Optical Revolutions How the Telescope Essay

Pages: 3 (967 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Astronomy

Optical Revolutions

How the Telescope was a More Significant Invention to the Microscope

Advances in optical technology made it possible for early modern scientists to explore both the vastness of the universe and the minute complexities of the microbial world. However, while the invention of the microscope has transformed medicine and, ultimately, the lives of virtually every living person on Earth, these advances took decades to play out and were initially considered trivial. In contrast, the telescope may have had a less profound impact on everyday life, but, through its influence on a seminal figure, sparked an explosive revolution in early modern European thought, challenged the intellectual hegemony of the Church, and, ultimately, shifted our sense of the universe and our place in it.

The first modern working telescopes were built in 1608 and were almost immediately adopted as astronomical instruments by Galileo Galilei. As Bernard Cohen notes, "it is impossible to exaggerate the effects of the telescopic discoveries on Galileo's life, so profound were they" (57). Armed with a tool that let him to observe celestial objects more finely than the naked eye allows, Galileo soon realized that the planets he saw through the lens was very different from the celestial spheres of classical and medieval astronomical thought:

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There were only two possibilities open: One was to refuse to look through the telescope or to refuse to accept what one saw when one did; the other was to reject the physics of Plato and Aristotle and the old geocentric astronomy of Ptolemy (78).

Essay on Optical Revolutions How the Telescope Was a Assignment

Galileo chose the latter option and thus became a divisive figure within the European scientific community, both in life and, as a symbol of intellectual dissent, after his death in prison. Other scientists, looking through the telescope to see for themselves, did likewise, and the Copernican Revolution began to gather momentum.

In Galileo's Italy, scientific revolt was indistinguishable from religious dissent. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation and its attendant wars, the Catholic Church was currently engaged in the ambitious Counter-Reformation in order to answer the challenges posed by Martin Luther a century before (Fermi and Bernardini 65). Within that milieu, both intellectual conformity and adherence to established orthodoxies were both considered essential. The Ptolemaic system was part of that orthodoxy; therefore, challenging that system was seen as both a challenge to religious orthodoxy and thus potentially seditious. As Konnert (72) notes, "religious unity was seen as an essential precondition for peace and stability; conversely, religious dissent was seen as a certain recipe for civil disorder and civil war."

While relatively unwelcome in Catholic Italy, Galileo's observations were truly revolutionary elsewhere in Europe, where they fed into the radical transformation of ideas about the nature of the universe and humanity's place in it. By around 1620, the geocentric system was in serious danger (Cohen 81). The old system had enshrined the Earth at the center of a relatively… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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