The Scientific Revolution: Crash Course History of Science #12

You’ve probably heard about a Scientific
Revolution in Europe, lasting from roughly the mid-1500s to 1700. And we have some very good stories to tell
from this period. But first, let’s talk historiography, or
how historians have told history differently over time. The trope of the Scientific Revolution is
a useful tool for organizing events in our story. But it also obscures other possible framings. In fact—as we pointed out in episode one—the
term “science” wasn’t used in its contemporary sense until the mid-1800s! So did a “Scientific Revolution” take
place at all? [INTRO MUSIC PLAYS] Philosopher, historian, and trained physicist
Thomas Kuhn had a lot of thoughts on what makes a revolution in science. He wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions, published in 1962. And in it, Kuhn argued that different sciences
undergo “revolutions” when scientists gather enough data that they can’t explain
using their current paradigm, or unstated, world-organizing theory about how the universe
works. Kuhn’s ideas have animated a lot of debates
in the history and philosophy of science, so let’s make sure we’re clear about them. Normal science is the kind of knowledge that
professional scientists—or natural philosophers—make most of the time. They have a combined research program and
philosophy about what counts as valid knowledge called a paradigm. Anomalies are things that the paradigm can’t
explain. Too many anomalies and… we have a scientific
revolution! Galileo and Newton overturn Aristotle! Einstein overturns Newton! Or, jumping back to the mid-1500s, Copernicus
overturns Ptolemy! Historians of science often associate the
start of the Scientific Revolution with a Polish politician and all-around smarty-pants
named Nicolaus Copernicus. (Nick—keep waiting in the green room until
we need you!) But we could just as easily begin with another
Nick—Nicole Oresme. Oresme argued for heliocentrism, or the theory
that the earth might revolve around the sun, one hundred and sixty six years before Copernicus! Oresme was born around 1320 in Normandy, France. He attended the College of Navarre, rather
than the prestigious University of Paris, so he probably came from a humble background. But he was very intelligent, becoming grand
master of the College of Navarre and then a bishop. Oresme spent a lot of time trying to answer
one of our big questions: “where are we?” He went about this rationally, for example,
lining up arguments for or against an earth that rotates on its axis in his book Livre
du ciel et du monde, or The Book of Heaven and the World, in 1377. He noted that it made more sense for the earth
to move than for all of the heavens to move around the earth. Nevertheless, Oresme concluded that the bible
dictates that the earth must remain still and chill. So close! Oresme also criticized astrology as a predictive
science, noting that the lengths of days don’t line up perfectly with years, making the recurrence
of certain astronomical phenomena very rare. My dude even noted that farmers and sailors
are better at predicting the weather than astrologers! And Oresme contributed a lot to math and physics. He pioneered the use of mathematical graphs
to describe how objects move through space over time. And he scooped Galileo on the physics of falling
objects, again by well over a century! Oresme’s theories could have helped jump-start
a revolution in the physical sciences… but they didn’t. Why? Maybe because he didn’t really push them,
and his contemporaries didn’t see them as particularly important. A little over a century later, another polymath
named Copernicus worked on some similar problems with more radical results. Historiography strikes! There is so much cool history out there, historians
have to make hard choices about when to “start” a big idea and whose name to pin to it. Okay, Nick—now we’re ready for you! Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473 in what
is now Poland to a family of well-off merchants. We don’t have a ton of documents by Copernicus,
up until his major work on astronomy. But we know that he went to school around
1500 to be a humanist. Copernicus probably spoke Latin, German, Polish,
Greek, and Italian, and he translated Greek poetry. He studied arts, math, and astronomy at the
University of Kraków. And he visited the Universities of Bologna
and Padua. Along with the liberal arts, Copernicus also
studied medicine. He would later work mostly as a sort of private
physician-slash-economist for the high-ups back in Poland. But the reason that we’re talking about
this Nick is that he took up astronomy. He decided that retrograde motion—planets
seemingly traveling around in loopty-loops!—was an “astronomical monster,” an obvious
impossibility. Copernicus also repudiated Ptolemy’s “equant
point”—an imaginary mathematical point that helped earlier astronomers see planets
move at uniform speeds. Ultimately, Copernicus proposed a heliocentric
universe of the cosmos: in this model, the earth rotates on its axis once every twenty-four
hours, and the Earth revolves around the sun once every year. Copernicus first wrote about heliocentrism
in his Commentariolus, or mini-commentary, in 1514. He was afraid that many people—being devout
Aristotelians, Ptolemy-ians, and Christians—would ridicule his life’s work. Most people thought heliocentrism was wrong,
and many found the idea downright blasphemous. So for years, the only source of Copernicus’s
radical new theory was the outline that his protege Rheticus published in 1540, called
Narratio prima, or The First Account. When he was facing the end of his life, however,
Copernicus relented. On his deathbed in 1543, he received the first
copy of his book, which I’m going to attempt to pronounce now… De revolutionibus orbium cœlestium, or what all the cool cats call
“De rev”—On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. According to legend, Copernicus woke up from
a coma, took one look at the published De rev, smiled—and died peacefully, knowing
that his great work would finally reach a wider audience. And also that he couldn’t get persecuted
for it cause he was super dead! As happens often in the history of science,
Copernicus’s contribution wasn’t really coming up with a new idea, but taking a non-mainstream
idea and explaining it in a way that made people paid attention. In proposing a sun-centered cosmos, Copernicus
was working on a theory that had never really caught on in Europe but had also never really
gone away. Besides his fellow-Nick, Oresme, Copernicus
knew about the heliocentric model espoused by the ancient Greek astronomer, Aristarchus
of Samos, who was born around 310 BCE, about a decade after Aristotle died. Aristarchus was waaay ahead of his his time:
he put the sun in the center of the solar system, and then put the planets in their
correct order around it. He guessed that other stars were like the
sun, just farther away. He even deduced that the earth rotates on
its axis. But most astronomers rejected Aristarchus’s
ideas… until Copernicus. If there’s any guy in history that told
us where we were the best, it was that greek dude that everyone forgot about. But people paid attention to Copernicus. ThoughtBubble, shine some light on why his
book about revolutions was revolutionary: De rev was not based on new observations,
and it did not prove heliocentrism. In it, Copernicus hypothesized that his theory
must be a better-fit model for the cosmos than the geocentrism of Ptolemy, because a
sun-centered model was more “pleasing to the mind.” And Copernicus’s theory was so pleasing! In his heliocentric model, retrograde motion
disappeared. Copernicus dictated a definite order of the
planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and
then Saturn. Copernicus’s theory also made the universe
twenty times wider across than Ptolemy. Which turned out not to be big enough, turns out the universe is very big—but
still so big that most people didn’t believe it. But Copernicus didn’t revolutionize everything
about the Christian–Aristotelian cosmos. For one, Copernicus’s math was a disaster. And, in his theory, the Earth and other planets
revolved around a center point that was near the sun, but wasn’t exactly the sun. And the planets were still embedded in crystalline
spheres. For Copernicus, the idea that the earth rotates
on its axis was the “third motion.” That is, along with the rotation of the whole
sphere, defining a year, and a transition from day to night, defining a day. The third motion explained the other stuff. Thanks Thought Bubble, Nick’s grand theory
fit into the first twenty-four pages of his book. The rest was dense and, frankly, not very
revolutionary astronomy. Copernicus used Ptolemy’s fifteen-hundred
year old data to build his system. So maybe Copernicus wasn’t a revolutionary
within science, just one more in a long line of good astronomers. The Scientific Revolution is sometimes positioned
as a break in Europe between a Christian concept of knowledge and a secular or worldly one. Certainly, Copernicus’s cosmos doesn’t
look like Dante’s. But if De rev was a break, it wasn’t very
sharp. Copernicus was a diplomat, a religious person,
and generally risk-averse. He was a canon in the church—a position
just below bishop. He dedicated De rev to Pope Paul III. Protestant leader Martin Luther did reject
heliocentrism. But this didn’t become a public controversy
until Galileo’s time, a hundred years later. In fact, Copernicus’s publisher, Andreas
Osiander, added an anonymous preface to De rev, saying that the book was only
a thought experiment: it didn’t need to be true to help astronomers
better understand the math behind the motions of the planets, and thus make better predictions
about them. It didn’t even need to be probable. This was… not exactly a battle
cry challenging conventional cosmology. Regardless—according to a common version
of the history of science—this is how the Scientific Revolution started. Was it a revolution? The majority of people on earth didn’t know
the Scientific Revolution was starting when De rev appeared. They didn’t see any armies forcing them
at gunpoint to think about the fact that—plot twist—the earth revolves around the sun. The “battles” about this, when they occurred
at all, took place in the halls of universities or between the covers of books that most people
couldn’t even read! It’s true that, by 1700, European thinkers
had pretty much moved away from the science of Aristotle and Ptolemy, or at least many
parts of it. But the concept of the Scientific Revolution
comes from the nineteenth century. Historians looked back and said: “How Europeans answered big questions such
as ‘where are we?’ really started to change around the middle
of the 1500s. By the middle of the 1600s, natural philosophers
had developed new methods of making all kinds of knowledge. We dub this shift, ‘the Scientific Revolution!’” This idea of a break makes sense when you
remember the motto of the Royal Society, “nullius in verba”—don’t believe something just
because Aristotle said it! Natural philosopher such as Francis Bacon
and Robert Boyle pushed for experiments and published their results in journals. And more people had access to books like De
rev, thanks to Gutenberg. So you can call it either way: a revolution
didn’t take place, because the number of people involved at the time was small, and not much
changed in daily life due to new ideas in science. Or a revolution did take place, because Galileo
got in trouble for looking at Jupiter, Newton invented calculus, and French and English
natural philosophers could argue via journal. We’re gonna talk about all these stories soon! In conclusion: people named Nick make the
best astronomers. Two of them helped catch medieval Europe up
to the astronomical knowledge level of India, or classical Mesoamerica. (Remember how the Maya were really, really
into astronomy, centuries ago?) So the idea of “the” Scientific Revolution,
in early modern Europe, doesn’t make as much sense as the idea of many scientific
revolutions in different places at different times. And finally—and this is so critical!—just
as science is an active area of research today, history is too. Historians have to choose what stories to
tell and how to most accurately frame them for their own times and places. Next time—we’ll accompany science-boss
Tycho Brahe on a duel and meet Copernicus’s historical brother from another mother, Johannes
Kepler. Crash Course History of Science is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney studio in Missoula, MT and it’s made with the help of all these nice people. And our Animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly with us, you can check out some of our other channels like Sexplanations, How to Adult, and Healthcare Triage. Hey, if you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everybody, forever, you can support the series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making Crash Course possible with their continued support.

Comments 100

  • I understand you need to build a story in 12 minutes, but I think you grossly underestimate the importance of the printing press in all of this. Why do we know about Copernicus and now the other guys? Because Copernicus' work was copied thousands of times by his students via printing press. The other guys wrote their stuff too early. They didn't get that.

    That's what really started the scientific revolution.

  • kuhn gets mentioned
    gets flashbacks to all my history and sociology classes

  • 1) Didn't Oresme only discuss Earth rotating on its axis, not heliocentrism?

    2) Wasn't Oresme's argument for dismissing that idea in the end that unmoving Earth was common sense and the issue couldn't be solved anyway. I don't think it had anything to do with the Bible.

    However, his reason for discussing the idea in the first place was supposedly to show the limits of reason.

  • Is there any good literature on Oresme and his influence (or lack thereof)?

  • Maybe it should be called the "Scientific Incrementalism" instead

  • I had a revolutionary nut bust watching this

  • Finally a scientific revolution episode

  • Tesla started the scientific revolution.

  • French and English philosophers could argue via LiveJournal. The early 2000's were a heady time.

  • #22 out of 1.7 to down vote this. My man. What on earth are you talking about? I feel like your conjoiners are off and I am listening to a rambling idiot who knows to much about history.

  • Crash course historiography!

  • I have to say it feels a little odd to show Poland's modern borders, which were very different during the Polish Golden Age, during which Copernicus lived.

  • You know its a good video if the like / dislike ratio is nearly 100 / 1. Hank for President!

  • Things like gravitational waves, the Higgs Boson or Quantum Computing are awesome and they change the way we see things in the big picture. But they don't change the way I do grocery shopping or clean my apartment. So those tacked on "revolution" labels are just that and more for historians than the normal dude on the street.
    Sure in today's society it's easier to access information about the newest, latest and hottest scientific achievement but it takes time to somehow implement those new ideas in every day life stuff .. even in today's fast-paced lives of ours.

  • At what point was science no longer subject to ' You offended THE LAWD'

  • But, other than scale, he was right about the sun not quite being the center of the solar system. Not that it was what he said, but there's an offset, with bodies revolving around their shared center of mass, rather than the center of mass of the bigger one.

  • Oresme had a "humble" background he went to University in the XIV century

  • anybody else want to smack him for say "invented calculus". You discover math not invent it

  • "This has been frequently framed in this way, but does this obscure other possible framings. did this phenomena (the dark ages/ the cold war/ the scientific revolution/ atrocities of the mongols etc.) happen at all, or are things more complicated????" this is the structure of like every single crash course history/ humanities class, and it's usually pretty useful to add nuance, including in this video. But idk it's just such typical trendy jargon that taken to an extreme prevents you from making any definitive statements whatsoever.

  • Copenicus? but no Tycho Brahe and Kepler that first disproved it and fixed it.

    His theory was wrong, disproven with experiments and then a new working one suggested by Kepler, and only through THAT is scientific method and thus the scientific revolution.

  • Crash Course Linguistics 2018 please!

  • Ehh… Sad to see that these series ignored science in the Eastern Roman Empire. They had achievements worth mentioning. That's a shame.

  • 👍👍👍

  • I disagree with charting scientific revolutions as an increasing slope line

  • "The Book of Heaven and Earth"*

  • That greek guy was awesome

  • Please create a channel about computer science

  • Kuhn, finally!!

  • hi I usually don't do this, but I think some of the stuff you said about Thomas Kuhn was misleading (not outright wrong, just not really perfect). His theory doesn't argue that a scientific revolutions always make us know more, or better, like your graph suggests, he even argued that for someone who studies scientific history it must be clear that other, older system, at their time tdid their work well. Also he actually explained it very well how these "revolutions" are not really that revolutionary, and they only really effect scientific communities in short term.

  • 💜

  • I don't think you meant to do this, but your Copernicus giving up the ghost animation helped propagate Christian superstition.

  • Learn arabic at my channel.
    Learn arabic at my channel.
    Learn arabic at my channel.

  • camera not level : )

  • still waiting for that crash course deep fried everything

  • After speaking to numerous scientists in person on the subject, most everyone agrees that Einstein did not overturn Newton, he merely advanced or specified it. Post-relativity, we can say that Newton is correct in systems of low velocity (i.e. when there's no need to take into account relativity). Newton's equations are still used by NASA. I don't understand how you can say that Einstein overturned Newton. Created a new way of thinking? Yes. But was the paradigm shift caused by Einstein's theories that revolutionary?

  • Guess I’m gonna be an astronomer

  • I think it's really weird to present the Copernicus' home country on the map with nowadays borders, even with the EU countries being distinguished… why? Poland looked nothing like the red thing on that map when Copernicus was copernicing! Love that series, by the way, you're doing a great job 🙂


  • thanks

  • "In conclusion: People named Nick make the best astronomers???"

  • Man, I love this channel!

  • Error with "History of Science Playlist". Episodes "History of Science #11" and "History of Science #12" are not included in the History of Science playlist, even though #10 and #13 are included.

  • We do know that the point we orbit ISN'T the center of the sun, because of gravity's interaction and Jupiter's size. (BUT it is so close to the center of the sun that it doesn't matter in anything but the most delicate equations).

  • no offense but my god your french is horrible

  • Can I overturn several times in my bed at night that's scientific little fact

  • Not many people knowing about it has nothing to do with it occurring or not. If there was no "revolution", why did progress in science shift so dramatically? Almost no progress was made for over a thousand years, then breakthrough after breakthrough occurred in a very brief amount of time, and is still occurring to this day. Clearly, something changed.

  • Kinda disappointed you didn't mention the actual scientific method in your video about the scientific revolution.


  • Copernicus was not really Polish. He was born to German-speaking parents in Thorn, which was part of the Hanseatic league as well as a part of the autonomous Royal Prussia of which the King of Poland was only the chosen protector. If you really need to give Copernicus a single national identity that would be either Prussian or German, but Polish is misleading.

  • I’m watching this for school, who else is?

  • The reason Copernicus is credited over Oresmes or Aristarchus is because he was the first one to work out in excruciating detail the mathematics of a heliocentric theory. It's rather easy to come up with possible explanations for anything, but extremely hard to translate those ideas into mathematical laws. That's the part of Copernicus work that you casually dismiss as repetition of Ptolemy's system. Previous cosmologies don't get even close to what Copernicus did, and that's why his theory succeeded.

  • This video is not included in the History of Science playing list in the Crash Course Channel

  • 8:06 that actually sounds correct – the sun and the planets all do orbit their center of gravity. i'm not sure if that point lies within the sun or not. it probably does. but it wouldn't be the centre of the sun.

  • This video and #11 are missing from the Course playlist. Just wanted you to know!

  • This is more like European Scientific Revolution.

  • how did the Science revolution influence the industrial revolution?

  • Kepler,bacon, Copernicus, Galileo,ptolmey and issac newton

  • So glad he mentioned the Mayans and Indian astronomers. Many civilizations already knew about heliocentrism

  • 😑😑 can't understand?

  • Bro I love Crash Course Ive earned more from you folks then I have in all my schooling. Im 26 now still watching your videos, for fun (while kicking back a few beers) you have, and continue to make entertaining and informative content that I share. Everyone with the ability to contribute to keeping this wholesome unbiased content going do, because this, is one of the truly altruistic channels on youtube. They do this because they love teaching, not money or fame. Keep up the good work the Whole CrashCourse Team, your doing good in the world.

  • They are getting creative and creative with their intro song

  • NO WORD about the medieval arabs scientists. They were thé true pioneers of heliocentrism. Copernicus got his ideas from their writings !

  • Thank Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

  • "He probably came from a modest background… but he was very intelligent…" 🤨
    You can do better.

  • Keep up the great work! Also please sub to my channel.

    Channel Name: LMD_Dimenow

  • 8:07 and he isn't that much off
    Just like newton's laws dictate the planets also 'move the sun around. The center of the sun isn't the center of our rotation

  • well thank god for those inclusive narratives. the green bros hate to confirm european profundity and stammer all over themselves to avoid it.

  • Strange, I was always told it was Atheists who gave us science and the Scientific Revolution…
    It's almost like atheism is a 20th century phenomenon…

  • Well it's Ptolemaic

  • Beep boop

  • is this john green !?!?

  • You awesome hank

  • Copernicus was great.

  • who the hell is this guy?? The other guy is my only teacher when studying I can't learn from this fool

  • But it's true that the Planets revolve around a point that isn't quite at the center of the sun. They revolve around the center of mass of the sun – planet system, which is at least a few miles off from the exact center of the sun.

  • I have a test tomorrow on this, well is not about this but whatever xd

  • Anyone else disproportionately thrown off by the lack of blazer? No? Just me? Okay…

  • Y u scientist people not debating with Dr Zakir Naik , he is already proof scientificaly that glorious Islam is the only religion which is good for human being if u don't believe than subcribe u tube channel peace TV . N watch it .

  • Anybody ever wonder about all of the amazing minds the world has benefitted from, but who we never hear of because they were not wealthy enough or -from Europe enough, to ever have their name mentioned in history discussions? You'd think the rest of the world hadn't been thought of yet. (Oh wait, that's right. They were not intellectually advanced yet in Asia, and a bunch of random savage tribes in Africa *huge eye roll*. ) This is all great information. It just makes it all the more obvious that we ONLY learn about the accomplishments made by a specific group, explaining our propensity to subconsciously hold, said group in higher esteem than all others.

  • Great video—except for that french pronounciation… Sorry.

  • where is john green

  • When i learned more here than in my 'ethics and science' class. 😅

  • you are the best on YouTube

  • hank needs to brush up on his French

  • Duck you! You stupid Motherducker

  • I wish there was a transcript, crash course if u see this, plz consider making transcripts.

  • Kintela tramposo

  • Anyone else studying for the regents?

  • La Livre du Ciel de la Monde? Wtf with the pronunciation? /la liv(r) doo syel do la mond/

  • finna prepare for these Regents Monday 💀

  • Crash Course is amazing! There is so much information. I'm so impressed at how knowledgeable the creators are. Love it!!

  • Translate to the arabic language please

  • Knowledge overload

  • Alguien me pasa la traducción en castellano, le doy follow en todas las redes sociales.


  • What a dumb name for a horse.

  • Excellent! Makes me nostalgic for the 6/7 years my husband and I spent doing history of science at Duke. Sigh … a favorite topic! Especially this era.

  • 2:02 — did anyone else hear that glitch? Lmaoo

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