The Scientific Revolution- was it really scientific, revolutionary and unique? Professor Dan Cohen addressed these questions in lecture this past week. The questions of the Scientific Revolution’s science, revolt, and rarity precipitated the need for concrete definitions of the concepts of science, revolution, and uniqueness. These concepts are difficult to define since each have transformed throughout history and rely on their relativity to past definitions. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries science evolved into a strict mathematically precise, empirically based, and objective practice. Or, at least the thinkers of that era like to think. The idea of the title “The Scientific Revolution” implies during this era there was a precipitous change in scientific thought the reshaped man’s understanding of the natural world.
Was the Scientific Revolution really scientific? Well, that depends on whom, but more importantly when you ask. Before and during Galileo’s life it was considered a “scientific” fact that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Modern physics disproves the idea of anthropocentrism, which goes to show that what is considered hard science during one period, can become superstition in another. Some of the greatest minds of the 16th and 17th centuries used rather subjective language, like terms of beauty, worth, and analogy, for descriptions for scientific processes even presence of subjectivity was expelled from scientific reasoning during this era.
For many the Scientific Revolution was defined by its break from medieval thought; however, many of the “new” ideas of the Scientific Revolution, relate back to or build upon Medieval and even ancient ideas from the times of Aristotle. Professor Basil Willey notes that thoughts of the time period were a blend of Medieval thought the ended at the triumph of the modern. According to Willey modern progressive thinking was a reversion back to ancient Greek and Roman classical thinking. There are two definitions of the word revolution to be considered in the treatment of The Scientific Revolution: that revolution refers to the process of revolving and revisiting the old with a new perspective, and that revolution involved a sudden break or overthrow of the status quo. Isaac Newton, a key member contributor to the science of the 16th and 17 centuries claimed that “if [he] [has] seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In other words, the greatest discoveries of the Scientific Revolution would not have been possible without the contributions Medieval and ancient minds. The revolution of the Scientific Revolution applies not as a break from past thought, but as an alteration and addition to ancient ideas and questions.
How did the discoveries of the 16th and 17th centuries differ from scientific progressions throughout the rest of history? The Scientific Revolution involved leaps throughout the realms of science, like physics, metaphysics, and scientific methodology, which had not simultaneously occurred before in single era of history. Wootten endeared this time period as “the birth of modern science.” Many of the discoveries of this era were compared to ancient discoveries and even myths. Newton for example mirrors Moses in his discovery and deliverance of God’s laws to the human world. The discoveries of the Scientific Revolution were not unique from discoveries in the level of progress, but differed in that many important discoveries were made throughout every type of science over a brief time period.
The Scientific Revolution embraces the definitions of scientific thought when compared to the science of the medieval time period; however, many aspects of this era may be considered to subjective in modern terms of science. The revolutionary aspect of 16th and 17th century science applies only if a revolution is defined as a revision and addition of past ideas. The particularity of the Scientific Revolution comes not from the complex individual progression, but from the progress of many areas of science in a relatively short time period. The most revolutionary aspect of The Scientific Revolution occurred not in science, but in the way the people thought about the way they thought. The largest impact of the Scientific Revolution had nothing to do with math or quality of science, but rather with human psychology and perception of thought.