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During the s certain Oxford scholars pondered the philosophical problem of how to describe the change that occurs when qualities increase or decrease in intensity and came to consider the kinematic aspects of motion. Dealing with these problems in a purely hypothetical manner without any attempt to describe actual motions in nature or to test their formulas experimentally, they were able to derive the result that in a uniformly accelerated motion, distance increases as the square of the time.

Thomas Aquinas , which had clearly theological consequences. Many of these condemned propositions had scientific implications as well. During the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, scientific thought underwent a revolution.

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A new view of nature emerged, replacing the Greek view that had dominated science for almost 2, years. Science became an autonomous discipline , distinct from both philosophy and technology , and it came to be regarded as having utilitarian goals. By the end of this period , it may not be too much to say that science had replaced Christianity as the focal point of European civilization.

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Out of the ferment of the Renaissance and Reformation there arose a new view of science, bringing about the following transformations: The scientific revolution began in astronomy. Relying on virtually the same data as Ptolemy had possessed, Copernicus turned the world inside out, putting the Sun at the centre and setting Earth into motion around it.

To achieve comparable levels of quantitative precision, however, the new system became just as complex as the old. In contrast to Platonic instrumentalism, Copernicus asserted that to be satisfactory astronomy must describe the real, physical system of the world. The reception of Copernican astronomy amounted to victory by infiltration. By the time large-scale opposition to the theory had developed in the church and elsewhere, most of the best professional astronomers had found some aspect or other of the new system indispensable.

Thus, it was widely read by mathematical astronomers, in spite of its central cosmological hypothesis , which was widely ignored. The tables were more accurate and more up-to-date than their 13th-century predecessor and became indispensable to both astronomers and astrologers. During the 16th century the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe , rejecting both the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems, was responsible for major changes in observation, unwittingly providing the data that ultimately decided the argument in favour of the new astronomy.

Using larger, stabler, and better calibrated instruments, he observed regularly over extended periods, thereby obtaining a continuity of observations that were accurate for planets to within about one minute of arc—several times better than any previous observation. At the beginning of the 17th century, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler placed the Copernican hypothesis on firm astronomical footing.

Converted to the new astronomy as a student and deeply motivated by a neo- Pythagorean desire for finding the mathematical principles of order and harmony according to which God had constructed the world, Kepler spent his life looking for simple mathematical relationships that described planetary motions. His painstaking search for the real order of the universe forced him finally to abandon the Platonic ideal of uniform circular motion in his search for a physical basis for the motions of the heavens.

With these two laws, Kepler abandoned uniform circular motion of the planets on their spheres, thus raising the fundamental physical question of what holds the planets in their orbits.


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The impending marriage of astronomy and physics had been announced. In Kepler stated his third law, which was one of many laws concerned with the harmonies of the planetary motions: A powerful blow was dealt to traditional cosmology by Galileo Galilei , who early in the 17th century used the telescope , a recent invention of Dutch lens grinders, to look toward the heavens. In Galileo announced observations that contradicted many traditional cosmological assumptions. He observed that the Moon is not a smooth, polished surface, as Aristotle had claimed, but that it is jagged and mountainous.

Earthshine on the Moon revealed that Earth, like the other planets, shines by reflected light. Like Earth, Jupiter was observed to have satellites; hence, Earth had been demoted from its unique position. The phases of Venus proved that that planet orbits the Sun, not Earth. The battle for Copernicanism was fought in the realm of mechanics as well as astronomy. Removing Earth from the centre destroyed the doctrine of natural motion and place, and circular motion of Earth was incompatible with Aristotelian physics. Although in his youth he adhered to the traditional impetus physics, his desire to mathematize in the manner of Archimedes led him to abandon the traditional approach and develop the foundations for a new physics that was both highly mathematizable and directly related to the problems facing the new cosmology.

Interested in finding the natural acceleration of falling bodies, he was able to derive the law of free fall the distance, s , varies as the square of the time, t 2. Combining this result with his rudimentary form of the principle of inertia , he was able to derive the parabolic path of projectile motion. He was principally concerned with the conceptions of matter and motion as part of his general program for science—namely, to explain all the phenomena of nature in terms of matter and motion. This program, known as the mechanical philosophy, came to be the dominant theme of 17th-century science.

Although matter tends to move in a straight line in accordance with the principle of inertia, it cannot occupy space already filled by other matter, so the only kind of motion that can actually occur is a vortex in which each particle in a ring moves simultaneously. According to Descartes, all natural phenomena depend on the collisions of small particles, and so it is of great importance to discover the quantitative laws of impact. The work of Sir Isaac Newton represents the culmination of the scientific revolution at the end of the 17th century. His monumental Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ; Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy solved the major problems posed by the scientific revolution in mechanics and in cosmology.

By means of the concept of force , Newton was able to synthesize two important components of the scientific revolution, the mechanical philosophy and the mathematization of nature. Newton was able to derive all these striking results from his three laws of motion:. Every body continues in its state of rest or of motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by force impressed on it;. The change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and is made in the direction of the straight line in which that force is impressed;. To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: In this form, it is clear that the rate of change of velocity is directly proportional to the force acting on a body and inversely proportional to its mass.

In order to apply his laws to astronomy, Newton had to extend the mechanical philosophy beyond the limits set by Descartes. He postulated a gravitational force acting between any two objects in the universe, even though he was unable to explain how this force could be propagated. The same force that causes objects to fall near the surface of Earth also holds the Moon and planets in their orbits. The confirmation of this prediction by French expeditions in the midth century helped persuade most European scientists to change from Cartesian to Newtonian physics.

Newton also used the nonspherical shape of Earth to explain the precession of the equinoxes , using the differential action of the Moon and Sun on the equatorial bulge to show how the axis of rotation would change its direction. The science of optics in the 17th century expressed the fundamental outlook of the scientific revolution by combining an experimental approach with a quantitative analysis of phenomena.

Optics had its origins in Greece , especially in the works of Euclid c. It was Kepler , taking his lead from the writings of these 13th-century opticians, who set the tone for the science in the 17th century. Kepler introduced the point by point analysis of optical problems, tracing rays from each point on the object to a point on the image.

Just as the mechanical philosophy was breaking the world into atomic parts, so Kepler approached optics by breaking organic reality into what he considered to be ultimately real units. Descartes sought to incorporate the phenomena of light into mechanical philosophy by demonstrating that they can be explained entirely in terms of matter and motion. Using mechanical analogies , he was able to derive mathematically many of the known properties of light, including the law of reflection and the newly discovered law of refraction. Many of the most important contributions to optics in the 17th century were the work of Newton , especially the theory of colours.

Traditional theory considered colours to be the result of the modification of white light. Descartes, for example, thought that colours were the result of the spin of the particles that constitute light. Newton upset the traditional theory of colours by demonstrating in an impressive set of experiments that white light is a mixture out of which separate beams of coloured light can be separated. He associated different degrees of refrangibility with rays of different colours, and in this manner he was able to explain the way prisms produce spectra of colours from white light.

His experimental method was characterized by a quantitative approach, since he always sought measurable variables and a clear distinction between experimental findings and mechanical explanations of those findings. Newton observed quantitative relations between the thickness of the film and the diameters of the rings of colour, a regularity he attempted to explain by his theory of fits of easy transmission and fits of easy reflection. Huygens was the second great optical thinker of the 17th century.

Huygens regarded light as something of a pulse phenomenon, but he explicitly denied the periodicity of light pulses. He developed the concept of wave front , by means of which he was able to derive the laws of reflection and refraction from his pulse theory and to explain the recently discovered phenomenon of double refraction.

Chemistry had manifold origins, coming from such diverse sources as philosophy , alchemy , metallurgy , and medicine. It emerged as a separate science only with the rise of mechanical philosophy in the 17th century. Aristotle had regarded the four elements earth, water , air, and fire as the ultimate constituents of all things. Transmutable each into the other, all four elements were believed to exist in every substance.

Originating in Egypt and the Middle East , alchemy had a double aspect: Alchemy contributed to chemistry a long tradition of experience with a wide variety of substances. Paracelsus , a 16th-century Swiss natural philosopher, was a seminal figure in the history of chemistry, putting together in an almost impenetrable combination the Aristotelian theory of matter, alchemical correspondences, mystical forms of knowledge, and chemical therapy in medicine.

His influence was widely felt in succeeding generations. During the first half of the 17th century, there were few established doctrines that chemists generally accepted as a framework. As a result, there was little cumulative growth of chemical knowledge. Most chemists accepted the traditional four elements air, earth, water, fire , or the Paracelsian principles salt , sulfur , mercury , or both, as the bearers of real qualities in substances; they also exhibited a marked tendency toward the occult. The interaction between chemistry and mechanical philosophy altered this situation by providing chemists with a shared language.

The mechanical philosophy had been successfully employed in other areas; it seemed consistent with an experimental empiricism and seemed to provide a way to render chemistry respectable by translating it into the terms of the new science. Perhaps the best example of the influence of the mechanical philosophy is the work of Robert Boyle. The thrust of his work was to understand the chemical properties of matter , to provide experimental evidence for the mechanical philosophy, and to demonstrate that all chemical properties can be explained in mechanical terms.

He was an excellent laboratory chemist and developed a number of important techniques, especially colour-identification tests. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval.

Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions. Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. Written By: Stephen G. Brush Margaret J. Osler J. Brookes Spencer. See Article History. Top Questions. Foundations of mathematics. Page 1 of 3. Next page Science from the Enlightenment to the 20th century.

Learn More in these related Britannica articles: From the time of the English philosopher Roger Bacon in the 13th century, there were at least some rudiments of physical science that were largely independent of medieval theology and philosophy. Historians of physical science…. Astronomy , science that encompasses the study of all extraterrestrial objects and phenomena.

Physical science dictionary definition | physical science defined

Until the invention of the telescope and the discovery of the laws of motion and gravity in the 17th century, astronomy was primarily concerned with noting and predicting the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, originally for…. Physics , science that deals with the structure of matter and the interactions between the fundamental constituents of the observable universe.

In the broadest sense, physics from the Greek physikos is concerned with all aspects of nature on both the macroscopic and submicroscopic levels. Its scope of study encompasses not only…. More About Physical science 3 references found in Britannica articles Assorted References major reference In principles of physical science link with social sciences In social science: Effects of theology representative history in radioactivity In Henri Becquerel.

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