The Scientific Revolution



Roots of the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution, which emphasized systematic experimentation as the most valid research method, resulted in developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry. These developments transformed the views of society about nature.

Learning Objectives

Outline the changes that occurred during the Scientific Revolution that resulted in developments towards a new means for experimentation

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The scientific revolution  was the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy), and chemistry transformed societal views about nature.
  • The change to the medieval idea of science occurred for four reasons: collaboration, the derivation of new experimental methods, the ability to build on the legacy of existing scientific philosophy, and institutions that enabled academic publishing.
  • Under the scientific method, which was defined and applied in the 17th century, natural and artificial circumstances were abandoned and a research tradition of systematic experimentation was slowly accepted throughout the scientific community.
  • During the scientific revolution, changing perceptions about the role of the scientist in respect to nature, and the value of experimental or observed evidence, led to a scientific methodology in which empiricism played a large, but not absolute, role.
  • As the scientific revolution was not marked by any single change, many new ideas contributed. Some of them were revolutions in their own fields.
  • Science came to play a leading role in Enlightenment discourse and thought. Many Enlightenment writers and thinkers had backgrounds in the sciences, and associated scientific advancement with the overthrow of religion and traditional authority in favor of the development of free speech and thought.

Key Terms

  • empiricism: A theory stating that knowledge comes only, or primarily, from sensory experience. It emphasizes evidence, especially the kind of evidence gathered through experimentation and by use of the scientific method.
  • Galileo: An Italian thinker (1564-1642) and key figure in the scientific revolution who improved the telescope, made astronomical observations, and put forward the basic principle of relativity in physics.
  • Baconian method: The investigative method developed by Sir Francis Bacon. It was put forward in Bacon’s book Novum Organum (1620), (or New Method), and was supposed to replace the methods put forward in Aristotle’s Organon. This method was influential upon the development of the scientific method in modern science, but also more generally in the early modern rejection of medieval Aristotelianism.
  • scientific method: A body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge, through the application of empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. It has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
  • British Royal Society: A British learned society for science; possibly the oldest such society still in existence, having been founded in November 1660.

The Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution was the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy), and chemistry transformed societal views about nature. The scientific revolution began in Europe toward the end of the Renaissance period, and continued through the late 18th century, influencing the intellectual social movement known as the Enlightenment. While its dates are disputed, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus ‘s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) is often cited as marking the beginning of the scientific revolution.

The scientific revolution was built upon the foundation of ancient Greek learning and science in the Middle Ages, as it had been elaborated and further developed by Roman/Byzantine science and medieval Islamic science. The Aristotelian tradition was still an important intellectual framework in the 17th century, although by that time natural philosophers had moved away from much of it. Key scientific ideas dating back to classical antiquity had changed drastically over the years, and in many cases been discredited. The ideas that remained (for example, Aristotle ‘s cosmology, which placed the Earth at the center of a spherical hierarchic cosmos, or the Ptolemaic model of planetary motion) were transformed fundamentally during the scientific revolution.

The change to the medieval idea of science occurred for four reasons:

  1. Seventeenth century scientists and philosophers were able to collaborate with members of the mathematical and astronomical communities to effect advances in all fields.
  2. Scientists realized the inadequacy of medieval experimental methods for their work and so felt the need to devise new methods (some of which we use today).
  3. Academics had access to a legacy of European, Greek, and Middle Eastern scientific philosophy that they could use as a starting point (either by disproving or building on the theorems).
  4. Institutions (for example, the British Royal Society) helped validate science as a field by providing an outlet for the publication of scientists’ work.

New Methods

Under the scientific method that was defined and applied in the 17th century, natural and artificial circumstances were abandoned, and a research tradition of systematic experimentation was slowly accepted throughout the scientific community. The philosophy of using an inductive approach to nature (to abandon assumption and to attempt to simply observe with an open mind) was in strict contrast with the earlier, Aristotelian approach of deduction, by which analysis of known facts produced further understanding. In practice, many scientists and philosophers believed that a healthy mix of both was needed—the willingness to both question assumptions, and to interpret observations assumed to have some degree of validity.

During the scientific revolution, changing perceptions about the role of the scientist in respect to nature, the value of evidence, experimental or observed, led towards a scientific methodology in which empiricism played a large, but not absolute, role. The term British empiricism came into use to describe philosophical differences perceived between two of its founders—Francis Bacon, described as empiricist, and René Descartes, who was described as a rationalist. Bacon’s works established and popularized inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or sometimes simply the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today. Correspondingly, Descartes distinguished between the knowledge that could be attained by reason alone (rationalist approach), as, for example, in mathematics, and the knowledge that required experience of the world, as in physics.

Thomas Hobbes, George Berkeley, and David Hume were the primary exponents of empiricism, and developed a sophisticated empirical tradition as the basis of human knowledge. The recognized founder of the approach was John Locke, who proposed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) that the only true knowledge that could be accessible to the human mind was that which was based on experience.

New Ideas

Many new ideas contributed to what is called the scientific revolution. Some of them were revolutions in their own fields. These include:

  • The heliocentric model that involved the radical displacement of the earth to an orbit around the sun (as opposed to being seen as the center of the universe). Copernicus’ 1543 work on the heliocentric model of the solar system tried to demonstrate that the sun was the center of the universe. The discoveries of Johannes Kepler and Galileo gave the theory credibility and the work culminated in Isaac Newton’s Principia, which formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.
  • Studying human anatomy based upon the dissection of human corpses, rather than the animal dissections, as practiced for centuries.
  • Discovering and studying magnetism and electricity, and thus, electric properties of various materials.
  • Modernization of disciplines (making them more as what they are today), including dentistry, physiology, chemistry, or optics.
  • Invention of tools that deepened the understating of sciences, including mechanical calculator,
    steam digester (the forerunner of the steam engine), refracting and reflecting telescopes, vacuum pump, or mercury barometer.
image

The Shannon Portrait of the Hon. Robert Boyle F. R. S. (1627-1691): Robert Boyle (1627-1691), an Irish-born English scientist, was an early supporter of the scientific method and founder of modern chemistry. Boyle is known for his pioneering experiments on the physical properties of gases, his authorship of the Sceptical Chymist, his role in creating the Royal Society of London, and his philanthropy in the American colonies.

The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment

The scientific revolution laid the foundations for the Age of Enlightenment, which centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and emphasized the importance of the scientific method. By the 18th century, when the Enlightenment flourished, scientific authority began to displace religious authority, and disciplines until then seen as legitimately scientific (e.g.,  alchemy and astrology) lost scientific credibility.

Science came to play a leading role in Enlightenment discourse and thought. Many Enlightenment writers and thinkers had backgrounds in the sciences, and associated scientific advancement with the overthrow of religion and traditional authority in favor of the development of free speech and thought. Broadly speaking, Enlightenment science greatly valued empiricism and rational thought, and was embedded with the Enlightenment ideal of advancement and progress. At the time, science was dominated by scientific societies and academies, which had largely replaced universities as centers of scientific research and development. Societies and academies were also the backbone of the maturation of the scientific profession. Another important development was the popularization of science among an increasingly literate population. The century saw significant advancements in the practice of medicine, mathematics, and physics; the development of biological taxonomy; a new understanding of magnetism and electricity; and the maturation of chemistry as a discipline, which established the foundations of modern chemistry.

image

Isaac Newton’s Principia, developed the first set of unified scientific laws

Newton’s Principia formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the cosmos. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles. His laws of motion were to be the solid foundation of mechanics.

Physics and Mathematics

In the 16th and 17th centuries, European scientists began increasingly applying quantitative measurements to the measurement of physical phenomena on the earth, which translated into the rapid development of mathematics and physics.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between the different key figures of the scientific revolution and their achievements in mathematics and physics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The philosophy of using an inductive approach to nature was in strict contrast with the earlier, Aristotelian approach of deduction, by which analysis of known facts produced further understanding. In practice, scientists believed that a healthy mix of both was needed—the willingness to question assumptions, yet also to interpret observations assumed to have some degree of validity. That principle was particularly true for mathematics and physics.
  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, European scientists began increasingly applying quantitative measurements to the measurement of physical phenomena on the earth.
  • The Copernican Revolution, or the paradigm shift from the Ptolemaic model of the heavens to the heliocentric model with the sun at the center of the solar system, began with the publication of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, and ended with Newton’s work over a century later.
  • Galileo showed a remarkably modern appreciation for the proper relationship between mathematics, theoretical physics, and experimental physics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, and the observation and analysis of sunspots.
  • Newton’s Principia formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. He removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system.
  • The electrical science developed rapidly  following the first discoveries of William Gilbert.

Key Terms

  • scientific method: A body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge that apply empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. It has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
  • Copernican Revolution: The paradigm shift from the Ptolemaic model of the heavens, which described the cosmos as having Earth stationary at the center of the universe, to the heliocentric model with the sun at the center of the solar system. Beginning with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, contributions to the “revolution” continued, until finally ending with Isaac Newton’s work over a century later.
  • scientific revolution: The emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy), and chemistry transformed societal views about nature. It began in Europe towards the end of the Renaissance period, and continued through the late 18th century, influencing the intellectual social movement known as the Enlightenment.

Introduction

Under the scientific method that was defined and applied in the 17th century, natural and artificial circumstances were abandoned, and a research tradition of systematic experimentation was slowly accepted throughout the scientific community. The philosophy of using an inductive approach to nature—to abandon assumption and to attempt to simply observe with an open mind—was in strict contrast with the earlier, Aristotelian approach of deduction, by which analysis of known facts produced further understanding. In practice, many scientists (and philosophers) believed that a healthy mix of both was needed—the willingness to question assumptions, yet also to interpret observations assumed to have some degree of validity. That principle was particularly true for mathematics and physics. René Descartes, whose thought emphasized the power of reasoning but also helped establish the scientific method, distinguished between the knowledge that could be attained by reason alone (rationalist approach), which he thought was mathematics, and the knowledge that required experience of the world, which he thought was physics.

Mathematization

To the extent that medieval natural philosophers used mathematical problems, they limited social studies to theoretical analyses of local speed and other aspects of life. The actual measurement of a physical quantity, and the comparison of that measurement to a value computed on the basis of theory, was largely limited to the mathematical disciplines of astronomy and optics in Europe. In the 16th and 17th centuries, European scientists began increasingly applying quantitative measurements to the measurement of physical phenomena on Earth.

The Copernican Revolution

While the dates of the scientific revolution are disputed, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) is often cited as marking the beginning of the scientific revolution.
The book proposed a heliocentric system contrary to the widely accepted geocentric system of that time. Tycho Brahe accepted Copernicus’s model but reasserted geocentricity. However, Tycho challenged the Aristotelian model when he observed a comet that went through the region of the planets. This region was said to only have uniform circular motion on solid spheres, which meant that it would be impossible for a comet to enter into the area. Johannes Kepler followed Tycho and developed the three laws of planetary motion. Kepler would not have been able to produce his laws without the observations of Tycho, because they allowed Kepler to prove that planets traveled in ellipses, and that the sun does not sit directly in the center of an orbit, but at a focus. Galileo Galilei came after Kepler and developed his own telescope with enough magnification to allow him to study Venus and discover that it has phases like a moon. The discovery of the phases of Venus was one of the more influential reasons for the transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism. Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica concluded the Copernican Revolution. The development of his laws of planetary motion and universal gravitation explained the presumed motion related to the heavens by asserting a gravitational force of attraction between two objects.

Other Advancements in Physics and Mathematics

Galileo was one of the first modern thinkers to clearly state that the laws of nature are mathematical. In broader terms, his work marked another step towards the eventual separation of science from both philosophy and religion, a major development in human thought. Galileo showed a remarkably modern appreciation for the proper relationship between mathematics, theoretical physics, and experimental physics. He understood the parabola, both in terms of conic sections and in terms of the ordinate (y) varying as the square of the abscissa (x). He further asserted that the parabola was the theoretically ideal trajectory of a uniformly accelerated projectile in the absence of friction and other disturbances.

Newton’s Principia formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the cosmos. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth, and of celestial bodies, could be described by the same principles. His prediction that Earth should be shaped as an oblate spheroid was later vindicated by other scientists. His laws of motion were to be the solid foundation of mechanics; his law of universal gravitation combined terrestrial and celestial mechanics into one great system that seemed to be able to describe the whole world in mathematical formulae. Newton also developed the theory of gravitation. After the exchanges with Robert Hooke, English natural philosopher, architect, and polymath, he worked out proof that the elliptical form of planetary orbits would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector.

The scientific revolution also witnessed the development of modern optics. Kepler published Astronomiae Pars Optica (The Optical Part of Astronomy) in 1604. In it, he described the inverse-square law governing the intensity of light, reflection by flat and curved mirrors, and principles of pinhole cameras, as well as the astronomical implications of optics, such asparallax and the apparent sizes of heavenly bodies. Willebrord Snellius found the mathematical law of refraction, now known as Snell’s law, in 1621. Subsequently, Descartes showed, by using geometric construction and the law of refraction (also known as Descartes’ law), that the angular radius of a rainbow is 42°. He also independently discovered the law of reflection. Finally, Newton investigated the refraction of light, demonstrating that a prism could decompose white light into a spectrum of colors, and that a lens and a second prism could recompose the multicolored spectrum into white light. He also showed that the colored light does not change its properties by separating out a colored beam and shining it on various objects.

image

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans, 1636

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) improved the telescope, with which he made several important astronomical discoveries, including the four largest moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and the rings of Saturn, and made detailed observations of sunspots. He developed the laws for falling bodies based on pioneering quantitative experiments, which he analyzed mathematically.

Dr. William Gilbert, in De Magnete, invented the New Latin word electricus from ἤλεκτρον (elektron), the Greek word for “amber.” Gilbert undertook a number of careful electrical experiments, in the course of which he discovered that many substances were capable of manifesting electrical properties. He also discovered that a heated body lost its electricity, and that moisture prevented the electrification of all bodies, due to the now well-known fact that moisture impaired the insulation of such bodies. He also noticed that electrified substances attracted all other substances indiscriminately, whereas a magnet only attracted iron. The many discoveries of this nature earned for Gilbert the title of “founder of the electrical science.”

Robert Boyle also worked frequently at the new science of electricity, and added several substances to Gilbert’s list of electrics. In 1675, he stated that electric attraction and repulsion can act across a vacuum. One of his important discoveries was that electrified bodies in a vacuum would attract light substances, this indicating that the electrical effect did not depend upon the air as a medium. He also added resin to the then known list of electrics. By the end of the 17th Century, researchers had developed practical means of generating electricity by friction with an anelectrostatic generator, but the development of electrostatic machines did not begin in earnest until the 18th century, when they became fundamental instruments in the studies about the new science of electricity. The first usage of the word electricity is ascribed to Thomas Browne in 1646 work. In 1729, Stephen Gray demonstrated that electricity could be “transmitted” through metal filaments.

Treasures of the RAS: Starry Messenger by Galileo Galilei: In 1610, Galileo published this book describing his observations of the sky with a new invention – the telescope. In it he describes his discovery of the moons of Jupiter, of stars too faint to be seen by the naked eye, and of mountains on the moon. The book was the first scientific publication to be based on data from a telescope. It was an important step towards our modern understanding of the solar system. The Latin title is Sidereus Nuncius, which translates as Starry Messenger, or Sidereal Message.

Astronomy

Though astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences, its development during the scientific revolution entirely transformed societal views about nature by moving from geocentrism to heliocentrism.

Learning Objectives

Assess the work of both Copernicus and Kepler and their revolutionary ideas

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The development of astronomy during the period of the scientific revolution entirely transformed societal views about nature. The publication of Nicolaus Copernicus ‘ De revolutionibus in 1543 is often seen as marking the beginning of the time when scientific disciplines gradually transformed into the modern sciences as we know them today.
  • Copernican heliocentrism  is the name given to the astronomical model developed by Copernicus that positioned the sun near the center of the universe, motionless, with Earth and the other planets rotating around it in circular paths, modified by epicycles and at uniform speeds.
  • For over a century, few astronomers were convinced by the Copernican system. Tycho Brahe went so far as to construct a cosmology precisely equivalent to that of Copernicus, but with the earth held fixed in the center of the celestial sphere, instead of the sun. However, Tycho’s idea also contributed to the defense of the heliocentric model.
  • In 1596, Johannes Kepler published his first book, which was the first to openly endorse Copernican cosmology by an astronomer since the 1540s. Kepler’s work on Mars and planetary motion further confirmed the heliocentric theory.
  • Galileo Galilei designed his own telescope, with which he made a number of critical astronomical observations. His observations and discoveries were among the most influential in the transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism.
  • Isaac Newton developed further ties between physics and astronomy through his law of universal gravitation, and irreversibly confirmed and further developed heliocentrism.

Key Terms

  • Copernicus: A Renaissance mathematician and astronomer (1473-1543), who formulated a heliocentric model of the universe which placed the sun, rather than the earth, at the center.
  • epicycles: The geometric model used to explain the variations in speed and direction of the apparent motion of the moon, sun, and planets in the Ptolemaic system of astronomy.
  • Copernican heliocentrism: The name given to the astronomical model developed by Nicolaus Copernicus and published in 1543. It positioned the sun near the center of the universe, motionless, with Earth and the other planets rotating around it in circular paths, modified by epicycles and at uniform speeds. It departed from the Ptolemaic system that prevailed in western culture for centuries, placing Earth at the center of the universe.

The Emergence of Modern Astronomy

While astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences, dating back to antiquity, its development during the period of the scientific revolution entirely transformed the views of society about nature. The publication of the seminal work in the field of astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus ‘ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) published in 1543, is, in fact, often seen as marking the beginning of the time when scientific disciplines, including astronomy, began to apply modern empirical research methods, and gradually transformed into the modern sciences as we know them today.

The Copernican Heliocentrism

Copernican heliocentrism is the name given to the astronomical model developed by Nicolaus Copernicus and published in 1543. It positioned the sun near the center of the universe, motionless, with Earth and the other planets rotating around it in circular paths, modified by epicycles and at uniform speeds. The Copernican model departed from the Ptolemaic system that prevailed in western culture for centuries, placing Earth at the center of the universe. Copernicus’ De revolutionibus marks the beginning of the shift away from a geocentric (and anthropocentric) universe with Earth at its center. Copernicus held that Earth is another planet revolving around the fixed sun once a year, and turning on its axis once a day. But while he put the sun at the center of the celestial spheres, he did not put it at the exact center of the universe, but near it. His system used only uniform circular motions, correcting what was seen by many as the chief inelegance in Ptolemy’s system.

The Copernican Revolution

From 1543 until about 1700, few astronomers were convinced by the Copernican system. Forty-five years after the publication of De Revolutionibus, the astronomer Tycho Brahe went so far as to construct a cosmology precisely equivalent to that of Copernicus, but with Earth held fixed in the center of the celestial sphere instead of the sun. However, Tycho challenged the Aristotelian model when he observed a comet that went through the region of the planets. This region was said to only have uniform circular motion on solid spheres, which meant that it would be impossible for a comet to enter into the area. Following Copernicus and Tycho, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, both working in the first decades of the 17th century, influentially defended, expanded and modified the heliocentric theory.

Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler was a German scientist who initially worked as Tycho’s assistant. In 1596, he published his first book, the Mysterium cosmographicum, which was the first to openly endorse Copernican cosmology by an astronomer since the 1540s. The book described his model that used Pythagorean mathematics and the five Platonic solids to explain the number of planets, their proportions, and their order. In 1600, Kepler set to work on the orbit of Mars, the second most eccentric of the six planets known at that time. This work was the basis of his next book, the Astronomia nova (1609). The book argued heliocentrism and ellipses for planetary orbits, instead of circles modified by epicycles. It contains the first two of his eponymous three laws of planetary motion (in 1619, the third law was published). The laws state the following:

  • All planets move in elliptical orbits, with the sun at one focus.
  • A line that connects a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times.
  • The time required for a planet to orbit the sun, called its period, is proportional to long axis of the ellipse raised to the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same for all the planets.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist who is sometimes referred to as the “father of modern observational astronomy.” Based on the designs of Hans Lippershey, he designed his own telescope, which he had improved to 30x magnification. Using this new instrument, Galileo made a number of astronomical observations, which he published in the Sidereus Nuncius in 1610. In this book, he described the surface of the moon as rough, uneven, and imperfect. His observations challenged Aristotle ’s claim that the moon was a perfect sphere, and the larger idea that the heavens were perfect and unchanging. While observing Jupiter over the course of several days, Galileo noticed four stars close to Jupiter whose positions were changing in a way that would be impossible if they were fixed stars. After much observation, he concluded these four stars were orbiting the planet Jupiter and were in fact moons, not stars. This was a radical discovery because, according to Aristotelian cosmology, all heavenly bodies revolve around Earth, and a planet with moons obviously contradicted that popular belief. While contradicting Aristotelian belief, it supported Copernican cosmology, which stated that Earth is a planet like all others.

In 1610, Galileo also observed that Venus had a full set of phases, similar to the phases of the moon, that we can observe from Earth. This was explainable by the Copernican system, which said that all phases of Venus would be visible due to the nature of its orbit around the sun, unlike the Ptolemaic system, which stated only some of Venus’s phases would be visible. Due to Galileo’s observations of Venus, Ptolemy’s system became highly suspect and the majority of leading astronomers subsequently converted to various heliocentric models, making his discovery one of the most influential in the transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism.

image

Heliocentric model of the solar system, Nicolas Copernicus, De revolutionibus, p. 9, from an original edition, currently at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland

Copernicus was a polyglot and polymath who obtained a doctorate in canon law and also practiced as a physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist. In 1517 he derived a quantity theory of money–a key concept in economics–and in 1519, he formulated a version of what later became known as Gresham’s law (also in economics).

Uniting Astronomy and Physics: Isaac Newton

Although the motions of celestial bodies had been qualitatively explained in physical terms since Aristotle introduced celestial movers in his Metaphysics and a fifth element in his On the Heavens, Johannes Kepler was the first to attempt to derive mathematical predictions of celestial motions from assumed physical causes. This led to the discovery of the three laws of planetary motion that carry his name.

Isaac Newton developed further ties between physics and astronomy through his law of universal gravitation. Realizing that the same force that attracted objects to the surface of Earth held the moon in orbit around the Earth, Newton was able to explain, in one theoretical framework, all known gravitational phenomena. Newton’s Principia (1687) formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the cosmos. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles. His laws of motion were to be the solid foundation of mechanics; his law of universal gravitation combined terrestrial and celestial mechanics into one great system that seemed to be able to describe the whole world in mathematical formulae.

image

Jan Matejko, Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God, 1873: Oil painting by the Polish artist Jan Matejko depicting Nicolaus Copernicus observing the heavens from a balcony by a tower near the cathedral in Frombork. Currently, the painting is in the collection of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, which purchased it from a private owner with money donated by the Polish public.

Johannes Kepler Biography (1571-1630): Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer and mathematician, who played an important role in the 17th century scientific revolution.

The Medical Renaissance

The Renaissance period witnessed groundbreaking developments in medical sciences, including advancements in human anatomy, physiology, surgery, dentistry, and microbiology.

Learning Objectives

List the discoveries and progress made by leading medical professionals during the Early Modern era

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the Renaissance, experimental investigation, particularly in the field of dissection and body examination, advanced the knowledge of human anatomy and modernized medical research.
  • De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius  emphasized the priority of dissection and what has come to be called the “anatomical” view of the body. It laid the foundations for the modern study of human anatomy.
  • Further groundbreaking work was carried out by William Harvey, who published De Motu Cordis in 1628. Harvey made a detailed analysis of the overall structure of the heart and blood circulation.
  • French surgeon Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-1590) is considered one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology, and a pioneer in surgical techniques and battlefield medicine, especially in the treatment of wounds.
  • Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) is regarded as the founder of clinical teaching, and of the modern academic hospital. He is sometimes referred to as “the father of physiology.”
  • French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named “the father of modern dentistry.”

Key Terms

  • humorism: A system of medicine detailing the makeup and workings of the human body, adopted by the Indian Ayurveda system of medicine, and Ancient Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers. It posits that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person—known as humors or humours—directly influences their temperament and health.
  • Andreas Vesalius: A Belgian anatomist (1514-1564), physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body).
  • Galen: A prominent Greek physician (129 CE-c. 216 CE), surgeon, and philosopher in the Roman Empire.
    Arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, he influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic.
  • Ambroise Paré: A French surgeon (1510-1590) who is considered one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology, and a pioneer in surgical techniques and battlefield medicine, especially in the treatment of wounds.
  • William Harvey: An English physician (1578-1657), and the first to describe completely and in detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the brain and body by the heart.

The Renaissance and Medical Sciences

The Renaissance brought an intense focus on varied scholarship to Christian Europe. A major effort to translate the Arabic and Greek scientific works into Latin emerged, and Europeans gradually became experts not only in the ancient writings of the Romans and Greeks, but also in the contemporary writings of Islamic scientists. During the later centuries of the Renaissance, which overlapped with the scientific revolution, experimental investigation, particularly in the field of dissection and body examination, advanced the knowledge of human anatomy. Other developments of the period also contributed to the modernization of medical research, including printed books that allowed for a wider distribution of medical ideas and anatomical diagrams, more open attitudes of Renaissance humanism, and the Church’s diminishing impact on the teachings of the medical profession and universities. In addition, the invention and popularization of microscope in the 17th century greatly advanced medical research.

Human Anatomy

The writings of ancient Greek physician Galen had dominated European thinking in medicine. Galen’s understanding of anatomy and medicine was principally influenced by the then-current theory of humorism (also known as the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm), as advanced by ancient Greek physicians, such as Hippocrates. His theories dominated and influenced western medical science for more than 1,300 years. His anatomical reports, based mainly on dissection of monkeys and pigs, remained uncontested until 1543, when printed descriptions and illustrations of human dissections were published in the seminal work De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, who first demonstrated the mistakes in the Galenic model. His anatomical teachings were based upon the dissection of human corpses, rather than the animal dissections that Galen had used as a guide. Vesalius’ work emphasized the priority of dissection and what has come to be called the “anatomical” view of the body, seeing human internal functioning as an essentially corporeal structure filled with organs arranged in three-dimensional space. This was in stark contrast to many of the anatomical models used previously.

Further groundbreaking work was carried out by William Harvey, who published De Motu Cordis in 1628. Harvey made a detailed analysis of the overall structure of the heart, going on to an analysis of the arteries, showing how their pulsation depends upon the contraction of the left ventricle, while the contraction of the right ventricle propels its charge of blood into the pulmonary artery. He noticed that the two ventricles move together almost simultaneously and not independently like had been thought previously by his predecessors. Harvey also estimated the capacity of the heart, how much blood is expelled through each pump of the heart, and the number of times the heart beats in a half an hour. From these estimations, he went on to prove how the blood circulated in a circle.

An illustration of the human body from De humani corporis fabrica.

Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, p. 174: In 1543, Vesalius asked Johannes Oporinus to publish the seven-volume De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body), a groundbreaking work of human anatomy. It emphasized the priority of dissection and what has come to be called the “anatomical view” of the human body.

Other Medical Advances

Various other advances in medical understanding and practice were made. French surgeon Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-1590) is considered one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology, and a pioneer in surgical techniques and battlefield medicine, especially in the treatment of wounds. He was also an anatomist and invented several surgical instruments, and was part of the Parisian Barber Surgeon guild. Paré was also an important figure in the progress of obstetrics in the middle of the 16th century.

Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), a Dutch botanist, chemist, Christian humanist and physician of European fame, is regarded as the founder of clinical teaching and of the modern academic hospital. He is sometimes referred to as “the father of physiology,” along with the Venetian physician Santorio Santorio (1561-1636), who introduced the quantitative approach into medicine, and with his pupil Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777). He is best known for demonstrating the relation of symptoms to lesions and, in addition, he was the first to isolate the chemical urea from urine. He was the first physician that put thermometer measurements to clinical practice.

Bacteria and protists were first observed with a microscope by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1676, initiating the scientific field of microbiology.

French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named “the father of modern dentistry.” He is widely known for writing the first complete scientific description of dentistry, Le Chirurgien Dentiste (“The Surgeon Dentist”), published in 1728. The book described basic oral anatomy and function, signs and symptoms of oral pathology, operative methods for removing decay and restoring teeth, periodontal disease (pyorrhea), orthodontics, replacement of missing teeth, and tooth transplantation.

image

Andreas Vesalius, De corporis humani fabrica libri septem, illustration attributed to Jan van Calcar (circa 1499–1546/1550)

The front cover illustration of De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body, 1543), showing a public dissection being carried out by Vesalius himself. The book advanced the modern study of human anatomy.