To this question one can answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and be correct with both conclusions as I will explain in this essay. It is all a matter of time. To the peasant, the servant and even the aristocracy of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, not only did the scientific revolution have little or no practical effect on their lives, most of them never even knew what it was or that it was happening. However, today in the twenty-first century not only are we aware that the scientific revolution took place at that time it is also obvious that our daily lives would be completely different had the scientific revolution not taken place.
In view of the above we need to look at both eras to assess both answers and also to establish exactly what was the scientific revolution.
The shift in the western mind from the medieval to the modern world was underpinned by the growth of science. Around the sixteenth, seventeenth and the eighteenth century, changes in the fields of Biology (looking at physiology and anatomy) and astronomy, which was mainly concerned with the issue of the solar system, began to occur. To begin with, these different factors became more and more established independently but then in the early eighteenth century they began to merge as one to create the Scientific Revolution, as these findings were spread to society. Some historians feel that the Scientific Revolution can be mainly described as the changing of man’s view of what the Universe is and how it works.
The Scientific Revolution occurred largely due to ‘imaginative’ philosophers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. Before such philosophers as these the generally accepted astronomical system was that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe and that spheres holding ‘fixed stars’ (i.e. the moon, Jupiter and Venus) would revolve around the stationary Earth.
In the mid- sixteenth century Copernicus began to look deeper into these theories and soon discovered more and more problems. He examined the theories of an astronomer called Aristarchus who had put forward the idea that the Sun was in fact the centre of the Universe and that the Earth and other ‘fixed stars’ revolved around the Sun. He also thought that the Earth itself revolved on its own axis at a daily rate. Copernicus was the first to back up these theories and state that the Universe was in fact a heliocentric cosmology. He then published two books; ‘The Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies’ and ‘Vesalius’. This may be taken as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution or be it the astronomical part of the Scientific Revolution.
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Copernicus’ system was only observed by a few people at the time and most, if not all, would have been theologians. However, the few that actually took note of Copernicus views were inclined to reject it. This is because people of the time had grown up with Aristotle’s theories about the Universe for hundreds of years and Ptolemy’s astronomical system had also been generally accepted, so Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology went against their ‘entire science of astronomy’.
Copernicus was not overly outspoken though and so therefore not too much disruption was caused within the society of the time as not many people were aware of it and those that were just simply rejected it. This shows that, as the Scientific Revolution was beginning, it was not having much practical influence on peoples lives simply because people were not aware of it. The same is true for the people that were aware of it as they had rejected it as it did not coincide with what they already believed and so therefore was not showing much effect, except maybe confusion, on their lives either. It was also said that the significance of the Copernicus findings was not so much the system that he suggested but more the fact that the system would ignite the great revolution in physics.
In the early seventeenth century Galileo saw some sense in Copernicus’ heliocentric system. This was because he was drawn to its use of geometric reasoning as he thought that with mathematics there could be no mistakes and so began to look into the theories more thoroughly. He began to answer the objections to the Copernicus system and also illustrated problems that showed that the Ptolemaic system was near impossible and therefore that its continued acceptance was absurd.
Galileo presented his theories in his book ‘Two New Sciences’. His main discoveries were that, contrary to popular belief, a heavy and light object will not fall from a high place at different speeds which are proportional to their weights but in fact fall with almost identical speeds. The reason that it often seems as though the heavier object falls more swiftly is that sub-consciously people will release the heavier object slightly earlier. He discovered many other things which he illustrated in his book about the theories of motion such as factors effecting the acceleration of a falling body such as air. Although these findings are very relevant and important to physics now at the time they will not really have effected peoples daily practical lives. This is because these findings were the basis to physics and so therefore as things had not yet developed they were not going to directly effect the public of the time of Galileo.
Galileo, unlike Ptolemy and Aristotle, believed that the Universe was a lot larger than had been thought and maybe even an infinite and vast place. Galileo tried to prove this by using a method called Parallax. This is when if two objects, which are not at the same place, when viewed from different positions appear to shift and move relative to each other. When Galileo used this method on distant stars he saw that they only slightly, if at all, changed positions at the two different viewpoints therefore telling him that they must be a great distance away, and so backing up his theory that the Universe is a vast place. These findings obviously greatly increased peoples’ knowledge and understanding of the world but at that time it would not have made much practical difference on people’s lives. This is because whether the Universe was large or small would not have meant the farmers knew more about their fields or the peasants knew better how to scrape a bit of money together so they could eat their next meal. It was the kind of information which was probably interesting at the time but was not practically useful until later on when more science and technology existed.
Galileo knew full well the significance of his discoveries as they meant that he had overturned a theory that was over a thousand years old, so showing that although knowledge was increasing it was not yet directly changing peoples lives. In 1610 he published a book that revolutionised the astronomy. Therefore, as Galileo was an outspoken character he began to voice his new findings to the people and condemned as a fool anyone who was not immediately persuaded.
These discoveries did, however, affect people lives in some way as a two hundred year ‘intellectual’ battle was to taking place between the established Church and the emerging theories that philosophers and astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo were producing. For following Copernicus so outspokenly Galileo was placed under house arrest as powerful figures within the church were not very easily persuaded by the theories. So all through the 1620’s a religious war raged in Europe due to all the queries that were flying around due to these discoveries made in the Scientific Revolution. Galileos’ friends begged him to tone down his preachings but he would not. He was subsequently taken to trial, but to his advantage he had many friends in the church who were trying to protect him. However, in the 1640’s a new pope came to power and so his friends could no longer protect him. The church dismissed his writings and by the time he was near seventy he was summoned to Rome to appear before the Roman Inquisition. He was told to withdraw his findings but it was not until he was threatened with torture that he gave in and signed a confession that recanted his teachings. These events made the people scared about looking into his theories and so although a great part of the Scientific Revolution had taken place through what Galileo had discovered it had little effect on peoples lives as it was not preached and therefore not learnt about.
The other major arm of the Scientific Revolution, apart from the astronomical discoveries and advances, was the findings in the sphere of Biology. Once again the effect of these discoveries was insignificant at the time, as far as the general population was concerned, but over the course of the next two centuries has had an increasingly significant effect on peoples practical lives in terms both of horticulture and agriculture and of medicine. Indeed when we look at the biological arm of the Scientific Revolution that is where we find the greatest influence on peoples lives today.
Hippocrates is one of the most significant influences on the Biological advances on the Scientific, he was born about 460BC on the Greek island of Cos. Even today doctors are required to take the Hippocratic oath before into the medical profession. Here is an extract from the oath:
“I will swear by Apollo, Asclepius and by all the gods that I will carry out this oath. I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement but never with a view to injury or wrongdoing. I will not give poison to anybody… whatever I see or hear professionally or in my private life which ought not to be told I will keep secret.”
This oath was developed by Hippocrates to give people more confidence in doctors and this is why it is still used to this day.
Although Hippocrates existed a long time before the Scientific Revolution took place he still had a great influence on it and is known as the ‘Father of medicine’ by many, such as Plato. This is because he built the basic foundations of medicine. A collection of sixty or so books were created, most probably by his followers, contained detailed lists of symptoms and treatments that he had suggested and discovered and these books were in use and being followed for hundreds of years. There were a number of other famous Greek doctors before the Scientific Revolution but Hippocrates seemed to have the greatest influence.
After 1500 Western Europe began to play an increasingly important rrole in world history because of the Scientific Revolution. One reason for such success of the Europeans was that they developed a new sort of science, based on the Greek methods of careful observation and clear logical thinking that had been initiated by doctors such as Hippocrates. However, this work was only seen shown in the investigations of such people as Ambroise Pare and William Harvey as they dared, just as Galileo and Copernicus had done, to go against the methods that other doctors had followed for centuries.
Ambroise Pare was a surgeon who was born in France in 1510. After working as a surgeon in Paris he transferred to the army where he worked on treating sword and gunshot wounds and in 1575 he wrote a book called ‘Works on Surgery’ as to the things he discovered whilst in the army surgeries. Pare entered the world of surgery where wounds were treated by pouring boiling oil onto them and to start with Pare did this, that was until the oil supplies ran out. He then mixed his own treatment which consisted of egg yolks, the oil of roses and turpentine (a kind of white spirit) and he discovered that the soldiers that he treated with this new ointment were less traumatised than those treated with the boiling oil.
Surgeons also use a red hot poker to stop the bleeding from severed and amputated limbs during the times Pare worked in the war, and like the boiling oil this method caused the patients a great deal of pain. So instead of this Pare decided to tie silk threads around the blood vessels in order to close them up. This was much more effective and less painful. This shows that, unlike the astronomical findings during the Scientific Revolution, the medical improvements did actually make a large difference to peoples as it made their way of living more comfortable and would also increase the lengths of peoples lives. However, it did not all come about together but gradually, as although Pare’s findings decreased the pains of the soldiers there were floors. For example the silk threads that he used to bind the blood vessels could introduce infections and ointments such as antiseptics were not introduced for another three hundred years.
William Harvey was also known as one of the greatest names in all experimental science especially in the field of medicine. He was born in 1578 in Folkstone and died in 1657. He wrote two great works; ‘De motu cordis et sanguinis’ (On the Motion of the Heart and Blood) and ‘De generatione animalium’ (On the Generation of Animals) and it is said that these writings give him the right to the title of the father of embryology. Although many other scientists announced discoveries about the circulation of the blood it was Harvey who proved things about the pulmonary circulation by experiment. He studied the ways of the heart such as the valves and how it pumps round the body. In studying the heart he made a crucial calculation by estimating the amount of blood that was pumped out of the heart by each beat, which. is about two ounces, and therefore concluded that the blood must circulate around the body;
"I began to think whether there might not be a movement, as it were, in a circle. I saw that the blood, forced by the action of the left ventricle into the arteries, was sent out to the body at large. In like manner the blood forced by the action of the of the left ventricle into the pulmonary artery is sent out to the lungs… the blood in animals is impelled in a circle, and is in a state of ceaseless movement."
These findings greatly increased the standards of medicine as it meant that doctors had more intricate details into the working of the body, therefore increasing peoples lives. Although it would not have become immediately effective as methods would not instantly have been worked out.
In looking at the way the Scientific Revolution evolved in the different effecting factors such as Biology and Astronomy, I feel that although both fields have severely and significantly effected life as it is today, Biology effected peoples lives on a more practical level. At the time, the Astronomical discoveries did not really effect people directly either in terms of knowledge, as people such as Galileo were unable to preach their theories because of the church and they also didn’t have any practical effect to their lives. However, the discoveries made in Biology greatly improved the medical standards and so therefore improving peoples practical lives aswell as their knowledge.
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