For those of you who are into science and math (BLESS YOU), this will hopefully be an interesting and maybe even exciting section on the Scientific Revolution. For the rest of you, I promise your science and math teachers have not hijacked this class and all will be returned to normal shortly.
Remember Martin Luther who started the Protestant Reformation? Well, he wasn’t the only one at that time who was sharing ideas that challenged the status quo and his wasn’t the only movement that benefited from the new-fangled machine called the printing press. Throughout the Middle Ages (1100 ~ 1350), it wasn’t like no one ever thought about how things worked in the world around them. In fact, there were philosophers (aka thinkers) at the time who actually constructed a model of the universe. It’s just that they referred alllllllllll the waayyyyyy back (hundreds and hundreds of years) to ancient thinkers for their views. They accepted the geocentric theory of Aristotle and Ptolemy (oh, and of the Church) stating that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon, and planets rotated around it. Cute, I know. Lucky for us and scientists everywhere, a Polish dude named Nicolaus Copernicus thought maybe 2,000 years was long enough to wait for a new idea. And after 30 years of research, he came to the scandalous conclusion that the sun was the real star (haha, star…get it?) and center of the universe. This new heliocentric (sun-centered) theory was such an outrageous notion that Copernicus hesitated to share it with the general public. In 1543, he was finally convinced to publish his book, which explained the concept that the earth rotated on its axis around the sun and the moon orbited earth. Legend has it that he was very sick when the book was finally finished, but he awakened from a coma, saw the final product, and promptly died. A bit dramatic, don’t you think?
About 60 years later, a Danish astronomer named Johannes Kepler used direct observation to further confirm the heliocentric theory. Kepler may have been jealous that Copernicus got credit for dismantling the geocentric theory of the universe (because really, it has a nice ring to it), but he didn’t let that stop him from making history himself. He pointed out that Copernicus wasn’t 100% accurate in thinking that the planets orbited the sun in a perfectly circular fashion. Nope, Kepler claimed that they were actually elliptical (egg shaped) orbits. Take that, Copernicus! (Oh, you’re dead? My bad.)
As a teenager studying medicine, Galileo Galilei realized that Aristotle was wrong about pendulums, finding that each swing took the same amount of time as the rest (while Aristotle had taught that a pendulum swings more slowly as it gets closer to its resting place). While we may not be feeling the excitement, it IS pretty impressive to imagine a 17-year-old being the first to discover that one of the most well-known, ancient Greek philosophers and scientists was wrong. Next, Galileo designed a string pendulum to help doctors take a patient’s pulse. At this point, he switched from medicine to math and then became a professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa at the age of 25. Show off. While professoring, he challenged another theory of Aristotle and concluded that falling objects fall at the same rate of speed. Aristotle (the bumbling idiot that he was) thought heavier objects fell faster than lighter objects. (I’ll be honest, I might’ve thought that too.) To top it all off, Galileo later built himself a telescope and showed the people of Venice that it could see ships 50 miles offshore. He kept at it and developed more and more powerful telescopes, eventually building one that could make objects appear 30 times closer and 1,000 times larger. GAME CHANGER. With this nifty device, Galileo discovered that Jupiter had four moons, the sun had spots, and that the earth’s moon did not have a smooth surface.
As we saw with Luther, the Church is not always excited to welcome new ideas. And Galileo’s discoveries directly contradicted the Church’s concept of the universe (with earth and humans at the center and with stars and planets made of perfect pure, smooth, eternal substances). And like the case with Luther, the Church made a bit of a stink about it. Galileo’s ideas were banned in 1616 and then, in 1633, he was threatened with torture before finally signing a confession taking them back and calling the heliocentric theory of Copernicus false.
The thing about ideas is that once they are out there, there’s really no taking them back. Even though Galileo was kept under house arrest until he died and had renounced his ideas, that didn’t keep them from spreading.
Speaking of math professors like Galileo, Isaac Newton just happened to be one at Cambridge University. Let me set the scene. Newton was born in 1642 — 100 years after Copernicus published his book about the heliocentric (sun centered) theory of the universe (and also died) and the same year that Galileo died. He lived in England during the civil war between the king and Parliament which you will remember from chapter 18. Now, why do we care about him? Because Newton gets the award for discovering the law of gravity (aka universal law of gravitation) – the idea that the same force rules the motions of the planets, the pendulum, and all matter on earth and in space. In 1687, he used math to state that “every object in the universe is attracted to every other object by a force called gravity” and this “could explain all motion in the universe.” This remained the biggest deal in understanding the universe until Albert Einstein shared his ideas in 1905 (over two hundred years later!). Newton knew that he couldn’t have come to this conclusion without advancements by others, saying, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Classy guy.
Astronomy and ideas about the universe weren’t the only concepts frozen in time since the ancient Greeks. General understanding of the human body also came from that period, specifically from a Greek physician named Galen who made conclusions about humans based on the dissection of animals. He’d studied the anatomy of sheep, pigs, goats, and apes and obviously assumed humans were basically the same. We are not. In the same year that Copernicus published his heliocentric (sun centered) theory of the universe (and also died), a Flemish doctor named Andreas Vesalius, (not from “Flem” but from modern-day Belgium) published a book illustrating human muscles, bones, and organs in great detail. He had dissected actual humans and found (spoiler alert) that these were not the same as animals. Another helpful addition to the understanding of anatomy came from William Harvey who pointed out that the heart wants what it wants, and what it wants is to pump blood. Unlike Galen’s theories, he showed that the heart (not the liver) was the source of circulation of blood which flowed through veins and arteries in a circuit through our bodies. Bye Galen!
Ok, let’s be honest, there were a LOT of other scientific contributions during this time (including some from women – shout out to the ladies!) but it’s unreasonable to expect you to memorize all of them. Just know that things were happening and people were learning more and more about the world…
Philosophy & Reason
Around the time of the 30 Years War, Richelieu running France, and England’s civil war, a French man was doing a LOT of thinking. René Descartes was the founder of modern philosophy. He studied analytic geometry, optics, astronomy, and what is now called psychology. On the other hand, he also saw doubt, confusion, and uncertainty everywhere in society at that time. How could anyone know anything for sure (#fakenews #alternativefacts)? Descartes came to the conclusion that he knew one thing for sure: “I think, therefore I am.” Say what? Basically, he was confident in his own existence. From there, he reasoned that his mind couldn’t be doubted (it was his, after all), but the body and material world could be questioned (see: the list of all the chaos happening in the 1600s). Therefore, “the two must be radically different.” Yeah, it’s a little bit over my head too, but the point is that he emphasized a separation of body and mind. This led to a whole new system of thought called rationalism — “the belief that reason is the chief source of knowledge.”
Francis Bacon was born in 1561 in England shortly after Queen Elizabeth took the throne and died before the civil war. He (like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Vesalius, and Harvey) didn’t think scientists should just assume that ancient philosophers were right about everything. He suggested that instead scientists should use inductive reasoning (using specific facts to understand more general ideas) and should make conclusions based on observation and experimentation. These concepts formed the basis of the scientific method. Clearly, Francis Bacon had a significant influence on the scientific world, considering it is still used to this day. Frannie Bakes gets credit for the scientific method, but he definitely wasn’t the only one who helped develop the concept. He may have had the loftiest goals for it though: “The true and lawful goal of the sciences is none other than this: that human life be endowed with new discoveries and powers.” He also said, “I am laboring to lay the foundation, not of any sect or doctrine, but of human utility and power.” Way to have realistic expectations, sir.