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Chapter 16

HIST 1001 Chapter Notes - Chapter 16: Scientific Method, Scientific Revolution, Inductive Reasoning

Course Code
HIST 1001
Marc Saurette

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Between 1540-1789 fundamentally new ways of understanding the natural world emerged.
Those leading the changes saw themselves as philosophers and referred to their field of study as
"natural philosophy."
These achievements were hailed as a "Scientific Revolution", entailing the search for precise
knowledge of the physical world based on the union of experimental observations and
sophisticated mathematics
In the eighteenth century the use of reason was extended from the study of nature onto human
society, spurring the "Enlightenment" movement.
The members of the said movement wished to bring the same progress to human affairs as their
predecessors had brought to the understanding of the natural world.
The rise of the university, along with the intellectual vitality of the Renaissance and
technological advancements, inspired scholars to make closer observations and seek better
The major figures of the Scientific Revolution were for the most part devout Christians who saw
their work as heralding the glory of creation and who combined older traditions of magic,
astrology, and alchemy with their pathbreaking experimentation.
Scientific Thought in 1500
One of the most important disciplines prior to the Scientific Revolution was natural philosophy,
which focused on fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, its purpose, and how it
In the early 1500s natural philosophy was still based primarily on the ideas of Aristotle.
Medieval theologians brought Aristotelian philosophy into harmony with Christian doctrines.
A motionless earth was at the center of the universe, encompassed by 10 concentric
crystal spheres that revolved around it.
Beyond the tenth sphere was Heaven, with the throne of God and the souls of the
Angels kept the spheres moving in perfect circles.
Ptolemy theorized that the planets moved in small circles, called epicycles, each of which moved
in turn along a larger circle.
Aristotle also distinguished sharply between the world of the celestial spheres and that of the
earth - the sublunar world.
The spheres consisted of a perfect, incorruptable quintessence, or fifth essence.
The sublunar world, however, was made up of four imperfect, changeable elements.
The "light" elements (air and fire) naturally moved upward, while the "heavy" elements
(water and earth) naturally moved downward.
These natural directions of motion did not always prevail, however, for elements were
often mixed together and could be affected by an outside force such as a human being.
Aristotle's ideas about the cosmos were accepted, with revisions, for two thousand years, and
his science was often interpreted by Christian theologians to fit neatly with Christian doctrines.
It put human beings at the center of the universe and made them the critical link in a
"great chain of being" that stretched from the throne of God to the lowliest insect on earth.
Origins of the Scientific Revolution
The scientific Revolution drew on long-term developments in European culture, as well as
borrowings from Arabic scholars.
The first important development was the medieval university, and by 1300 philosophy had
taken its place alongside law, medicine, and theology.
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With the expansion of Islam into the lands of the Byzantine Empire in the seventh and eighth
centuries, the Muslim world had inherited ancient Greek learning, to which Islamic scholars added
their own commentaries and new discoveries.
Many Greek texts that were lost to the West after the fall of the Western Roman Empire re-
entered circulation and became the basis for the curriculum of the medieval universities.
Renaissance patrons played a role in funding scientific investigations, as they did for art and
literature; Renaissance artists' turn toward realism and their use of geometry to convey three-
dimensional perspective encouraged scholars to practice close observation and to use
mathematics to describe the natural world.
The fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453 resulted in a great influx of little-
known Greek works, as Christian scholars fled to Italy with their precious texts.
The rise of printing in the mid-fifteenth century provided a faster and less expensive way to
circulate knowledge across Europe, as fascination with the new discoveries being made in Asia and
the Americas greatly increased the demand for printed material, and publishers found an eager
audience for the books and images they issued about a slew of unknown topics and new findings.
The navigational problems of long sea voyages in the age of overseas expansion, along with the
rise of trade and colonization, led to their own series of technological innovations and the
development of many new scientific instruments, such as the telescope, barometer,
thermometer, pendulum clock, microscope, and air pump.
For most of human history, interest in astronomy was inspired by the belief that the changing
relationships between planets and stars influence events on earth; this belief was held in Europe
up to and during the Scientific Revolution, and was even used as a diagnostic tool in medicine.
Centuries-old practices of magic and alchemy also remained important traditions for natural
The ides that objects possessed invisible or "occult" qualities that allowed them to affect other
objects through their innate "sympathy" with each other was a particularly important legacy of
the magical tradition.
The Copernican Hypothesis
Polish cleric Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) noted that astronomers still depended on the
work of Ptolemy for their most accurate calculations, but preferred an alternative ancient Greek
idea: the sun, rather than the earth, was at the center of the universe.
Copernicus theorized that the stars and planets, including the earth, revolved around a fixed sun
(this became known as the Copernican hypothesis), but waited until he was certain about his
claims before publishing his work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543.
The Copernican hypothesis had enormous religious and scientific implications.
It put the stars at rest, their apparent nightly movement simply a result of the earth's
Copernicus's theory suggested a universe of staggering size.
By using mathematics instead of philosophy Copernicus challenged the traditional
hierarchy of the disciplines.
He also destroyed the basic idea of Aristotelian physics - that the earthly sphere was
quite different from the heavenly one; where then were Heaven and the throne of God?
Religious leaders varied in their response to Copernicus's theories, but ultimately the Catholic
Church declared the Copernican hypothesis false in 1616.
Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo: Proving Copernicus Right
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) agreed with Copernicus, and thanks to the generous grants from the
king of Denmark, built the most sophisticated observatory of his day.
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Brahe pledged to create new and improved tables of planetary motions, dubbed the Rudolphine
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Brahe's assistant, believed that the universe was built on mystical
mathematical relationships and a musical harmony of the heavenly bodies.
He developed three new and revolutionary laws of planetary motion.
He demonstrated that the orbits of the planets around the sun are elliptical rather than
He demonstrated that the planets do not move at a uniform speed in their orbits.
The time a planet takes to make its complete orbit is precisely related to its distance
from the sun.
Kepler published the first two laws in his 1609 book, The New Astronomy.
Kepler proved mathematically the precise relations of a sun-centered system, uniting for the
first time the theoretical cosmology of natural philosophy with mathematics.
His third law also came close to formulating the idea of universal gravitation, and his overall
work furnished the basis for integral calculus and advances in geometry.
In 1627 Kepler also fulfilled Brahe's pledge by completing the Rudolphine Tables begun so many
years earlier.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was fascinated with mathematics, leading to a professorship in which
he examined motion and mechanics in a new way.
Galileo elaborate on the experimental method, an approach that explored the workings of the
universe through repeatable experiments rather than speculation.
Focusing on deficiencies in Aristotle's theories of motion, Galileo showed that a uniform force -
in this case, gravity - produced a uniform acceleration.
He also formulated the law of inertia, which states that motion, not rest, is the natural state of
an object, and that an object continues in motion forever unless stopped by some external force.
In 1616 the Holy Office placed the works of Copernicus and his supporter, including Kepler, on a
list of books Catholics were forbidden to read.
Galileo's 1632 Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World went too far, and the papal
Inquisition placed Galileo on trial for heresy, after which Galileo recanted.
Newton's Synthesis
New findings failed to explain what forces controlled the movement of the planets and objects
on earth, a challenge that was taken up by English scientist Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Newton studied the natural world not for its own sake, but to understand the divine plan.
He discovered the law of universal gravitation as well as the concepts of centripetal force and
acceleration between 1664 and 1666.
It was in reference to his experiments in optics that Newton outlined his method of scientific
inquiry most clearly, explaining the need for scientists "first to enquire diligently into the
properties of things, and to establish these properties by experiment, and then to proceed more
slowly to hypotheses for the explanation of them."
In 1684 Newton returned to physics and the preparation of his ideas for publication, resulting in
the 1687 Philosophicae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which laid down his three laws of
The key feature of the Newtonian synthesis was the law of universal gravitation.
According to this law, every body in the universe attracts every other body in the
universe in a precise mathematical relationship, whereby the force of attraction is
proportional to the quantity of matter of the objects and inversely proportional to the
square of the distance between them.
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