Building on Harvey
The seventeenth century was both exciting and frustrating. Denis was caught up in the excitement of questioning the previously unquestionable — intellectual revolution was in the air. However, he was hampered by the fact that the recognised ways of conducting this sort of quest were only just beginning to emerge.
The key issue was progress, and the question was how to break the shackles that bound enquiring minds to Aristotelian patterns of thought, in which ideas and argument were more important than physical observations. The Renaissance had been a first step, but if anything it had reinforced the respect for this ancient mode of thought; people had rejuvenated Greek philosophy, given it a new lease of life and let it inspire a new generation of understanding. But this new understanding was still based on rhetoric rather than measurement. Consequently, there was little room for experiment-based pursuit of knowledge.
Worse than this, there was a growing body of opinion that, in many instances, the old conclusions were wrong. When people did perform experiments, take measurements and then try to make sense of their findings, they all too often found that ancient theories did not hold water. The Aristotelians dismissed this on the basis that any deviation from ancient teaching was bound to provide false understandings. Those who were bold enough to venture beyond these ancient confines saw it as proof of the need to take a new look at life.
The seventeenth century was therefore witness to a tentative dawn of a new freedom, and the'curious' — as this generation of thinkers often referred to themselves — cautiously started to shake themselves free. This wasn't a matter of instantly casting all ancient knowledge aside, but rather of insisting that every idea should be tested by