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Geocentric, Heliocentric, Eccentric and Egocentric Revolution of Science

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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Alabama Birmingham
Birmingham, AL, USA

Science is a systematized knowledge that has been accumulated through observation, experimentation and reasoning. It reveals itself as a dynamic, evolving entity, intimately connected to the needs and commitment for those who pursue science. Familiar scientific developments frequently emerge and return suggesting different means of present-day thinking and science to develop. Speaking of, the word "science" roots from the Latin word scientia, and simply means "knowledge." First conceived in the 19th century, "science" and "scientist" are understood today. "Natural philosophy" was the term for study of the natural world and held a broader scope than modern science. For the sake of time-honored time and my own lack of knowledge, I will not bore the reader with the details of the evolution of natural philosophy and the science involving the interpretation of the natural world and human culture. Instead, over the next several issues of Links, the focus will include 1) the origins of the scientific revolution coinciding with the age of enlightenment, 2) the emergence of rationalization and 3) the role of France in the contributions to science and the relationship to the ISHLT.

Known as the early modern period, the beginning of the 16th century inspired thoughts of intellect and reason that led into the enlightenment, a time of scientific revolution. Scientists or rather Natural philosophers from Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes to Robert Boyle pioneered the way for new discoveries in the future. Like us, scientists, or rather natural philosophers of this era were familiar with the routine struggles and conflicts caused by politics and religion. For example, Giovanni Riccioli and Pierre Gassendi contradicted their political and dogmatic ideas to study genomics and optics. Along with these men, Nicolaus Copernicus tested the Catholic Church's principles to prove new scientific discoveries that challenged theories from over 1500 years.

Although Ptolemy had been known as the father of astronomy, Copernicus realized after carefully studying astronomy, that Ptolemy had made several errors with his research including the geocentric theory claiming the earth as the center of the universe. With heretical speculation, Copernicus tested the Ptolemaic system to establish that the sun is at the center of our solar system and the earth revolves around it while rotating on its axis. In 1513, Copernicus built his own solar system model. However, his observations led to some inaccurate conclusions including his assumption that planetary orbits occurred in perfect circles, as German astronomer Johannes Kepler would later prove planetary orbits are actually elliptical in shape, eccentric orbits. Copernicus's theories and research remained unpublished in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium until his dear friend and renowned mathematician Georg Rheticus published a treatise on trigonometry in Copernicus's name, which resulted in high success and promise for a good outcome. Before his death in 1543, Copernicus was finally able to see his discoveries in print and with little skepticism. That same year, Andreas Vesalius published his seminal works, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, as a major advance in anatomy, overshadowing the works of Galen which had been left unchecked for nearly 1400 years. Accordingly, 1543 marks the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.

Next, Galileo Galilei's support of heliocentricism and discussion of Ptolemaic and Copernican theories would, centuries later, result in house arrest and an unmarked grave. Unlike Copernicus, Galilei was viewed as heretical for lacking diction such as "if," which established his research as definite and elevated skepticism. In its many forms, science plays a key role in securing the success of future problems. Galilei's recognition of a failed major advancement in Copernicus and Ptolemy's works led to new concepts of instantaneous motion and gravitational theory. Although his theories on terrestrial motion were denounced due to ignited conflicts with the Roman Catholic Government and rejection of established ideas, his research provided enough conclusive evidence to overthrow past Aristotelian and Ptolemaic systems and explore new systems. Like infinite circles, Galilei dies in 1642 with stagnant research, the same year Sir Isaac Newton is born. Galilei's work led to help Newton in the development of dynamics and calculus.

The Enlightenment represents the importance of reasoning and self-awareness, and can be marked by Newton who authored the impressive book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy published in 1687. Over time, the Royal Society in Britain established in the 17th century was losing its influence by the 18th century when the major focus of natural philosophy shifted to France. The major organizations of natural science were then disrupted by the French Revolution, shifting influence to the German states and their increasing roles in the natural sciences with a rise of an ideology of scholarship in German universities. In the 18th century, rational chemistry distinguished itself from alchemy resulting in the future of chemical explanation of periodicities, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Back to the matter at hand, attempts by natural philosophers in the 18th century examined natural laws with cues from astronomy according to Galileo, Copernicus and Keppler. These natural laws ruled the motions of the heavens culminating in the works of Newton. His reputation soared over time with support and promotion by Voltaire. Discovery of natural laws replaced God as the explanation of why nature was as it was. Natural philosophers placed the operation of natural laws as the direct cause, such as the attraction of objections and motion. Theories of the earth were causal explanations of the earth's features. Instead of focusing on universal causal laws, a different approach emerged out of mineralogy in Germany because of the abundance of ore, metallurgy and mining in the Erz Mountains of Saxony. Practical interest on the location and properties of metals such as lead, copper and silver led German scholars away from the pursuit of universal causal laws. Rather than theory, they were more interested in empiric and practical observations. The primary German mineralogist of the late 18th century, Abraham Werner, emphasized careful observation and created a geological system based on the time of formation of rocks that proved enormously influential, especially on the Continent. Werner's work was an added voice to those who argued that the earth was a cosmic body whose past had been shaped by natural processes. Towards the end of the 18th century, he helped shaped the attitudes of thinkers with detailed attention to observation. Today, he is known as the father of German geology for having developed a systematic identification and classification of minerals. His work left an indelible mark on those who established geology as a science in the decades to come.

A sampling of these natural philosophers from different parts of the world over time were part of the scientific revolution that will eventually lead up to an amalgamation of rational thought and emergence of great scientific endeavors in France, which still influences us today in the ISHLT. These endeavors will be brought to life and remind us of the importance of history for our own personal enlightenment. ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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