Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries

Subject: Technology
Type: Descriptive Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1458
Topics: Innovation


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the emergence of scientific revolution concept and the best example of this concept can be found in the work of Jean Sylvain Bailly  as it reflects a two-stage process that swept old away and established the new (Wootton, 2015). The main focus of the Scientific Renaissance, the science revolution that started in 16th century, was the recovery of ancient knowledge that ended with the publication of Galileo’s work Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632. The completion of this scientific revolution can attributed to the work of Isaac Newton in 1687 Principia that synthesizes the formulation of universal gravitation and motion as well as the synthesis of new cosmology. During the end of the eighteenth century, the scientific revolution replaced the “Age of Reflection” (Shapin, 1996).

The Scientific Revolution 

The aim of the Scientific Revolution during late 16th century and throughout the 17th century was to reach new frontiers related to the understanding of the existing physical world. The knowledge of ancient Arabic, Greek and European philosophers was based the authoritative figures both from the ancient world and the church as they were unable to verify their ideas by experimentation and observation and handicapped by lack of required tools (Wootton, 2015).During that time-period, St. Augustine, Ptolemy and Aristotle were considered as pillars of truth. In contrast, the medieval sculptors and painters were more concerned with religious belief and as most of the people were illiterate; visuals were used for telling a story rather than words (Smith, 2004).

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The Inventions and Discoveries

The invention of the measurement instruments can be considered as an essential part of advances that have been made in science during 17th century. The development of the required skill-set for the production of polished lenses required for fine telescopes and microscopes remains the achievement of Dutch glass industry. For example, during 1590, Zacharias Jannsen, a Dutchman, succeeded in inventing a compound microscope by employing a double concave and a double convex lens. After he heard about a similar discovery, Galileo developed a telescope that was useful for watching any object located at a far distance during 1609 (Wootton, 2015). Initially, he used it to observe the ships that were approaching port. He was also able to observe many stars that were invisible to the naked eye when he shifted this device to the sky. During that time, he was able to differentiate not only the moons of Jupiter but also other fine discriminations as the latest version of the device magnified this view by 1,000 times. Before these events, Galileo invented a simple thermometer and in 1643, Torricelli, his pupil, deployed an inverted tube of mercury and a dish to invent the first barometer for measuring atmospheric pressure (Wootton, 2015). For scientific progress, an essential component that was required was advance knowledge of mathematics. With the start of the 17th century, it was accomplished by the invention of the slide rule, an introduction of logarithms, and the development of the decimal system. 

Some essential foundations that enabled the development of science as a separate topic from philosophy included geometry, algebra, mathematics and instruments related to measurement and observation (Smith, 2004). As early as 1514, Copernicus started a revolution in astronomy when he stated that the Sun was the center of the universe, not the Earth. As Copernicus was unable to provide sufficient evidence for refuting the Ptolemaic theory, it was rejected at that time, but also stimulated doubt of the people who investigated the issue (Wootton, 2015). A century later, Galileo provided a strong evidence to support Copernican theory, when he was able to observe the solar system through a telescope. During late 16th century, although he did not possess telescope, Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer, continued to observe the sky with his student’s assistance during his last decades. He passed a lot of information to Johann Kepler, his assistant, by recording his observation meticulously. Before publishing “Kepler’s Laws” in 1619, he tested unlimited hypotheses by using these observations and clarified various issues in Copernican theory (Wootton, 2015). In this way, he paved the road for Isaac Newton. 

In coming time, the quality of various devices such as thermometers, barometers and microscope were improved. To study vacuums, Guericke invented air pumps. During this time-period, Newton developed differential calculus in conjunction with Leibniz; for improved navigation, he invented the sextant. Similarly, Fermat developed modern theory related to numbers. Sir William Petty and John Graunt started application of statistics in population studies and Christian Huygens established “Law of Inverse Squares”, a principle that was utilized by Newton in astronomy.

In the late 17th century, the earliest life insurance companies in London utilized mortality tables drawn by Edmund Halley. With considerable accuracy, Jean Picard measured both the circumference of the earth as well as a degree of longitude at the equator. During this time-period, a scientific team recognized the location of Greenwich observatory as 0-degree longitude. Not only that, they also produced proof that the earth indeed bulged at the equator. In southern Hemisphere, Edmund Hailey predicted the return of Hailey’s Comet after every 75 years and continued to study as well catalog the stars (Wootton, 2015). Meanwhile, Thomas Boyle discovered a law in physics that the gas pressure remains constant with constant temperature when multiplied by its volume. Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria as well as sperm with the aid of his microscope. The main reason behind the organic decay was the activity of bacteria; this fact was discovered by Swammerdam after dissecting insects. During this time-period, Edward Tyson concluded after his research that chimpanzees remain the intermediary species between the orangutan and the man after comparison between anatomies of both. In his research, he compared monkey as “man of the woods” (Wootton, 2015).

After he found microorganism in plague victim’s blood, Athanasius Kirchner, wrote that the principal reason for the infectious disease was their transfer from one individual to another. The year 1712 heralded the beginning of the Industrial Age when Thomas Newcomb manufactured first efficient steam engine. Still, this new age was represented by Isaac Newton, a luminous scholar, and Professor at Cambridge University and not only because he combined experimentation with the mathematics. Further, he also established an all-inclusive explanation related to various laws of physics that govern gravity and astronomy with a brilliant combination of the previous work done by his scientific predecessors and present colleagues (Wootton, 2015). In addition, he also theorized that various elements when subject to optimum heat, give off a specific color located in the light spectrum and presently, this property is widely used for finding out  the chemical composition of a particular star in the sky. It is also used for determining the distance of this planet to that star and its orbit when related to Earth’s position. His gravitational theory propounded that the force that is the primary reason of objects falling on the Earth, keeps the planets in their orbit.  

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When understanding the origins of the modern science, the concept of historians related to scientific revolution remains indispensable, yet it raises a lot of historiographical issues (Shapin, 1996). The question remains why the scientific revolution happened at the end of Renaissance and the rise of early modern age and not before? Further, why it happened in Europe or only in Western part of the continent? What were the reasons these developments did not happen in early imperial China, ancient Greece, medieval Byzantium, as many factors were present and there is enough historical evidence to deduce it might have happened? Further, to what extent, this revolution was responsible for the cultural dominance by the West throughout the world? More and more people continue to debate these issues even today. 

The wheels of the Scientific Revolution began to move first, when Copernicus claimed that the Earth is not stationary. This claim that the Earth moves, shook the establishment and the view of the church, which was generally followed by the universities. This bold claim by Copernicus indirectly started a series of scientific developments to support this new worldview. Eventually, it was the brilliance of Isaac Newton, which took the Scientific Revolution to a completely new level, wherein he joined the celestial and the terrestrial laws of science with his groundbreaking discoveries of laws. Overall, the Scientific Revolution paved the way for a mechanical worldview from an organic worldview and made the technological progress of our present time possible.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Shapin, S. (1996). The Scientific Revolution. University of Chicago Press
  2. Smith, P.H. (2004). The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution. University of Chicago Press.
  3. Wootton, D. (2015). The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution. Penguin UK, 2015. 
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