by scientists, as the microscope (which was a new instrument) gave them the possibility of observing that the
veins and the arteries were connected by capillaries. Even so, Harvey had achieved to set the standard for
biological research.

Having discussed the discoveries that marked the Scientific Revolution, we should also comment on the
methods used by these scientists to investigate nature. Although there was no 'scientific method' in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, scientists experimented and observed, by means of deductive reasoning.
In their continuous search for scientific knowledge, they translated their theories into mathematical terms,
being sure that the nature functioned just like a machine. These gave birth to a different Western approach in
regard to scientific problem solving. Observation along with hypotheses testing through experimentation were
mainly used as tools. This was an induction process and it can also be characterized as empirical. The second
aspect of the scientific research during the scientific revolution was the practice of deductive reasoning. This
assumed that the principles established by deductive reasoning could lead to new laws or ideas that could be
deducted using logic. This is strongly linked to rationalism. The third and last scientific research feature was
the study of the physical world by applying mathematical principles. The best example can be found in
Newton's work, which is primarily based on mathematical calculations that resulted in different laws.
Mechanical philosophy was also assumed by scientists at that time. This means that they perceived the natural
world as functioning like a machine created by human beings.

In conclusion, the scientific revolution impacted the views of Western Europeans especially when it comes to
the way they perceived the supernatural realm, the natural world, as well as themselves. It created
controversies in politics, philosophy and religion and notable changes in business, navigation, and in military
technology. Apart from this, it served as a 'justification' for which the West was claiming superiority over the
civilizations of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. With Copernicus , Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei (also
contributed to physics) making discoveries in astronomy, with Sir Isaac Newton being heavily involved in
physics, with Robert Boyle discovering the elements of nature and with William Harvey coming up with ideas
about the circulation of the blood, the scientific revolution directed science towards a more advanced level,
helping humans to evolve in this matter.


Assignment for European History I - June 2014


Schiller University - Heidelberg
Alina Becali

Assignment: The Scientific Revolution

References:



(1) The Scientific Revolution. Dr. Robert A. Hatch. Retrieved on 13th of June 2014 from
http://web.clas.ufl.edu/users/ufhatch/pages/03-Sci-Rev/SCI-REV-Teaching/03sr-definition-concept.htm

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(2) The West. Encounters & Transformations. 3 ed. Brian Levack. Edward Muir. Meredith Veldman

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(3) Western Civilization. 5 ed. Jackson J. Spielvogel



Assignment for European History I - June 2014


Schiller University - Heidelberg
Alina Becali