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How revolutionary was the "Scientific Revolution"?

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fegeldolfy Posted: Thu, Nov 8 2012 8:28 PM

I'm writing a paper for my English class on the scientific revolution. At first I was planning on writing on how revolutionary it was, but as I'm researching online it doesn't seem so revolutionary at all. Certainly the methodology changed, which is revolutionary. But the term, and indeed the mood in my class seems to be, "no science happened before this". Can anyone who's studied science, or the history of science, either as a scholar or as a layman, offer any help with this? Furthermore, does anyone know any good sources that analyze the political, economic, and social impacts of the Scientific Revolution?

Maybe I should reread the chapter about science in Tom Woods' book on the Catholic Church.

 

Thanks.

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Groucho replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 8:46 PM

The scientific revolution refers to the period when great advances in scientific understanding were made beginning back around the time of the renaissance and onward. Mostly this was related to mechanical physics, mathematics (calculus), non-geocentric models of astronomy, and, in general, empiricism with regard to understanding the natural world.

EDIT: as far as it's impact, it was the beginning of the end for the "one true church" and it's presumed authority in describing nature.

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 8:49 PM

The scientific method was extremely revolutionary if only because it finally brought about the scientific method. I have no idea why, but humanity had an extremely difficult time actually stringing together the ideas that it takes to develop the scientific method. The fact that the system developed, both effectively and philosophically is exceedingly revolutionary.

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So it's more about the scientific method, and not really about "there was no science before the scientific revolution"?

 

It's just I see things that seem to contradict what I learn in class- for example I just found out that Aristarchus of Samos developed a heliocentric model of the universe long before Copernicus. I also remember Tom Woods' book seeming to argue that, contrary to popular belief, Catholic scientists did not reject new scientific discoveries on the basis that they contradicted the bible.

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Anenome replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 9:02 PM

Look into the Saracens and Islamic transmission of science to the west. The Rennaissance and enlightenment probably took place because of idea-exchange with local Saracens.

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Groucho replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 9:09 PM

Catholic scientists may have known about heliocentric models of the solar system, but the Church most definitely disapproved of the plebeians being able to know about it.

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 9:12 PM

It's pretty f***ing obvious that there was science before the scientific revolution, as evidenced by the large amount of technology used in various fields, especially in architecture. It's also quite obvious that there was a great increase in scientific discovery after the scientific revolution. I would argue this is because science and knowledge became values and had institutions develop around them, as well as the fact that the scientific method became increasingly apparent as the way to perform inquiry, and these allow a much easier and greater amount of data to be compiled and facts to be discovered.

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The Rennaissance and enlightenment probably took place because of idea-exchange with local Saracens.

Well, not necessarily, it depends what you mean.  Certainly some Classical texts were preserved and introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages through interaction with Muslims (those of Aristotle being the key ones).  But most of the texts that were important in the beginning of the Renaissance movement came from European manuscripts, copied over centuries.  The Arabic transmission of Classical authors had a much bigger influence in the Middle Ages than it did in the Renaissance (since both the Muslims and Medieval Christians favoured philosophical texts, while the Renaissance Christians favoured political, literary, and aesthetic texts).

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Ok-well it's only a rough draft that's due tomorrow, so I'll just type some stuff out and worry about this later.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Nov 8 2012 9:42 PM

<revisionist history>

I believe the scientific revolution is greatly exaggerated, particularly the novelty of the experimental method. Read up on Galen. How the hell did he know all that anatomical knowledge, more than a thousand years before the scientific revolution, without anybody ever having cut open a cadaver? It's just not believable. Also, read up on Islamic science prior to 1500 - in the Islamic empire, experimental physical knowledge flourished. The physical law of conservation of mass goes back to the Islamic scholar Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī who noted that a certain weight of salt dissolved in a certain weight of water results in a solvent liquid (salt-water) whose weight is the sum of the salt and the water respectively. Hence, the salt does not disappear. From this and other considerations, he concluded that mass cannot ever be destroyed but merely changes form.

The "scientific method" is itself a hubristic label. There is no method to discovery. There are just a lot of different techniques that have been found to work. The caveman who consciously tried a different shape of flint knife to see if he could flay a carcass with less effort was an experimental scientist. The "scientific method" is just an elaboration and formalization of the body of the known experimental techniques.

Also, the idea that scientific knowledge is either empirical or deductive is oversimplified. While we can clearly distinguish the two for the sake of philosophical discussion, the fact is that most scientific knowledge is derived from a combination of empirical experiment and deductive (geometric) reasoning.

For example, consider the law of inertia. We're all taught in physics class that "Newton said a body in motion remains in motion and a body at rest remains at rest." But why did he say that? Just because it makes the professor's calculus equations work out on the blackboard??

Galileo argued the law thusly. Consider two ramps butted end to end with angles A and B respectively and consider a ball rolled down the ramp with angle A. How far will it go up the ramp with angle B? Galileo found that the height the ball will go up the ramp with angle B is independent of the angle B... that is, the ball will always rise nearly to the height it was at when it was released on the ramp with angle A (not exactly the same height, due to friction). He then reasoned about what would happen in the limiting case... what if angle B were reduced until it was zero (horizontal)? How far would the ball travel sans friction? The answer is, obviously, that it would continue on forever. This answer cannot be determined or verified by experiment. The law of inertia is the result of this thought-experiment that is a complex mixture of experimental knowledge (rolling the ball over the ramps) and deductive reasoning (the limiting case).

</revisionist history>

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Anenome replied on Fri, Nov 9 2012 3:33 AM

What really kickstarted the scientific world was free exchange and openness of knowledge.

Scientific knowledge goes well back to the ancient Egyptians and before, where it was treated as mystical, magical knowledge and likely taught and developed as a form of religious magic, for the purpose of calculating the motions of the planets, and later for architectural purposes.

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Kakugo replied on Fri, Nov 9 2012 3:58 AM

As far as we know (written history only goes back that far) the scientific method was born well before the Christian era. A broad generalization is we had two main centers of thinking from which science irradiated: China and the Greek-speaking world.

The Chinese approach was more "hands-on", meaning the Chinese concentrated on sciences with an obvious and immediate practical application (printing press, civil engineering, selective breeding etc). The Greek approach was more "theoretical", meaning they excelled in studies with required a bit of polishing to be used in practice (mathematics, geometry, physics etc).

The Roman civilization represented the natural evolution of the Greek scientific methods: without Greek mathematics and physics the Romans would never have been able to erect their famous acqueducts and fortifications which stand to this day. Roman engineers and physicians went to Citium, Ephesus, Rhodes, Andros etc to study under Greek-speaking teachers and acquire Greek manuscripts. While the pupil sometimes surpassed the master (the Romans invented the bearing arch which, for all their advanced mathematics, the Greeks weren't able to) it was obviously a symbiotic relationship.

Science started declining in the West with the decline of the Roman Empire. As capital was getting progressively scarcer and economy moved towards substinence, learning started to slip away. The Dark Ages of Science started by convention in 476AD. This year the great library of Constantius II in Byzantium burned to the ground in an accidental fire. By this date the famous library of Alexandria was a shell of its former self, following the destruction of many irreplaceable volumes by Christian extremists at the close of the IV century hence the library in Byzantium was the foremost place of learning in the West.

The revival of learning started in the West in the IX century in Frankish Europe, Greek Byzantium and Muslim Baghdad, for different reasons. In Europe the Carolingian Renaissance laid particular emphasis on the reform and education of the clergy. In Byzantium it was an effect of the much improved conditions of the IX century and, indirectly, Iconoclasm: we are told in 814AD Emperor Leo V ordered a bibliographic search to be made of patristic testimonia favorable to Iconoclasm and teams of clergymen scoured churches, monasteries and other places of learning for every scrap of book they could find to prove or disprove the Emperor's claims. Also wealthier Byzantines developed an almost insatiable appetite for learning leading to the rediscovery of endless works of science. In Baghdad, the wealthiest city in the world, patronage became common: we are told that caliph al-Mamum offered Leo the Mathematician, a Greek monk of incredible learning, an enormous sum to move to Baghdad and open a scientific school there. He was however outbid by Emperor Theophilos who set up Leo as a paid teacher of secular learning at the Church of the Forty Martyrs. Leo taught mathematics, astronomy, music and geometry. Theophilos's successor, Caesar Bardas, particularly distressed by the decline of secular science, promoted Leo as the head of a new istitution whose sole scope was teaching secular sciences, the Magnaura. The Magnaura was the first scientific istitution we know about in the West: schools in Frankish Europe mostly concerned themselves with theology and teaching Latin. The Magnaura instead concerned itself only with scientific matters (astronomy, geometry etc) and had a chair of "grammar" whose scope was to teach pupils how to read classic Greek from ancient manuscripts.

After the crisis of the V-VIII century scientific learning stopped declining in the West. For all the highs and lows the financial and social situation kept improving through the centuries. Periods of renovated scientific interest usually coincide with periods during which capital is more abundant and average living conditions improve. For example when Byzantium was reduced to a shell of its former self, the wealthy merchants of Florence stepped in. The same can be said about Industrial England or Merchant Holland. The only exception to this is Spain. Despite being flooded with American silver and having some of the best schools in the World (an heritage of the Moorish occupation), Spain only made marginal contributions to the Western scientific thinking and learning and most of these were relegated to the fields of medical expertise and economic thinking.

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It's very hard to think of doing a decent and useful history report in terms of "ages" and "revolutions".  Most of these  "ages" etc, are merely a label after the fact - and usually by an intellectual class wishing to promote a certain "tone", "mood", "flavor", etc to orient you to a certain position in a certain way, that almost always obfuscates the interesting facts and processes of history (wether this is done nauively or not it is of no affair, the fact is it is what is done).  It's all very Wagerian, and you are always fed some new myth to surplant an old one.

 

Anyway, soapbox aside:

If you wish to look into the "scientific revolution" - look into the history of what Francis Bacon, and maybe even Renee Descartes were dealing with, and why they did what they did. I'm sure there are good sources online that will orient you in this direction.  Just look for generalities - that is, don't actually read Bacon, rather read biographies or histories of what he was dealing with at the time. 

If that's not enough for good sources: try Max Weber and his geneologies.

If your having problems finding anything within the next few days and you are interested in taking your report in that direction, I'll try to be more specific with citable internet sources.  I would suggest you just go to your local dowtown or university library though and pickup and browse some Max Weber works - or works that deal heavily with Bacon and his world.

Oh, and do try to look up credible academic sources - don't go to cranks or revisionists - it will make you look crazy and ideologically driven.

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Paul Feyerabend's Against Method is a very good source to look at. I can't remember which chapter it is but there is a section in it where he discusses Galileo's debate with other astronomers at the time about the geocentric vs heliocentric model.

He shows that actually the more conservative geocentric astronomers were acting more "scientifically" than Galileo. The primary reason for the resistance to heliocentricism wasn't because, as someone above mentioned, that Church officals were trying to block heretical information but because geocentricism had more predictive and explnatory power initially and they weren't about to overturn a long established theory without convincing evidence that a radical shift would result in an increase in knowledge.

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