The Scientific Revolution in Europe

602 words | 3 page(s)

According to some historians, the European Scientific Revolution was the series of events that brought forth the Modern, Western era, but to others, it hardly existed at all. There are significant elements, however, which make it convenient and useful to specify the Scientific Revolution in Europe as the period of approximately 150-175 years which started around the middle of the 16th century and ended near the beginning of the 18th century.

The explorers of science who are most associated with this time period are Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, and Newton. Copernicus introduced the concept of a moving Earth which both rotates and revolves around the sun. At that time in Europe (the earlier half of the 16th century), it was an article of faith (literally) that the Earth was the center of the universe. The world was made of four elements (water, fire, air, and earth) and the heavenly bodies were made of quintessence. Although Copernicus introduced movement of the Earth and the planets, he still based his system on mathematics rather than observation.

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Kepler was born almost 100 years after Copernicus, when the Renaissance had brought forth the mechanical concept, and he used it as a basis for celestial physics. He also included geometry, power such as magnetism and light, and the observations of Tycho Brahe in his cosmogony. He believed there was a basic power that caused the celestial bodies to move as they did, but he didn’t know what it was.

Galileo worked at the same time as Kepler. He had a strong belief in Copernican ideas so when he invented the telescope he used it to gather data. This allowed him to clearly see that Venus had phases and the sun had spots. He worked with the problems of falling bodies and projectile motion. Even though he believed in experimentation, he used thought experiments and reasoned in terms of ideal situations. He strongly urged deduction and reasoned conclusions.

Descartes’ importance in the Scientific Revolution was not based on new scientific theories but instead, the development of a new method of thinking and reasoning. He reduced substance to two types: res cogitans (thinking stuff or mind) and res extensa (extended stuff or matter). He conceptualized the universe as a plenum, meaning there was no void. He classified matter by size and explained its interactions by “vortices” or whirlpools of matter. Using these vortices, he described the movements of the heavenly bodies and established laws of motion prior to Newton.

Francis Bacon is often considered the inventor of the scientific method. He recognized that increasing knowledge involves both inductive and deductive reasoning. Learning started with detailed observations which were called data. Using the data, one should develop axioms using inductive reasoning. Then the axioms would be subject to deductive reasoning to find specific instances where they could be tested by experiments

Finally, Isaac Newton’s work is often considered the point at which the Scientific Revolution had officially occurred. Newton considered some of the same problems as his predecessors, such as Galileo’s examination of the falling body problem. Newton was at Cambridge in 1665 when the bubonic plague struck, so he went home for 18 months. His papers reveal that he had already been working on the synthesis of previous work, developing answers to some of the most fundamental questions of physics such as inertia, centrifugal motion and centripetal motion. During his 18-month sabbatical, he worked out most of the answers he had been seeking, and in the process, he developed calculus, welded together earthly and heavenly physical principles, and defined concepts such as matter, motion, space, and gravity. The universe was infinite.

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