The history of science is only linear if one ignores the fascinating achievements of various ancient civilizations. Nevertheless, if one assumes a Eurocentric perspective, there is a certain logic to the progression of innovation throughout modernity. While they might not seem interconnected, great discoveries only happen when humanity’s accumulated knowledge reaches a certain point. Thus, such scientific breakthroughs as the discovery of Newton’s laws of motion, chemical reaction, genetics, and the Solar System demonstrate that true scientific advancement is only possible through cooperation between researchers.
Like any scientist making a great discovery, Newton formulated the three laws of motion using the research of other great thinkers that came before him. As is traditional in the Western world, historians usually trace the origins of this principle to antiquity. Later, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and even Leonardo da Vinci wrote on the subject (Karaoglu, 2020). Newton’s significant contribution to science is the fact that he managed to codify and popularize his discoveries. Thus, it is not enough to simply note a curious phenomenon. The value of research comes from experimenting extensively, writing things down, and educating the masses so that later scholars can use prior writings to build their theories about the natural world.
Other scientists managed to expand humanity’s knowledge about the universe using the knowledge about inertia and the movement of physical bodies in space. Specifically, heliocentrism, or the notion that Earth revolves around the Sun, stems from Galileo, Kepler, and da Vinci’s work. However, the public most often associates Copernicus with the discovery. The Catholic Church brutally penalized the man for the suggestion that the geocentric planetary system was wrong (Iltis, 2018). However, as history has proven, suppression of knowledge and institutional censorship are only temporary barriers to progress. Thus, executing Nicolaus Copernicus could not stop the discovery of the true planetary motion model.
Sometimes, the paranoia of scholars themselves is what stood between humanity and progress. For hundreds of years, alchemists conducted experiments and accumulated knowledge. However, their tendency to encrypt proprietary research and be secretive about any breakthroughs prevented any cooperation and stopped the transfer of knowledge between generations. During the Renaissance, scientists started to parse out the principles behind chemical reactions. As soon as they started accumulating knowledge, they have discovered numerous fascinating phenomena, including the behavior of gases and laws of thermodynamics. The whole discipline of chemistry proves by its very existence that cooperation within the scientific community guides progress.
Naturally, researchers working nowadays cannot truly imagine the contribution they are making to the future of science. For example, Gregor Mendel, a Catholic monk, could hardly envisage the future of genetics when he was conducting his experiments on the inherited traits of peas. Nevertheless, his work, combined with the writings of Charles Darwin, led to the discovery of DNA. Nowadays, scientists can use the discipline for revolutionary medical research that would seem like science fiction to Mendel. However, they similarly cannot envisage what their work will create.
I used to think of scientific progress as a series of discoveries made by great people. However, the course showed me that real innovation requires a critical accumulation of knowledge. The work of scientists would be impossible without the writings of their predecessors, as exemplified by Newton’s laws of motion, the concept of chemical reaction, genetics, and the Solar System.
Iltis, H. (2018). Life of Mendel. Routledge
Karaoglu, B. (2020). Newton’s laws of motion. Classical physics (pp. 55–75). Springer. Web.