Augustine to Galileo: The History of Science, A.D. 400- 1650

By A. C. Crombie | Go to book overview
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VI
THE REVOLUTION IN SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT IN THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES

(1) THE APPLICATION OF THE MATHEMATICAL METHOD TO MECHANICS

HOW THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION of the 16th and 17th centuries came about is easier to understand than the reason why it should have taken place at all. As far as the internal history of science is concerned it came about by men asking questions within the range of an experimental answer, by limiting their inquiries to physical rather than metaphysical problems, concentrating their attention on accurate observation of the kinds of things there are in the natural world and the correlation of the behaviour of one with another rather than on their intrinsic natures, on proximate causes rather than substantial forms, and in particular on those aspects of the physical world which could be expressed in terms of mathematics. Those characteristics which could be weighed and measured could be compared, could be expressed as a length or number and thus represented in a ready-made system of geometry, arithmetic or algebra in which consequences could be deduced revealing new relations between events which could then be verified by observation. The other aspects of matter were ignored.

The systematic use of the experimental method by which phenomena could be studied under simplified and controlled conditions, and of mathematical abstraction which made possible new classifications of experience and the discovery of new causal laws, enormously speeded up the tempo of

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