What was the Scientific Revolution? Was it a time of immense advancement in the fields of math, astronomy, religion, and politics? Was it even the beginnings of the modern science we know today? The scientific revolution was a period between the 16th and 17th century that supposedly revolutionized the meaning of natural science. In short, this period is typically defined as the time when the most important scientific improvements were developed. It was a mathematically precise, experimentally based, objective body of knowledge that was a radical break from the medieval worldview.
Basil Willey says that the “seventeenth century begins with a blend of medieval and modern elements and ends with the triumph of the modern.” But isn’t this true of every major time period in which humans have grown to have a heightened understanding of the world in which they live? Let’s quickly look at what the term revolution means in this context. According to Dan Cohen, a revolution can be cover one of two themes: first, a revolution can refer to a revolt. This type of revolt could refer to something as violent, unsettling, and politically motivated as the Arab Spring, or something as small and relatively uncharged as a protest about the handling of animals in a slaughterhouse. The second type of revolution is the physical act of revolving. The earth for instance, revolving around the sun. Even on a smaller scale, there have been hundreds of so-called revolutions. Cohen explains that the grand Scientific Revolution was not particularly violent, nor was it particularly sudden. If nothing else is known about the revolution (ignoring completely the content, the characters, and the time period) other than that it was a revolution that was not particularly violent, and not particularly sudden, one might say that a revolution such as this seems nothing like that of the Arab Spring; this is exactly Cohen’s point. This was not a revolt of the kind that is publicized by the media today, but instead it was a return. It was a complete revolution to face back to classical antiquity. To rephrase an earlier question, aren’t there a vast number of possible revolutions regarding advancements in the fields of science, math, and technology? I’d say that in at least every century since the fourth century BCE, there has been some kind of advancement so radical to the scope of the time that the period itself be deemed a revolution. During the third century BCE for instance, Euclid wrote 13 books that would become the basis for mathematical theory. This work called “The Elements” is still used as the basis for every textbook on geometry over 2,000 years later. Or Ibn al-Haytham’s work on the very first controlled experiments the world had ever seen? This work alone should be enough to qualify the 11th century as a period of scientific revolution.
Dan Cohen brings up a really interesting idea, which is that the scientific revolution was not in fact a revolution, but instead a metaphor for what a revolution is. My own view is that there have been countless scientific revolution throughout the course of history that through the lens of the time periods have been just as grand as the scientific revolution is to ours.