While I have heard mentions of the Scientific Revolution in passing, I have never stopped to question or ponder its meaning, implications, or what it truly was. Colloquially it is popular to call almost anything a revolution nowadays. A company, like Apple for example, is often described as revolutionary in terms of its products, designs, or trends set. And maybe this is why I find the Scientific Revolution hard to understand at first glance. This lecture helped me understand what the Scientific Revolution was, and that our modern use of the word “revolution” is rooted back in the Scientific Revolution. As Professor Dan Cohen concluded: The most revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution is that we now use the word “revolution” as a metaphor. For instance, the “mobile revolution”, which describes a series of inventions and innovations (rather than a violent change of power or politics), has allowed me to type this up!
The change in usage and meaning of words over time adds to the ambiguity of understanding the Scientific Revolution (or indeed many other things in the past!). From given name alone, it is impossible to interpret the significance or context of the Scientific Revolution. In its current and least potent form, a “revolution” can be something as simple as any notable change. However, from my involvement in science classes, both before and at Colby, it is clear that my experience is unlike that of a scientist (whatever that may mean across time) four or five centuries ago. So something did happen. Maybe what happened led to the great advances of science mentioned so often in modern physics. It seemed like almost every day during my modern physics classes we were covering material and scientists that had earned Nobel prizes in their time. Furthermore, they built off of and improved upon Newton’s and others’ work closer to the time of the Scientific Revolution. So really it was a revolution in our way of thinking, and the way we do science? As I have gathered, that is one interpretation.
The Scientific Revolution may not be described as change happening at the pace one might expect from a revolution, or with the brand new findings that would be anticipated. However, across the wider scale of science in humanity, not just Eurocentric science history, it seems like in the time of the Scientific Revolution up until now that there have been massive advances in science, worthy of the designation “revolution.” At this pace – with big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning no longer on the horizon but here already – it is doubtful that we will recognize the science of the future. It would be fascinating to see what our period in time will be renamed as, and would we find it suitable?
I conclude, from my relatively limited knowledge on the subject, that using the word “revolution” in the title “the Scientific Revolution” is at the very least appropriate by the standard to which we use “revolution” today.