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The Clockwork Universe
The history of science is the study of humankind's changing understanding of the natural world and the profound influence it has had on the times in which we live. The first attempts at recorded science began with straightforward interpretations of the surrounding world, later growing in sophistication as well as specialization and eventually transforming the field into the highly nuanced realm it is today.
Over time, the original views of harmony, purpose and design would combine with new ideas emerging from early modern Europe concerning natural philosophy, soon pushing the physical world to the forefront as a model for the ways in which humans would re-structure society. In the seventeenth century, the institution of the monarchy was justified based on the analogy of the position of the sun in Copernicus’ proposed theory of the heliocentric universe. In the eighteenth century, interpretations of nature provided a model for new approaches to law, religion and society. In the nineteenth century, Darwin's theory of natural selection was used as a basis for the justification of two extreme and opposing political viewpoints.
The entanglement between science and the trajectory of world history is truly inextricable. From the experiments conducted by scientific practitioners to the instruments and techniques they used to the discoveries they made and the ways in which they presented them to the world, every aspect of science has had a profound influence on the world in which we live. The following are some of the MetroLibrary’s works exploring some of the history behind the fascinating and mysterious world of science.
The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton
Before 1492 it was commonly assumed that the limits of knowledge had been exhausted, that there was nothing left to be revealed about the world. Many resigned themselves to seeking understanding in the past rather than looking to the future. However, the discovery of the Americas that same fateful year demonstrated the prospect for uncharted knowledge, planting seeds of hope for unprecedented possibilities. Fifty-one years later, Nicolaus Copernicus published his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, a work that challenged previously held notions on planetary motion and opened the door for one of the most influential eras in history. As such, the Scientific Revolution would become a complicated and subjective period, the specifics of which still provoke disagreement among historians today. During the Revolution, some scientists chose to expand upon the works of those who came before. Others made contributions based strictly on their own observations, sometimes contradicting the evidence and conclusions of their contemporaries. In the course of this period, the modern scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimentation and analysis would be created, resulting in a monumental series of breakthroughs, especially relating to astronomy and its correlating fields. The impact of these discoveries extended well beyond the walls of the laboratory, creating a shift in the way many Westerners observed the world. In The Invention of Science, Author David Wootton traces this transformation of scientific ideas across mathematics, physics, astronomy, and biology, challenging previously held understandings of how these great reforms came about and illustrating how these shifts can be directly linked to revolutions in religion, politics, and society.
London was a lovely place in the 1660’s. Buildings were structurally unsound, haphazardly leaning upon one another for support. Streets were clogged with refuse and a number of other unsavory things. Medical services were less than useless. With the Plague decimating its population in 1665 and The Great Fire laying waste to massive swaths of its land one year later, the city had become something closer to a warren than a modern metropolis. Accordingly, the outlook of most living within her borders had grown bleak. It was a time when so many things were yet to be discovered but knowledge and the means to attain it were limited. However, in the face of such grim realities, there was a glimmer of hope. Unlikely as it may have seemed, it was science that would rise above the blight to revolutionize the world. As the seventeenth century began to wane with its religious warfare, its incurable diseases and its overall wanton destruction, one group of men would dare to contend that, in spite of the rampant mayhem, the universe was, in fact, organized with all the precision of an intricate machine. The Royal Society of London, a group of scholars who saw this world of perfect order, would begin to help turn the tide. The Clockwork Universe is the story of this band of men, living in a world of seemingly endless chaos and unremitting pestilence but believing in a universe designed as intricately and perfectly regulated as a clock. The indomitable spirit that inspired these men to investigate such things as the makeup of light, the intricacies of microbial life, the dynamics of celestial body movements and the characteristics of gravity would soon establish experimentation as central to scientific methodology and change the course of history forever.
When Isaac Newton famously quoted the medieval metaphor, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, it was likely that one of those giants was Johannes Kepler. After all, it was with his three laws of planetary motion that Kepler, the German mathematician and astronomer, forever altered understandings of the universe. Disproving the ancient notion of circular planetary orbits, he laid the foundation for the universal law of gravitation, setting physics on course for the modern era and becoming one of the most notable astronomers of all time. However, none of this would have happened if it weren’t for another mathematician named Tycho Brahe, a man for whom Kepler apprenticed. Brahe was the Imperial Mathematician at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor in Prague, one of the earliest founders of the modern scientific method and perhaps one of the most famous astronomers of his era. The collaboration between these two men was turbulent at best but it would ultimately lead to ground-breaking results. It was Brahe’s forty years of planetary research that would set the framework for Kepler’s own world-changing discoveries. However, it was only after Brahe's untimely passing that those observations would become available to the younger Kepler. Though it was a collaboration that would famously mark the dawn of modern science, there is far more to the story than meets the eye. Based on forensic evidence and original research into medieval and Renaissance alchemy, there are indications that Tycho Brahe may not have died of natural causes as previously thought. Rather, he may have been systematically poisoned, but by whom? A tale of suspected murder and scientific discovery, Heavenly Intrigue investigates the dark side of one of history’s most brilliant minds and tells a story of the politics, conspiracy, and superstition that surrounded these two great astronomers and their quest to find truth and beauty in the heavens above.
The story of science exists in a continuum. For centuries, physicists, astronomers and mathematicians have built from and expanded upon the works of both predecessors and contemporaries. Compelled by curiosity, competitive drive, social responsibility or financial interests, these men and women have produced work with ramifications profoundly altering our everyday lives and our understandings of the universe. Isaac Newton was driven by his intense rivalries with almost every other scientist of his day, notably Robert Hooke, a prominent figure in the Royal Society of London. Copernicus chose to study, and defy, the observations of previous astronomers such as Ptolemy in order to reveal a little more of the mysteries found in the heavens. Galileo made use of William Gilbert's experiments, which had previously laid the foundation for an understanding of magnetism and electricity, to further the world's knowledge of the Earth and its relationship to the universe. And, so it has been. Sometimes discoveries have been subtle adaptations to previous work. Sometimes, they have been novel discoveries that have changed the world over night. Through the ages, science has snowballed with the effects of these events, reveling itself through the discoveries of flawed people from all classes and walks of life. As a result, the field is drastically different now than it was centuries ago. Offering detailed and fresh perspectives on the stories of familiar figures like Galileo, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as well as shedding light on some of the more obscure characters whose stories have been undeservedly neglected, The Scientists presents vivid insight into the lives and times of the people who have made science and, along the way, changed the world forever.
Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them by Clifford A. Pickover
Archimedes' Principle states that the vertical force of buoyancy on a submerged object is equal to the weight of the fluid the object has displaced. This and other laws of nature provide the foundations from which scientists and laymen alike have been able to explore the world and make predictions about the universe. The discoveries of these principles have perhaps been among humanity's greatest achievements. To accompany each of these breakthrough discoveries, there is most often a back story filled with fascinating details as to how they have come about. For instance, in the case of Archimedes’ Principle, one interesting side note is that the physicist would sometimes send his colleagues false theorems in order to trap them when they made attempts to steal his ideas. For many of the scientists who have discovered natural laws, the pursuit of science was part and parcel of something profound be it religious belief, human advancement or otherwise. History is filled with brilliant, quirky, and passionate figures after whom these laws have been named. And, in many cases, these lawgivers have turned out to be fascinating, diverse and often highly eccentric. Some were extremely versatile polymaths who worked in many different areas of science with a seemingly infinite supply of curiosity and energy. Others had non-conventional educations and displayed their unusual talents from an early age. From Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to Hubble's Law of Cosmic Expansion, Archimedes to Hawking offers an intriguing portrait gallery of some of the greatest minds in history, taking the reader on a journey across the centuries as it explores the eponymous physical laws and the men and women behind each of them.