In the wake of the Renaissance, studies of the world such as astronomy, medicine, and biology began to be observed and tested by personages of science. During a time when religious affairs took precedence in life, several figures of science opened our eyes to how the world worked, uncovered new mysteries, and disabused the speculations from previous times.
Back in the day, anyone you asked would erroneously tell you the Earth was the center of the universe. The Egyptian-Roman astronomer Claudius Ptolemy of the first century AD is responsible for spreading this misconception. Though a visionary figure for his time, many of Ptolemy’s ideas were off, and it was only until 1514 when Nicolaus Copernicus proposed heliocentrism. Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, found flaws in Ptolemy’s confounding equations. Nicolaus said that the Sun was the center of the universe and that the Earth among other planets circled it. Greek astronomist Aristarchus actually wrote this theory long before Copernicus, but it was not as effectual. A follower of the heliocentric theory, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for speaking against the church. Giordano was likely the first to think and elaborate on the theory that the universe is infinite, and furthermore, there were infinite planets and solar systems out there. Unlike Bruno, Copernicus, who held a position in the church at the time, kept quiet and made sure his ideas were not convicted of heresy. The Copernican system was not flawless, though, for more than 30 years later, Johannes Kepler would revise his predecessor’s notion. While he recognized the Sun as the center, he correctly noted that planets moved in ovular ellipses, not circles. Kepler was a student to Tycho Brahe, a notable Danish astronomer who interestingly lost his nose in a duel. Another great mind of astronomy was Galileo. Many incorrectly credit the Italian with creating the telescope, but no, he tweaked it instead. Galileo used the telescope to confirm the Sun’s importance and also identify the moons of Jupiter! Unfortunately, his notoriety spread to the church. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
Medicine and biology are closely related. Not only do they have health in common, but they were also key movements in the Scientific Revolution. The only understanding of how the human body worked in Medieval times was supplied by the Greek Hippocrates and Roman Claudius Galen. These two started to focus more on the human body and not on the divine. Some of their ideas were highly regarded in their day and even today to an extent. For example, the Hippocratic Oath is still accepted by doctors. Galen proposed that four “humors” or liquids in the body translated to a patient’s health, both physically and emotionally. According to Galen, an overabundance or lack of the following resulted in illness: blood, phlegm, and yellow and black bile. Anatomists at the time of the Renaissance came to the conclusion that neither of the two doctors had ever actually studied the human body in depth. Disgusting and weird as it was, it was not rare for corpses to be stolen and be studied. Leonardo da Vinci and Andreas Vesalius did it. The latter updated many of Galen’s ideas and improved our understanding of the body. Further down the line, Hieronymus Fabricius and William Harvey discovered the circulatory system. Together, their research explained that blood flowed throughout the body. In the 1660’s, Robert Hooke used Antonie Leeuwenhoek’s revolutionary microscope to change the way we saw our world. Things invisible to the naked eye could now be seen. Cells were discovered as a result.
The last foci of the Scientific Revolution were the mathematics and logic that governed the world. Four of the most influential scientists in this time were Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, René Descartes, and Francis Bacon. Sir Francis Bacon was an Englishman most known for creating the scientific method. A logical man, Bacon created a method of experimentation that was based upon a hypothesis in which studies were conducted to prove or disprove. His deductive reasoning built upon Aristotle’s inductive reasoning, furthering his observations. Also, Francis Bacon urged others to examine the natural world to learn how it works. Because of his work, naturalism became dominant to supernatural phenomena. Bacon’s ideas and scientific method lit the way for other scientists. French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes had other methods of understanding the world. Like Bacon, Descartes believed in rationalism, stating that we can only know about our world by using logic and not by using our senses. Because he was a skeptic, he doubted the existence of everything — except himself. His famous “I think, therefore I am” preaches his philosophy. He also made many advances in mathematics such as Cartesian coordinates. Gottfried Leibniz was a great thinker and mathematician like his friend, Sir Isaac Newton. Leibniz’s work in math led to the development of functions and the creation of calculus — with the aid of Newton. He expressed very optimistic views, boldly declaring that we lived in “the best of all possible worlds.” Gottfried also said that God created everything perfect and translates our decisions. Most influential out of the tetrarchy of scientists is Isaac Newton. When we hear of Isaac Newton, we think of gravity. The Law of Universal Gravity asserts that a force propels objects toward a center of mass. After watching an apple fall, Newton developed his theory. Galileo used this to explain how the solar system was held and even used it to prove that objects fall at the same speed. Isaac said that the world is in perpetual movement and explained that everything is moving at all times. Newton also experimented with light. The seven colors of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet — all came together to create white light. If put through a prism, they dispersed into different hues. Sir Isaac Newton used this to create a color wheel.
For further reading: 1001 Ideas that Changed the Way we Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World History by Timothy C. Hall (2008)
History: The Definitive Visual Guide by Adam Hart-Davis (2007)
Medieval and Early Modern Times by Jackson J. Spielvogel
Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)
The Psychology Book by Nigel Benson (2012)
Atlas of World History by Alison Rattle