Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton – the big names are familiar to almost all educated people around the world. The scientific revolution began with Copernicus’ publication, completed with Newton’s publication. A series events ushered in the era of modern science as we are in today.
The modern science is generally considered to have its root in classical antiquity, which was preserved and advanced in the middle ages. Scientific method is considered a hallmark of modern science; and was established during the scientific revolution. This common view is correct since it is based on facts. But the fundamental cause of scientific revolution has not been identified. For example, why the revolution happened in that period? Why it accelerated so rapidly? Why it happened in Europe? What factors caused scientific methods to develop?
Although publication is paramount in science, people usually focus on what the texts described. Since we consider written language as the core of science, we look from another perspective, centering our discussion on the texts themselves, which establish scientific minds. In the following, we provide an account of the foundation and causes of the scientific revolution in terms of scripts.
1. Greek alphabet – the origin of scientific minds.
The Greek alphabet is the ancestor of the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Its legibility is comparable to Cyrillic scripts, not much less legible than the Latin alphabet. It is the first true alphabet, separating vowels and consonants, exhibiting true sequentiality and clarity. It is good at first through third aspects as defined in the paper “scientific strength of writing systems – the aspects”. Hence, the Greek alphabet had the potential to establish science in the scale of the modern period. However, because the production and storage of texts were inefficient in ancient Greece, the texts people read and published were small in volume. Textual minds didn’t form in the general population. As a result, texts in classic antiquity were principally to record, communicate non-textual minds.
Still, a small number of individuals started to analyze texts as they possessed a great deal of texts, such as Aristotle and Archimedes. They wrote and edited writings. Their writings exhibited analytic and logical properties, as supported by the legibility of the Greek alphabet. But the existing texts they based on might not have been verified, and much of their thoughts might come from the description of own experience without proofs. As a result, many of their writings are descriptive and mentalistic. Nevertheless, the texts started an analytic tradition and provided an intellectual framework and rich resources from which later generations studied and derived new theories.
2. The impact of printing
It is known that printing plays a key role in the dissemination and communication of knowledge. We consider printing plays a more fundamental role and was a cause for the scientific revolution.
The middle ages
Before the middle ages, the Chinese had invented both paper and printing technology. That is perhaps the key factor that led to the eastern civilization overtaking the west. Arabic and Chinese sciences were advanced in the middle ages, but there lacked successive and expanding publications that were achieved by Latin Europe during the scientific revolution. The growth of Islamic and Chinese economies, sciences and technologies didn’t result in modern science due to the relatively illegible writing systems, which didn’t result in rigorous and analytic minds. The textual foundation was difficult to establish. Also, in this period, the printing technology was not very efficient.
Their discoveries and inventions were learned by Europeans and integrated into Europe.
Printing press and spread of the Latin texts
The Renaissance coincided with the development of printing in Europe. Since the 15th century, the printing press greatly accelerated the spread of texts. It became easy to access to books. Abundance of texts led to the texts’ independent from non-texts. People spent more time in reading and writing. Constant mental processing of texts led to the formation of scientific minds. Participation in scientific activities increased. Intellectual activities switched from non-texts-centered to text-centered. Due to the visual reliability and legibility of Latin texts (texts written in Latin script), modern science was rapidly developed from new publications based on existing ones.
Due to its proliferation, texts were more tightly associated with reality and more relied on, departing from the vagueness of philosophic tradition.
In addition, printed texts are usually of higher legibility than manuscripts.
Other literate societies lagged behind the Latin world
Any scripts can be printed equally quickly on the same printer. But societies of non-Latin scripts generally lagged significantly behind the Latin world in science and technology. That is mainly due to the illegibility of their writing systems. Modern science builds upon Latinized minds, not by the machine-generated materials. Many people switched to use the Latin script in order to learn from and compete with the Europeans. That continued to present day.
3. Accumulation of Latin texts based on existing works
In the ancient times, due to the limited capability of production and storage of texts, most works are lost or incomplete. Many works are with uncertain authorship. Many were derived from non-textual thoughts thus not based on previous texts. Many were rediscovered after hundreds of years. As a result, the written works don’t have solid ground, and are subject to new interpretation.
A key feature of modern science is the extensively basing on and referencing existing works. One of the key activities in modern science is – publishing. Published works are scrutinized by all. Authorship is clear and original texts are preserved and easily accessible for study. Whether a conclusion or theory is wrong or correct, they are clearly written down, providing resources and foundations for future research. There is a clear lineage in the publications of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.
The groundbreaking theories might be as simple as a few formulas and diagrams. However, extensive texts are referenced and reviewed for the accuracy of the conclusions. Also, extensive texts are written for explanation and proof. It might take an entire book for the proof of a simple conclusion.
4. The scientific method was firmly established on the spread of Latin texts
The causes of the scientific revolution are commonly attributed to mathematical description, experimentation, observation and so on, collectively called scientific methods. In fact, all aspects of scientific methods had been practiced long before the scientific revolution. What made the scientific revolution difference was the extensive employment and permanent establishment of scientific methods. There should be something that underpinned such rapid development.
Hypotheses and theories are, in fact, textual explanations of phenomena. Observations and experimentations need to have a textual basis to carry out. While in ancient times scientists also made observations and conducted experiments, their method was not systematic, standardized or known to many. Few people conducted experiments due to scarcity of manuscripts and low literacy. With the widespread of texts by printing, one person’s hypotheses and experiments could be soon shared and repeated by others. Then, the arguments were either confirmed, revised or rejected. Many scientists referenced others’ experiments without actually conducting themselves. The spread of Latin publications led to the establishment, standardization, and popularization of the scientific method.
Similar explanations also account for the establishment of mathematical tradition in science. Mathematical descriptions were embedded into, supported and popularized by the dissemination of Latin texts.
5. Texts’ entrance into daily life, science’s expansion into branches
Another feature of modern science is the building up of scientific minds in common people. The greatness of classical mechanics lied in its applicability in daily life, wherever there are force, motion and gravity. With the spread of texts, more and more people are equipped with scientific minds to analyze their encounters and experiences. When existing papers, books and theories are learned by more people, they gained knowledge and made new discoveries that came out more quickly. Nowadays, virtually all aspects of life, including eating, sleeping, jobs, sports, are subject to and based on scientific research.
The legibility of the Latin alphabet dictates that new theories not be confused with existing ones. The accumulation of textual knowledge expanded rigorously. Existing fields were better defined, while new fields were established for previously untouched areas. The textual knowledge in an area inside a field could become so immense that a subfield be established. Vocabularies were developed in each field and subfield. Science expanded into new branches and fields. Many are applied sciences. Technologies and engineering became sophisticated after being governed by scientific texts.
The dissemination of texts led to the democratization of knowledge. The progress of science increasingly relies on the general population, although a few geniuses might take pivotal steps.
6. Contemporary information explosion
The appearance of the world had changed a lot since the 17th century. People’s lives improved greatly due to industrial and technological advances. If judged by non-texts, the present world is certainly fundamentally a true civilization while the 17th century societies were primitive. However, the nature of modern science remained unchanged – investigation, processing and accumulation of Latin texts in association with the non-textual world.
The advancement of communication and information technologies has made the spread of information instantaneous. Electronic transmission of information via computers, smartphones and internet is much faster than via printed materials. The proliferation of Latin texts has entered an even more rapid era.
Scientific revolution is a turning point from non-text-based to texts-based world, which was enabled by the proliferation of the Latin texts. Scientific methods are established upon the rigor and order as determined by Latin texts. Not only modern science, but almost all areas of modernity, is a direct result of the spread of Latinized texts and minds.
Herbert Butterfield (1957). The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800. G. Bell and Sons Ltd.
 For the definition of descriptive and mentalistic texts, refer to my earlier paper “a new definition of science – the textual foundation that represents the real world”.
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