What is a revolution? A radical, violent change. An overthrow of government. A fundamental change to the scientific understanding of the world. And also, arguably, an irreversible change to the physical nature of the world itself.
“The” scientific revolution, was indeed a dramatic change in reasoning that substantially changed human understanding of how the world works. Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism introduced in 1543, which states that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the solar system, dramatically altered the scientific perspective of how we view our world. This revolutionary view was further augmented by the development of Newton’s theories of light, motion, and gravity. And between these two great names, there were many more small discoveries that contributed to this transformation of our understanding of the world, and also the universe. These advances were able to occur because of new inventions and the improvement of technology. For example, Galileo’s invention of the telescope was crucial to the development of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, as the theory was based off of observations made using the telescope. The creation of the microscope, also by Galileo, allowed for many advances in medicine and biology to occur.
If this radical change in our understanding of the world was considered “the” scientific revolution, shouldn’t a rapid development of human caused changes to our planet, also resulting from the development of technology, be considered a scientific revolution as well? These changes that are occurring comprise of the rapid development of industry and technology which is fueling climate change. This radical alteration is completely unprecedented, unlike anything that has occurred before in human history. Since 1950, there has been a dramatic increase in a number of complexly related factors, such as population, economic growth, fertilizer consumption and disposable plastics. These extreme changes stem from an explosion of technology, both during the industrial revolution and in a series of developments that occurred after World War II, which led to a rise in the consumption of technology, such as of motor vehicles and telephones. This modernization of our world is the beginning an entire new era of geologic time, in which humans are the primary influence on our planet’s climate and environment, known as the Anthropocene.
Maybe this second revolution doesn’t precisely follow the “textbook” definition of a scientific revolution. It isn’t necessarily a perfect fit for Thomas Kuhn’s conception of the structure of scientific revolutions, which requires the rejection of one scientific theory for another. However, the transformation occurring today still is very revolutionary in nature. Like “the” scientific revolution, it is a result of a dramatic increase in and improvement of technology. While “the” scientific revolution represented a change in the human understanding of the world, the revolution today represents a physical change in how the world works. Although a different kind of change, the alteration occurring today is arguably even more important than the first scientific revolution. And this second revolution has yet to fully develop. Humanity is only in the process of understanding the implications of our actions and what must be done in order to revitalize our planet before it is too late. Perhaps, the real revolution will be when humanity fully realizes this new state of our planet, and takes the action necessary to stop the damage.