A Brief History
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! 2 Deaths linked to Superbug! Comet Lovejoy visible over United States!
Headlines, articles, newspapers, magazines, books, journals, letters, texts, emails and blogs, we are bombarded with information. Our world society values the exchange of ideas, facts, fictions, beliefs and questions. Welcome to the information age. The exchange of information is important in our global society. Most people have access to a device that can singlehandedly access most of all recorded human information in seconds. A byproduct of information is the distribution of knowledge. Knowledge, by its nature, requires reflection and ultimately a conversation about what has been learned. We are in a constant state of acquiring knowledge. Is it the perception of fact? Is it the acquaintance with truth? Can it be studied and investigated? Is it something constant or can our knowledge be changed? How far have we come from the scientific revolution when our questions are still the same? The scientific revolution was not just a movement or a mere change of an era. It was the radically invasive transformation of the established general knowledge of all people. The scientific revolution challenged perceptions, beliefs and experiences that echoed throughout the world. In order to understand this dynamic shift, it is necessary to understand the circumstances that caused the change, what significantly changed during that time and the effect that it had on the world as a civilization.
In order to understand the dynamic shift that the scientific revolution caused, we must first discuss two inventions that transformed Antiquity, our world and the universe. The magnifying glass and the printing press predated the scientific revolution and are the catalyst that marked the shift in the new world thinking. Scientific thinking predates the scientific revolution and was a global phenomenon. The lectures of History and Headlines’ own Professor Zar touched on such great minds as Ptolemy (c. 90 – c. 168 C.E.) whose theories held true through the middle ages and his theories influenced European and Arabic knowledge (1). Prof. Zar also lectured on eleventh century Turkish Muslim accomplishments “which stimulated European scientific thinking” but also expanded upon Greek, Indian and Persian astronomy to develop observation, reflection and predictions of the world (2). Up until the invention of these two devices, knowledge was gained from what we were told, or passed through oral tradition, and what we could see with our naked eyes. Some of the ideas that encouraged the scientific revolution had become common Medieval knowledge, “almost everyone accepted as fact that the earth stood still at the center of the universe and that all revolved around it (3).” The basic idea of science is to understand worldly and unworldly things in an effort to explain the natural and supernatural.
The magnifying glass was a convex lens that produced magnification of objects when placed between the object and the eye. In Greek antiquity, Aristophanes (c. 446 – c. 386 B.C.E.) mentions that magnifying lenses were used to start fires or cauterize wounds. In other regions, Muslim Persian mathematician Ibn Sahl (c. 940 – c. 1000 C.E.), an optical engineer, worked to understand refraction of light and the principals behind magnification (4). These two separate cultures rationalized their world through the use of science and both predate the revolution. Both believed what they saw and taught what they knew to the next generation. As the world grew accustomed to seeing things with more than the naked eye, the world also became dependent on it. As civilization expanded, a clearer picture of our world was needed. Magnification transformed the clarity and accuracy of our view. Civilization needed to obtain a better picture of items much smaller than us which the naked eye strained to observe. We also needed a clearer understanding of our world and the worlds that lay beyond our tangible realm. Expansion, trade and global exploration resulted in a greater and greater need for a clearer, more concise view of one’s opponent, or future countrymen, from further and further distances. Optics became a valuable tool for navigation, exploration and investigation of the world around us. We propelled our inspection of our known world and explored the mindboggling perplexity of the microscopic and the macroscopic world. Also, by the nature of the human condition, magnification was essential on a personal level as human visual acuity shifts with the progression of age. This personal need was transformative. We all wanted a clearer picture of life. What we could now see with our eyes was challenged by this invention and the formation of languages, like mathematics and physics, which could explain natural phenomenon. Studying the nature of our world and using these tools made it easy to discern that what was taught as knowledge was not what was observed. Doubt may be viewed as a negative but it propels ideas and concepts forward as it searches to discover the truth. The search for truth became the acquisition of gaining knowledge. Knowledge itself is gained through the act of learning. Common knowledge, at that time, came from the absolute truths that were held fundamentally close and intrinsically tied to religion. People now saw clear through the lens than what they did with their eyes and found that the knowledge gathered through observation shed a new light on what was commonly believed to be true. Upon magnification, our universe was not what was being taught but something different, and that difference needed to be challenged. This division of thought formed a catalyst for a new world view.
The Printing Press
The second invention, whose roots lay in Asian culture, was the first printed book. The dates in which this printing occurred are questionable, but this technology flourished and with the invention of type print, it transformed the world. Cultures began to blend and learn from each other with the expansion of trade and the exchange of ideas. This innovative technology expanded the capabilities of reproduction of the written word. No longer were humans held captive by oral tradition and rationalization. A machine could produce mass amounts of copied pages in one work day, which used to take transcribers a lifetime to accomplish. The birth of mass production of books and written word was born (5). Extra! Extra! Read all about it! This invention’s key intention was the distribution of knowledge, the foundation for the revolution. The Silk Route opened up allowing for trade, commerce and the movement of knowledge between east and west (6). In the mid-fourteenth century the European printing press revolutionized information and made it readily available to most everyone. Ideas, knowledge, beliefs, inventions and improvements were now available to more and more people who were left with more and more questions. As Europe began to explore overseas and expand, it lent this progressive idea of greater and larger thinking. Knowledge and the acquisition of information became a highly prized source of the understanding of life. The world was getting smaller because more people had written knowledge of their fellow man within their hands.
The Makings of a Revolution
Everything significantly changed during the scientific revolution because we no longer rationalized our world as seen with the naked eye. Thinking became revolutionary. People wanted to expand their knowledge, learn, reflect and elaborate on other’s ideas. The scientific revolution was riddled with the oppression of knowledge, the prosecution of ideas that challenged traditional thinking and a global enlightened human experience. This transformation is the mark of any true revolution, a dynamic shift that occurs in a global view. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mark the pinnacle of “intellectual transformation (that) took so long to accomplish that there is no straightforward parallel with a political revolution (7).” Science worked hand in hand with religion to explain our existence. There were gaps in our previous thinking. Once we obtained a better view of our infinitely small world in an infinitely larger universe our common knowledge indeed needed to be challenged and changed. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of Europe marked the monumental significance that the scientific revolution was indeed a revolution. It challenged the common knowledge of the “earlier systems of belief (and they) were emphatically overthrown (8).” During this time, leaps in optics transformed the foundation of science. Overcoming these impediments could not have been possible without the printing press allowing for the exchange of ideas through the distribution of knowledge. Physics, math and geometry became universally known languages that expanded the revolution to a global movement. The refraction of light combined with magnification propelled this era with new inventions, such as the telescope. This enlightened journey expanded our world view and also our universal view. No longer were we limited by what we saw or were taught first hand. Humans were able to search and seek out knowledge that was not experienced or visually seen. We could now understand the transmission of knowledge through the written word, sometimes read through the lens that transformed the same.
So how far have we really come since the scientific revolution of our near distant past and what changes has it made in our civilization? Our questions are still the same and we do not have the answers. One thing is for certain, we “must also realise [sic] that reason cannot, and never will, give us the key to all mysteries, although it has often put us on the right track (9).” The scientific revolution was the catalyst that the world needed at the exact time that it needed it. Is it possible that the scientific revolution is still occurring?
“Comet Lovejoy visible over the United States!”
“2 Deaths linked to Superbug!”
These are headlines from internet news source CNN.com taken from the front headlines of printed press in the digital form. We still seek to understand the microscopic world around us while realizing our insignificance when we look to the heavens through our magnification lens. We come to understand our universe today by the same optic lens and printed press that were so transformative in our old world. The author of the History and Headlines article “Top 10 Indicators of Supernatural Influence on Earth” said that “the theories of how the spark of life started on Earth are far from proven and remain only theories (10).” So really how far has civilization come? During the scientific revolution Johannes Kepler (27 December 1571 – 15 November 1630 C.E.) wrote “If you wish to know the mysteries – nothing in Nature is, or ever has been, more recondite (11).” This observation is important because after all this time we still only have theories. Our science of today is still essentially supernatural because it is unexplainable. Why are we here? We still do not have the answers and no matter how we look for information to explain the how or why, we are still only left with more questions. We may think that we are in the information age but ultimately the revolution is still taking place. Our information and knowledge may be readily available at our fingertips but we still do not know all. Long live the revolution!
Barnett, Amanda. Comet Lovejoy visible over U.S. CNN.com, U.S. Edition. 11 January 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/10/us/comet-lovejoy/index.html (accessed 19 February 2015).
(5) Bellis, Mary. The History of Printing and Printing Processes. About.com, 2015.
http://inventors.about.com/od/pstartinventions/a/printing.htm (accessed 19 February 2015).
(4) Berggren, Len. Ibn Sahl: Abū Saҁd al‐ҁAlā’ ibn Sahl. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer New York, 2007. http://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-0-387-30400-7_689
(accessed 19 February 2015).
(6) Berghorn, Detlef and Markus Hattstein. Essential Visual History of the World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2007.
Brumfield, Ben. Understanding CRE, the ‘nightmare’ superbug that contributed to 2
deaths in L.A. CNN.com, U.S. Edition. 19 February 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/19/health/cre-superbug-explainer/index.html (accessed 19 February 2015).
(3) (7) (8) (11) Goldish, Matt. “The Scientific Revolution and the Crisis of Authority in Early Modern Europe,” Exploring the European Past. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2011.
(9) Gombrich, Ernst H. A Little History of the World. Translated by Caroline Mustill. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008.
(1) (2) Professor Zar. “Toward a New Heaven and a New Earth The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.” Lecture presented at Kent State University — Stark Campus, North Canton, Ohio, February 2015.
(10) “Top 10 Indicators of Supernatural Influence on Earth.” History and Headlines — A Bizarre Look at History… One Day at a Time. Last modified 26 February 2015. https://www.historyandheadlines.com/top-10-indicators-of-supernatural-influence-on-earth/ (accessed 26 February 2015).
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