Last week I wrote about Francis Bacon—the man credited with inventing the scientific method. While he did famously die of pneumonia after experimenting with the use of snow to refrigerate chicken meat, it's one thing to devote your life to science, it's another thing to do so in the face of great hostility and manage to change the world's view of its worldview. That's what Galileo Galilei managed to achieve from his humble origins in Pisa. He wasn't exactly a philosopher in the way that we use the term today; he was chiefly concerned with the cosmology aspect of metaphysics rather than any of the moral, epistemological, political, or logical aspects of the field. But Galileo "has always played a key role in any history of science and, in many histories of philosophy, he is a, if not the, central figure of the scientific revolution of the 17th Century. When he was born there was no such thing as ‘science’, yet by the time he died science was well on its way to becoming a discipline and its concepts and method a whole philosophical system." As an evolutionary philosopher myself, one who's whole philosophical system is indeed driven by science, I thought is was very important to mark this transition in philosophy when I was making my list concerning the survival of the fittest philosophers. Here is what I briefly said about Galileo at that time:
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642 CE) was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. Galileo has been called the father of modern observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of science, and the father of modern science.
Stephen Hawking says, "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.” He aided the separation of science from both philosophy and religion - a major development in human thought. For his views on heliocentrism, he was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy," forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Just a brief note to honor the debt we owe this man for his imprisonment and determination in the face of the church.
Needs to Adapt
Just what does this mean to say Galileo was at the centre of a scientific revolution? Well we're drawing the period of medieval philosophy to a close because of this revolution so let's look at some of the key ideas and people that were a part of it. As you read through this list, try to imagine a world that had not discovered these ideas yet (though to be honest, it's probably impossible for us to do so since so much of our concepts of the world and ourselves are bound up in understanding these things).
- Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543, which advanced the heliocentric theory of cosmology.
- Andreas Vesalius published De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body) in 1543, which found that the circulation of blood resolved from pumping of the heart. He also assembled the first human skeleton from cutting open cadavers.
- William Gilbert published On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on the Great Magnet the Earth in 1600, which laid the foundations of a theory of magnetism and electricity.
- Tycho Brahe made extensive and more accurate naked eye observations of the planets in the late 16th century, which became the basic data for Kepler's astronomical studies.
- Sir Francis Bacon published Novum Organum in 1620, which outlined a new system of logic based on the process of reduction, which he offered as an improvement over Aristotle's philosophical process of syllogism. This contributed to the development of what became known as the scientific method.
- Galileo Galilei improved the telescope, with which he made several important astronomical discoveries, including the four largest moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and the rings of Saturn, and made detailed observations of sunspots. He also developed the laws for falling bodies based on pioneering quantitative experiments, which he analyzed mathematically.
- Johannes Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion in 1609.
- René Descartes published his Discourse on the Method in 1637, which helped to extend the definition of the scientific method.
- Antonie van Leeuwenhoek constructed powerful single lens microscopes and made extensive observations that he published around 1660, opening up the micro-world of biology.
- Isaac Newton (1643–1727) built upon the work of Kepler and Galileo. He showed that an inverse square law for gravity explained the elliptical orbits of the planets, and advanced the law of universal gravitation. His development of infinitesimal calculus opened up new applications of the methods of mathematics to science.
In just over 100 years (lightening speed without modern transportation and communication methods), the entire world changed with the introduction of science. Where did I come from? Where am I? What am I? All of the answers to these age-old philosophical questions were changed forever. We'll discuss Descartes and Newton from this list a little later (as well as many other descendants of the scientific revolution), but for now, let's just finally say goodbye to medieval philosophy with some wise words from the man who marks its end.
The modern observations deprive all former writers of any authority, since if they had seen what we see, they would have judged as we judge.
Philosophy is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes — I mean the universe — but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
To apply oneself to great inventions, starting from the smallest beginnings, is no task for ordinary minds; to divine that wonderful arts lie hid behind trivial and childish things is a conception for superhuman talents.
In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.