The Age of Reconnaissance

The Age of Reconnaissance

The Age of Reconnaissance

The Age of Reconnaissance

Excerpt

Between the middle of the fifteenth century and the late seventeenth, Europeans learned to think of the world as a whole and of all seas as one. Their lessons were those of experience and eye-witness report. During those two and a half centuries European explorers actually visited most of the habitable regions of the globe; nearly all those, in fact, which were accessible by sea. They found vast territories formerly unknown to them, and drew the rough outlines of the world which we know. The period, especially the earlier half of it, is commonly called the Age of Discovery, and with reason. Geographical exploration, however, is only one of many kinds of discovery. The age saw not only the most rapid extension of geographical knowledge in the whole of European history; it saw also the first major victories of empirical inquiry over authority, the beginnings of that close association of pure science, technology, and everyday work which is an essential characteristic of the modern western world. During this period, especially the latter half of it, European scientists sketched the outline of the physical universe which, broadly speaking, is that accepted by the ordinary educated man today, and formulated the laws they deduced from the movement and interaction of its parts. All forms of discovery, all forms of original thought, are connected in some way, however distant: and it is natural to see a connection between these particular forms. The seaman, exploring uncharted seas, needed the help of learned men, especially men learned in mathematics, astronomy, and physical science; also, though this came later, in medical science. The student of science, seeing the achievements of geographical exploration (most empirical of all forms of inquiry, and most destructive of purely a priori reasoning) was naturally stimulated to further exploration in his chosen field. Both kinds of discovery further stimulated, and were stimulated by, the work of philosophers, poets and pamphleteers.

Connection there undoubtedly was; but its precise nature was both complex and elusive. The modern historian, accustomed to finding as the result of seeking, to discovery as the product of research, is tempted both to exaggerate and to anticipate. It is confidently expected today . . .

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