Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and Joseph Needham. According to some excerpts from “Why Europe? ” by Jack Gladstone and “China, Technology and Change” by Lynda Norene Shaffer, the work of these notable men can be traced back to having a significant role in the scientific focus of modern society, or what we now know to be the “Scientific Revolution” of the seventeenth century. In a world where we are desperately dependent on advancements in modern science, we rarely stop to think about what got us to this point.
We all too often overlook many of the global events that ultimately helped develop a universal method for understanding and manipulating the world that we know today. My intent in the sentences and paragraphs to follow is to outline, compare and contrast the impacts and surrounding events in scientific advancement prompted by Chinese ingenuity and Europe’s new knowledge from Asia, Africa and the Americas. The first source that I would like to spotlight is a document titled, “China, Technology and Change” by Lynda Norene Shaffer.
In this document Shaffer speaks to what are thought, by early advocate of the empirical method Francis Bacon, to be the three main inventions upon which the scientific revolution was based. These things were printing, the compass, and gunpowder. Bacon had no idea where these things had originated, but upon further reading, it is revealed that all three previously listed items were invented in China. Another name brought up in the document is that of Joseph Needham.
At the time Needham was the foremost English-language scholar of Chinese science and technology. Due to Needham’s work, it was revealed to the Western academic community, that until Europe’s take-off, China was the unrivaled world leader in technological development. It is clearly stated that the impact of these Chinese inventions on Western Europe is well known. Printing not only eliminated much of the opportunity for human error, but also encouraged the copying and production of both old and new books.
The introduction of gunpowder in Europe made castles and other medieval fortifications obsolete and helped to liberate Western Europe from feudal aristocratic power. The compass facilitated voyages that lead to Atlantic Europe’s sole possession of the Western Hemisphere and helped open up the first all-sea route from Western Europe to the ports of East Africa and Asia. China possessed all three of these technologies by the latter part of the Tang dynasty (618-906), between four and six hundred years before they appeared in Europe.
It is stated in the document that historians are now beginning to use the term “revolution” when referring to technological and commercial changes that culminated in the Song dynasty, in the same way that they refer to the changes in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England as the Industrial Revolution. In this source document, I interpret that Shaffer’s objective is to inform the reader of the astounding technological advances brought to fruition by China and their impact on Europe, the “Scientific Revolution”, and the world as we know it today. I do not sense a form of bias in any direction.
I feel her target audience is relatively universal with a potential focus interest of those involved in the study of early Chinese and European history and culture. The second source I am choosing to use is Jack Goldstone’s “Why Europe? ” This document focuses less on the actual scientific technology advancements themselves and more on why certain cultures advanced while others reached a plateau or remained rather stagnant. It states that some traditions, such as that of China, made enormous advances in herbal medicine but remained weak in basic anatomy.
While other traditions, like that of Mayan Indians of Central America, were extremely accurate in observational astronomy but very weak in physics and chemistry. Science generally remained intermingled with religious and philosophical beliefs, and any inconsistencies were generally resolved in favor of preserving the established religion of the culture. This often meant that truly novel work risked being suppressed by political and religious authorities. Most pre-modern scientific traditions, including those of the ancient Greeks, medieval Europeans, Arabs and the Chinese, held hat math was not useful for studying the basic constitution of the universe. The Chinese and Indian traditions believed in a basic hidden force of nature called the “qi” or the “prana. ” Despite their enormous skill and use of detailed mathematics, observation in areas from canals and irrigation, works in astronomy and clocks, it seemingly never occurred to orthodox Chinese scientists to view the universe as a mechanical clockwork or to apply math to understand why natural processes occurred.
What mattered most to them was the understanding of the ever-changing flows of the “qi” between opposing conditions “yin” and “yang” to avoid excess and to maintain harmony. This is also seen in the Greek’s four basic elements and “aether. ” During all of these times principles were discovered and proved through logic and argument based on experience, not through math. Other examples of old norms and religious suppression on scientific advancement can be found throughout the document.
One point states that in the Middle Ages, European scholars continued to treat math as mainly a practical field, while focusing their attention on logic and argument as the keys to advancing knowledge. Much of the effort of European thought in the Middle Ages consisted of efforts to reconcile and synthesize the writings of the Greek authors on science and politics with the precepts of the Christian Bible and other religious texts. This in itself is simply preposterous to me.
The document goes on to discuss that it was only after 1600, with so many new observations that contradicted the ancient Greek’s knowledge, that it became possible to adopt alternatives to Greek science and philosophy. From 1600 to 1638, a series of books presenting new knowledge or proclaiming the need for a “new science” made a compelling case that the knowledge of the ancients was gravely flawed. Among the wrongs righted, Kepler showed that the planets actually traveled in elliptical orbits around the sun, not in circles.
William Harvey showed that, contrary to prior teachings and belief, veins and arteries were in fact one system through which the blood was circulated by the beating heart. By the mid 1600’s the prospects for actual progress were beginning to brighten. European philosophers and scientists found themselves in a world where the authority of ancient texts was clearly no longer a secure foundation for knowledge. As the ending paragraph of section goes on to emphasize, the Europeans, more than any other major civilizations, suddenly found that the classical tradition that they had ought to embrace now had to be escaped if they were going to understand the true nature of their world and their universe. This is the critical turning point, it lead Europeans to undertake a quest for new systems of philosophy and new ways of studying and describing the world around them. In this source document, I would have to describe Goldstone’s objective as giving the reader a detailed description of how civilizations conducted themselves leading up to the “Scientific Revolution” and what new directions they took to advance their thinking.
The target audience could, again, be general but also designed to appeal specifically to those studying the time period and the exact date frame and reasoning to each civilization’s advancements. To me, there is no detectable bias. After reading thoroughly, I am convinced that religion played a huge role in the setback of scientific advancement of many civilizations. In conclusion, both documents provide in-depth historical reference and coverage of their respective topics regarding the “Scientific Revolution. The first document focusing mainly on the advancements of China and Asia leading up to and during the “Scientific Revolution,” and how these advancements influenced other civilizations. The second document focusing more comprehensively on the individual achievements and obstacles facing each civilization, with Europe emerging more than any other major civilization, to journey forward and lead the movement.