“How Revolutionary—and how scientific—was the Scientific Revolution?” is a lecture presented by Professor Dan Cohen, sponsored by the college’s Art and Humanities Center. In the lecture, Prof. Cohen investigated both the revolutionary aspect and the scientific aspect of the Scientific Revolution, which denotes a time period between the 16th and 17th centuries, during which our perception of the cosmos has completely changed.
Now, in the post-Scientific Revolution era, I, with thousands of millions of students majoring in sciences, ask the question: how accurate or scientific is the knowledge that we are learning now?
The statistics are shocking: a significant portion of the knowledge that we learned in college freshman year would be outdated by the time we graduate; thousands of institutions are educated people for the jobs and industries that have not been created yet at the time of their enrollment. This perplexes us: what exactly are we learning, and what exactly are we preparing for?
In my math and physics classes, especially in the upper level ones where professors talk about their current research, I always hear about the same story: this theorem is derived 50 years ago; this critical paper is published 10 years ago; no one believed this model 5 years ago. Now as we are accepting Relativity as the general truth, perhaps a hundred years from now it would be as obsolete as the Newtonian.
To look for answers, we have to look back at the Scientific Revolution. Back then, people’s thinking resemble ours now: believing what they knew were factual, for example, a geocentric model and a flat cosmos. They believed that their science was not influenced by superstition, and was the best way to understand the surrounding cosmos. Today as we look back, we discover their concept of science to be saturated with cultural and religious beliefs. For example, Copernicus, in an argument of heliocentrism, instead of citing numbers or making observations, insists that the sun “deserves” to be the center of universe as it is “noble”, an argument that you would not find in the scientific realm today. Kepler, one of the greatest mathematician, determined that “worthiness” was linked to geometrical shapes when he made the great discovery of Keplerian orbits.
Thousands of years ago, ancient Greek philosopher theorized the four causes of events in the cosmos: the material cause, the formal cause, the agent/effective cause, and the final cause. These four causes are ingrained in our intuition thinking, that despite the official definition of science does not concern the fourth cause, scientists, especially biologists, are still costumed to look for the purpose a specific trait, or of an evolutionary pattern: the reason for the bug to have short legs must be so that they have advantage elsewhere, right? However, in reality, traits in living organisms do not always have an evolutionary purpose: many of them are just there for the ride, including diseases like Alzheimer’s which evolution does not have the tactic to eradicate.
In all, the Scientific Revolution is not going to be the only scientific revolution. As academia revolves constantly with new knowledge produced and published every second, our understanding of the world will be very different every time we look back.