The first lecture of the Continuing Revolutions seminar was about “The Scientific Revolution”, by Dan Cohen. The main idea of the lecture was actually proof-checking whether that event that we so proudly call the scientific revolution was that special after all. In order to answer this question we primarily have to actually be sure we know what do we mean by the term revolution. Revolution represents a sudden radical change in absolutely new direction that affects an enormous number of people who are not interconnected. Now, what Cohen successfully explains in his lecture is that we should not take things we hear for granted, but question them, not for the sake of the argument or just to spite the others, but in order to check if a certain statement is true or not. Even John Stuart Mill has come to this conclusion in his book “On Liberty”. He states that if something that is taken as a truth is not questioned or is protected from questioning, it becomes a dead dogma where the truth actually loses its strength because the ones who believe in it, believe in it without actually understanding why they think that is truth. It is important to notice that here we do not talk about the revolutions that might exist on the personal level and whether they can actually be called revolutions, as that is a completely different discussion.
So, was “The scientific revolution” the, scientific or revolutionary?
As it was shown during the lecture, many scientific parts of this revolution were not exactly that scientific. The scientists of that time had many bigot perspectives and have actually not made any experiments (something essential to any scientific process), but just tried to support the hypothesis they had in any possible way. They actually even ridiculed the scientist who, as we can see now, were right the whole time. That was the time when it was more important who you were and who supports than what you were saying. Continuing further, we can see that there were many different events in our history that can be seen as more important for the scientific community than the one we call “The one”. The difference does exist between them: Only The revolution took place in the western world, while when the major mathematic discoveries were created together with incredible advances in medicine much before this revolution in Arabic world, for example, nobody even thought of calling that “The one”. Following this argument, one can say that The scientific revolution was not even that revolutionary, as some of the things were only rediscovered by the western scientists – in other parts of the world knowledgable people knew about those things long time before that.
Nevertheless, The scientific revolution was definitely an important time in the history of mankind, but was not necessarily the only time when changes of that kind were made, or when the changes of that size were made. The truth is, however, that the history is written by the winners and we all know who colonized the rest of the world – white male christian western European. Thus, what these people have considered to be the most important remained written in the history books that we read now as the most important, even though it did not have to be. Hopefully, we learned from that and are ready now to appreciate revolutions wherever they are, just for the sake of their utility and impact.
The revolutions explored so far this semester have mostly addressed events in the past; the periods of adjustment following these have ended, and their effects have been implemented in society. Khalid Albaih’s lecture addressed a current ongoing political revolution in Egypt. The societal implications of political revolutions can be overtly demonstrated to the rest of the world using images, publications, art. Other, more abstract, can be difficult to detect and their effects on society sometimes go unacknowledged. The world is currently going through one of these more abstract revolutions. With the development of technology, humans have obtained the ability to gather massive amounts of data, so much data, in fact, that we cannot review and process it all.
What is data? In latin it translates to “a thing given.” Facts and evidence are the results of sets of data, which help demonstrate the significance of data to society. The use of data arose as a tool in science around the 17th century. During the era of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution people could no longer rely on their assumptions to explain phenomena of the natural world, they needed quantifiable proof.
Francis Bacon emphasized the use of images and visual representations of matter to describe natural phenomenon. The use of words to explain processes was considered to be less scientific than visual representations. Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was a perfect example of how images worked better than words to describe scientific knowledge. His book contained images of flies under a microscope, which allowed normal people to actually see what they looked like up close instead of relying on the words of scientists in combination their own imaginations for descriptions. Visual representations were seen as more scientifically accurate since they relinquished the influence of subjective imagination that follows literary descriptions.
Today, illustrations or pictures, like Hooke’s, are not considered to be the most effective way of demonstrating scientific knowledge to a community. To further purge subjectivity from scientific processes, people have started to show information in purely quantitative and measurable terms, numbers. Now, graph and charts are used to explain processes. For example, in the 19th and early 20th century scientists looked images of embryos at different under a microscope to visualize patterns of allometric growth. This comparing images would sufficiently serve as evidence of allometric growth patterns. Today, these images would need supplemental graphs comparing the precise measurements of allometric structures at different stages of growth. As data has become more complex, the modes are portraying the meanings of data have also evolved.
The development of complex software and computational tools have changed the way that we handle data. In the 17th century, scientists dealt with the question of whether or not a set of data was obtained under subjective procedures. Today, people rely on technology, which is assumed to be objective, to gather sets of data. The questions now are, what do we do with it all, how do we decide which data sets are worth exploring, and how can we portray this “big data” to society? Storing data is also a modern dilemma. The massive amounts of data produces with modern technology may be overwhelming and most of it probably serves no use for society at large. However, if people are able to create programs that can effectively collate and organize “big data,” more of it could be useful to society.
Professor Cohen’s lecture began with an interesting definition about exploration of ideas explaining humanity’s relation to our planet. Basically he states that science is about exploring the cosmos in order unfold the essence of us. He believes that all people desire to know more about our purpose on earth through understanding more about our earth and how our existence affects our earth. Now I thought this was an interesting way to begin a talk on the scientific revolution because usually professors who discuss this period talk about the production of knowledge and how these developments are the crux of advancing knowledge. While important, I believe this idea of exploring the cosmos in order to unfold the essence of humans really allows us to understand whether the Scientific Revolution of 16th century is truly a revolution or merely evolution. What I will argue is this period does not mark a period of revolution in our view of the cosmos, and that I believe it merely an evolution in the depth that we explore the cosmos.
The main reason I believe the Scientific Revolution to be merely an evolution of ways that we explore the cosmos is that much of the empiricism that was supposedly revolutionary developed out of Greek, Indian, and Islamic discoveries. Specifically, thinkers like Ibn al-Haytham developed a system of empiricism that many European scientist and mathematicians were noted as being the pioneers of, such as the development of hypotheses. This is important because this empiricism has been articulated as being the fundamental reason for Europe’s superior advancement at this period. But as you can see that assertion actually a historical misconception that does not give credibility to the legacy it developed from. Further, many of the hypotheses that developed and were seen as changing our view of the cosmos were often later disproved and or merely developed in Europe at the time and were believed in other parts of the world earlier. Views, such as heliocentrism that were supposedly discovered by the European intellect Corpernicus, who developed a system of astronomy that we note as giving us our view toward Earth’s rotation, seasons, and the understanding that we revolve around the sun. However, this view does not give proper due to previous thinkers hundreds of years before such as al-Buruni who discovered the notion of heliocentrism in Iran. This is important because this apparent new understanding about our relation to the cosmos is seen as a large reason for this period being revolutionary but it merely discredits non-European thinkers and doesn’t articulate the discovery for what it is, an evolution on inherited theories.
Overall, it is apparent that although the period of the Scientific Revolution marks a deeper understanding and development of empirical study about the cosmos in the European tradition it does not mark a revolution in how the whole world explored the and understood cosmos. Merely, this period marked an evolution in the understanding that European intellectuals had about our earth and the world around us.
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.
The Scientific Revolution was thought of as impeccable and the end of huge scientific discoveries. The latter being a point Professor Cohen briefly mentioned in his talk. Specifically, he stated that at this time in history it was believed that future research would simply consist of tweaking what’s has already been but no breakthroughs. One reason The Scientific Revolution was understood as the optimum point in science is due to the select few who were a part of this history, privileged, white males. The people who made the Science Revolution what it is, was such a small population. Thus, I agree with Professor Cohen’s remark on future advancements: what’s to come in science will be completely different from what was done then and is being done now. I believe the future of science will be even more praiseworthy as our world has so many prospective “scientist” who have many platforms to be inspired and also, create.
The Science Revolution as exemplary. The scientific revolution holds a special spot in history for the people and the advances they made at the time. Some examples are, Nicolas Copernicus and his publication, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Galileo with, Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World, and Johannes Kepler’s third law of planetary motion. Professor Cohen had challenged how scientific these scientists were as there standards differ from those that exist today. Nonetheless, the advances stand as very scientific and revolutionary. Moreover, The Scientific Revolution stands out for its transition from “the blend of medieval and modern elements to the triumph of the modern.” This is distinctive as a typical revolution is thought to lead to something completely new, however, this revolution simply transitioned to the end of something.
Hence, why wouldn’t the people of this era think this was the prime of science discovery? This idea nonetheless was ignorant and self centered of the scientist at the time. Those most noted as the revolutionaries are white, Christian, and males. This shows how close minded and unhopeful society was of having different kinds of people contribute to these meaningful events in history. On the other hand, those to blame for the chosen handful thought to be revolutionaries could solely be those responsible for writing and passing history down.
Thus, there is a dramatically different future awaiting. The advancements of today and the various forms of media allow the average person to think of countless possibilities. The movies and TV shows of today already show how creative people can get. An example TV show is one from Disney channel, Phil of the Future, meant for young adults can be seen as inspiring people from a young age to think outside the box. Consequently, the scientific revolution to come will be completely different from the one of the past and what we are doing now.
The Scientific Revolution was a monumental time period for the advancement of human kind. Not only did the discoveries of the time make us rethink our place in the universe, but the Scientific Revolution initiated a paradigm shift that would change the way of thought for future generations.
One of the fundamental inventions of the revolution was The Scientific Method. Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes helped innovate this idea. The idea was a step by step method for conducting experiments which emphasized gathering data and doubting all assumptions until evidence says otherwise. The Scientific Method was only one of many inventions of the time that allowed for this paradigm shift. Some of the other important creations of the time were the microscope, barometer and the telescope. Most notably, the telescope which was invented by a dutch priest in the early 1600’s, and refined by Galileo later on, allowed astronomers to see further into the cosmos. This extended human capability allowed Galileo to see discover Jupiters largest moons, many new stars but most importantly it allowed him to confirm Copernicus’s model of an heliocentric Solar System. By being able to observe the sunspots on the sun, he confirmed that the sun rotated and that the planets orbited it. Without these innovations in experimentation and observation the paradigm shift that was The Scientific Revolution would not have happened.
As the human kind enters the most dramatic time of technological change our species has ever endured, I wonder if another paradigm shift lays ahead. The advancements in information technology have provided humans with a platform to observe the knowledge of human kind with ease, and preform calculations that are virtually instantaneous. In some ways the internet has already created a paradigm shift of mind. People have started to no longer make bold assumptions or claims about past knowledge before accessing the internet to see if the rest of humankind agrees. Some futurists believe that this access to big data and future technologies will cause a paradigm shift that could affect our every thought. As our world continues to integrate with technology every thought we have could be checked or added to with technological aids. It may be that rational experimental and scientific thought is no longer trusted or helpful without the aid of artificially intelligent brain integrated systems. A human with extended brain power may be able to answer our species greatest questions such as the nature of our existence, and the mystery of life in the universe. A new scientific revolution may be just around the corner.
When we think about why humans have the power to influence the world in a global scale, one of the most important factors that we should not ignore is the science. For a long time, we had acquired knowledge, made tools, and built civilizations. None of them could be achieved without science. However, if we think about “science” as a word and a kind of languages, we will find that it is also revolutionary.
The goal of this lecture was to determine if the Scientific Revolution was, in fact, revolutionary and scientific, as well as unique. The ultimate answer to all of these questions was “yes,” however the “why?” was not completely obvious. The Scientific Revolution is considered by many as the invention of modern science as we know it today. The revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution was that it was a time for arguing about and challenging the scientific theories that ultimately led to the creation of the modern day canon of natural science. These theories are very rarely challenged today, even though science has evolved since the creation of this canon. However, it important to also consider who and what were left out of this canon as it was being developed and what this means for modern science.
Professor Cohen touched on the concept that what is considered science has changed throughout every generation. What we call superstitions today once were considered facts to be taken seriously by previous generations. Past scientists used rationalizations, some which sound laughable to the modern ear, to explain natural phenomena and make sense of the world around them. Who is to say that future generations will not think the same about our definition of science? We are just explaining the world around us in the most accurate way we can, but it may not be what is absolutely correct. However, the scientific theories agreed upon during the Scientific Revolution are the backbone of modern science today and have not changed, which is a very substantial accomplishment considering how much science has evolved.
My understanding of the definition of a canon is that it is a set of rules or standards required for inclusion within a field of study. These rules have been agreed upon and established by the “greats,” and are generally not challenged. The creation of a canon is something we study, but rarely get to see happen in our life times. A political revolution results in a change in power or organization, so a scientific revolution would have similar implications. The Scientific Revolution introduced changes to the way science had been discussed and thought about and created the canon of natural science, so I would argue that it is indeed a revolution.
When it comes to cannons, there is always a group of thought, type of people, or other group left out. Not all ways of thinking are going to be included, but there are exclusions that do not seem to be based off of merit or intellect. Not being included in the cannon delegitimizes one’s work, can be detrimental to development of new ideas, and limits the discourse around the subject. While the revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution was the creation and debate about the natural scientific canon, this lecture lead me to wonder who and what were excluded from the canon. Eventually the conclusion was revealed to be anyone who was not a “pale, male, Christian.” Modern science as we know it had already begun in other parts of the world. The Scientific Revolution was essentially when these ideas reached Europe. This says something about the world as whole if this particular time is hailed as “the” Scientific Revolution. It further challenges me to ponder who is still excluded and how this affects science today.
“The most revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution was that we use a metaphor of a revolution to describe it.” That conclusion was very provocative to me. As products of their time and culture, and as aware and critic of themselves and their environment, the scientists during the Scientific Revolution started using the word revolution to explain their circumstances. “Revolution” was not only used as a metaphor to challenge the past and current standards and establish a new scientific outlook, it was also used as a cyclical historical term to describe a pattern.
During the Scientific Revolution, knowledge stopped being about enlightenment and faith and started being about experiments and testing. Although the theories were abstract and mathematical in nature, they were able to be tested physically with experiments. Everything could be put to the test in this process of discovering new principles through empirical methods and mathematical analysis. Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes created the foundations of thinking about our thinking about the world and established a new approach to methodological inquiry. This new paradigm echoed the rise of humanism during the Renaissance, which questioned religious authority and emphasized the capacity of individual human beings to understand the world. The Scientific Revolution relied heavily on a capacity for abstract thinking and a precise use of language in order to become such a powerful period in history.
According to Chalmers Brothers and Vinay Kumar, language is a tool we cannot stop using because we need it to use all other tools. Language does not only communicate and describe; by making distinctions, it creates, generates, and provides us access to conceptual breakthroughs. By acquiring distinctions and giving them a name, we discriminate between things we didn’t see as different before. New ways of seeing things allow us to do what we could not do before. In short, language and distinctions give us access to knowledge. Once you have the distinction, you have created the conceptual space for understanding and access breakthroughs. The thinkers of the Scientific Revolution realized they were living a turning point in modern science and culture, they were aware of the distinction, and named that distinction “revolution”. Even though the word could be used in different contexts (to roll back, to return, overturning, as an astronomical term…) and could take the form of different truths, it contributed to understanding and thinking about the world.
Centuries later, we continue to enhance and discover new meanings to the distinction made by the phrase “Scientific Revolution” using new analytical methods through data. We can now see we weren’t able to see before and distinguish deep structures and patterns in history. By reinterpreting the Scientific Revolution in terms of language we uncover a pattern of a continuing process of change as a critical part of history.
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.