REVOLUTION-Key Contributions to the Scientific Revolution of the 17 th and 18 th centuries The Scientific Revolution brought about a change in the Western world. Prior to the 17 th and 18 th centuries, many Europeans strongly believed in the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic ideology of the physical world. When these ideas were replaced by Copernicus’s heliocentric theory in the 16 th century, other scientists had the opportunity to offer their input on the complexity of the physical world surrounding them. Important methodology was necessary during the Scientific Revolution to make scientists’s ome times absurd theories believable. One of the most profound methods used during the 17 th and 18 th centuries was the Scientific Method. This procedure was a logical and physical process consisting of four steps that led scientists to universal conclusions.
Empirical evidence, or evidence based on concrete facts, was another method used by scientists of this era to prove their theories. Using the scientific method backed by empirical evidence, scientists had the potential to reform European thought. One of the key scientists during the 17 th and 18 th centuries was Johannes Kepler, who theorized about planetary motion and speed. Another important scientist of the revolution was Galileo Galilei. With his invention of the telescope, astronomers could get the empirical evidence they needed to prove hypotheses that would have otherwise been rejected by the majority of the scientific world.
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One of the last major scientists of this era was Sir Isaac Newton. He proved a law of universal gravitation that we still rely on today. Kepler, Galilei, and Newton were a few of the scientists that, with the use of the Scientific Method, reformed society’s thoughts of the physical world during the 17 th and 18 th centuries. Many Europeans prior to the Scientific Revolution studied and accepted the findings of Aristotle and Ptolemy Aristotle (384-322 BC. ) was an important Greek philosopher and scientist.
He spent much of his life “exploring the meaning and properties of being and of nature.” 1 Aristotle, like most ancient philosophers, was concerned with causation. He was intrigued by the thought of the First Cause, or the Prime Mover, which was the name given to the initial event that set everything into motion. While Aristotle focused much of his research on human thought and our capacity for knowledge, Ptolemy concerned himself with more physical, tangible aspects of our universe. The Ptolemaic system was “an earth-centered view of the universe.” 2 This system attempted to analyze the motions of celestial bodies to predict their future positions. The Ptolemaic system assumed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that all the heavenly bodies were perfect spheres with circular orbits. Because of this assumption, Ptolemy had to insert smaller circles and confusing equations into his system to compensate for planetary motion that did not support his predictions.
Even though confusing, Europeans backed the Ptolemaic system for years, until the advent of the heliocentric theory set forth by Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16 th century. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) lived during the height of the Renaissance, a time when Italy was going through major changes and social reform. Copernicus set the foundation for the Scientific Revolution; although a detailed explanation of his work is not necessary, a brief summary will help in understanding Western Europeans’ ideas leading up to the 16 th century. Copernicus’s main goal was to seek “a new solution to the age-old problem of the planets: how to explain the apparently erratic planetary movements by means of a simple, clear, elegant mathematical formula.” 3 Copernicus based much of his work on attempting to correct all of the confusion caused by his predecessor, Ptolemy. However, he still believed, as Ptolemy did, that the planets moved with uniform circular motion. This tradition forced Copernicus’s equations and theories “finally to have as much mathematical complexity as Ptolemy’s.” 4 However, Copernicus did make progress in unraveling the mystery of the planets.
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He changed Ptolemy’s system from an earth-centered theory to a sun-centered one. This heliocentric theory, as it was then called, was later followed up and simplified by Kepler, Galilei, and Newton. Scientific experimentation, to the extent that Kepler, Galilei, and Newton relied on, could not have been achieved without a process for them to follow. Present day scientists have concluded that “precisely what differentiated seventeenth-century science from that of the Middle Ages was the discovery and practice of a new experimental methodology.” 5 This new methodology is called the Scientific Method and, in it’s most elementary form, is simply a physical process of four basic steps: . Identify the issue or topic.
Form a hypothesis about a specific issue. Gather data by one of four methods: examine existing sources survey (i. e. written questionnaire or oral interview) observation experimentation. Analyze the data and present findings 6 In a logical sense, the Scientific Method answers the question, “What kind of operation known to occur in Nature, applied to [this] particular case, will unravel and explain [this] mystery”7 More generally, it is any process that guides scientific research and experimentation to reproducible results.
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This process usually consists of two types of reasoning: inductive and deductive. Inductive reasoning requires one to form a general theory from specific observations and experiments; deductive reasoning requires one to account for specific experimental results from previous theories. “By such reasoning processes, science attempts to develop the broad laws such as Isaac Newton’s law of gravitation that become part of our understanding of the natural world.” 8 One of the most influential factors when proving experimental results lies in the type of evidence presented. Empirical evidence is virtually indisputable. Therefore, if a theory is backed by empirical evidence, there is a good chance that it will be accepted as fact.
Scientists such as Kepler, Galilei, and Newton employed the Scientific Method in conjunction with empirical evidence to ensure their conclusions were true and respectable all over Europe. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a key scientist during the 17 th century. He believed in the heliocentric theory, yet still “set out to discover the simple mathematical laws that would solve the problem of the planets.” 9 After many years of painstaking research, Kepler came to the conclusion that planetary orbits could not be perfect circles, as the heliocentric theory suggested, and “discovered that the observations precisely matched orbits shaped as ellipses… .” 10 Kepler also found that planetary speed was not uniform amongst all of the planets as most Europeans still believed from Ptolemy’s system; in fact, planetary speed was determined by the planet’s distance from the sun: fastest near the sun, slowest far away. Although the orbits were elliptical and the speed of the planets’ revolutions around the sun differed, Kepler realized that equal areas of space were swept out in equal intervals of time anywhere on the orbital ellipse of the planet. [Kepler’s] one simple geometric figure and his one simple mathematical speed equation produced results that precisely matched observations of the most rigorous quality – something none of the previous Ptolemaic solutions…
had ever accomplished. 11 Johannes Kepler forced Europe to take the heliocentric theory, with his modifications, seriously. He thus paved the way for Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton to expand on his ideas. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) achieved his fame by what could be considered the most notable contribution to the scientific community: the invention of the telescope.
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Every observation that Galileo made through his telescope reinforced the Copernican heliocentric theory of the planets. Galileo discovered a wealth of evidence that seemed to refute Ptolemaic cosmology but favored Copernican ideology. For example, he found that the moon’s surface was uneven and the sun had spots that seemed to come and go. These observations proved that celestial bodies were not perfect, unblemished spheres as Ptolemy suggested. With his telescope, Galileo was able to prove that large celestial bodies, such as Jupiter, could have revolving satellites while still maintaining a larger orbit around the sun.
This made it plausible that the Earth could have a moon revolving around it while still maintaining a larger orbit. Before this discovery, it was thought that “the Earth could not move around the Sun, or else the Moon would have long ago spun off its orbit.” 12 Galileo was also able to prove that the Milky Way was composed of a multitude of stars, thus making the universe much larger than previously imagined. “A new celestial world was opening up to the Western mind, just as a new terrestrial world was being opened by the global explorers.” 13 Galileo’s observations of the universe along with Kepler’s mathematical support made sure that the revised heliocentric theory was accepted in astronomy, but this theory was confusing and lacked key answers to seemingly simple questions. For example, the circle was considered the perfect shape in the 17 th and 18 th centuries. Now that the circle was replaced by the ellipse, doubt arose among Europeans in the validity of the heliocentric theory. If the planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun, how did they start moving in the first place Because the planet’s orbits are not circular anymore, what force is keeping them in place around the sun instead of flying off arbitrarily into space “Ptolemy had been satisfactorily replaced, but not Aristotle.” 14 It fell to Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) to answer these questions.
He discovered a law of universal gravitation, which is defined as “a force that could simultaneously cause both the fall of stones to the Earth and the closed orbits of the planets around the Sun.” 15 With this astounding discovery, Newton brought the heliocentric theory, along with Kepler’s mathematics and Galilei’s observations, together into one concise principle. Together with Newton’s correct calculation of gravity, answers to previously unexplainable questions were found. “The Scientific Revolution-and the birth of the modern era-was now complete.” 16 All of the previously mentioned scientists used the Scientific Method to help them to arrive at conclusions on some of their most profound discoveries. Galileo used the Scientific Method in his study of falling bodies. He observed that heavy objects fall with increasing speed. After deciding to focus on the speed of falling objects, he formulated the hypothesis that the speed attained is directly proportional to the distance traveled.
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Since he could not test this hypothesis directly, he used deductive reasoning to predict that objects falling unequal distances require the same amount of elapsed time. This was a false conclusion, so his hypothesis must have been false. Therefore, Galileo formed a new hypothesis: the speed attained is directly proportional to the time elapsed, not the distance traveled. From this, he concluded that the distance traveled by falling object is proportional to the square of the time elapsed.
17 Isaac Newton utilized the scientific method in many of his greatest discoveries. For example, he focused on the task of finding the correct calculation for the acceleration due to gravity in 1665. He based his first hypothesis on Galileo’s research. Newton then decided to measure gravity via a conical pendulum experiment as follows: The measurement, with a conical pendulum 81 inches long inclined at an angle of 45 degrees, revealed that a body starting from rest falls 200 inches in a second, a figure very close to the one we accept but roughly twice as large as the one he had found in Galileo’s Dialogue.
18 Later refinement of this experiment led Newton to a more precise measure of the acceleration due to gravity that we still use today, 9. 8 m / s 2. The use of the Scientific Method also played a part in the advent of the inverse-square law. Kepler stated his third law in the late 16 th century to be: the cubes of the average radii of the planets vary as the squares of their periods. Newton was able to follow Kepler’s experimentation by way of the Scientific Method, and he went on to compare the “endeavour of the Moon to recede from the centre of the Earth.” 19 He substituted Kepler’s third law into his formula for centrifugal force and found that “the endeavours of [celestial bodies] receding from the Sun… will be reciprocally as the squares of the distances from the Sun.” 20 This statement, called the inverse-square law, related Kepler’s third law and circular mechanics, and is still highly used today.
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Using a standard method of research, scientists such as Kepler and Newton were able to build off of each other’s findings to achieve a common goal. The Scientific Revolution changed the minds of Western Europeans dramatically during the 17 th and 18 th centuries. Scientists such as Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Sir Isaac Newton achieved astounding success by proving such ideas as the heliocentric theory of the planets and the law of universal gravitation. Without key methodology, however, none of these brilliant scientists would have been able to prove their theories. The scientific community was truly blessed during the 17 th century with the Scientific Method. By using the Scientific Method in conjunction with empirical evidence, great scientists such as Kepler, Galilei, and Newton were able to build on previous experiments and reach universal conclusions that were beneficial to all.
1 Aristotle.” Encyclopedia Americana. 1993 ed. 2 Ptolemaic System.” Encyclopedia Americana. 1993 ed. 3 Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, (New York: Random House, 1991), 248. 4 Tarnas 255.
5 David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 BC. to AD. 1450, (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1992), 361. 6 “The Scientific Method.” The Volume Library 2. 1986 ed.
7 Samuel Rapport and Helen Wright, eds. , Science: Method and Meaning, (New York: New York University, 1963) 8 “The Scientific Method.” Microsoft Encarta 95. 1995 ed 9 Tarnas 256. 10 Tarnas 256. 11 Tarnas 257. 12 Tarnas 258.
13 Tarnas 259. 14 Tarnas 261. 15 Tarnas 269. 16 Tarnas 271. 17 Pietro Redon di, Galileo heretic, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
18 Westfall 150. 19 Westfall 152. 20 Westfall 152.