Wednesday, October 28, 2015

1453: The world wakes up to science

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)
From about the time of Jesus to the Renaissance of the 16th century, there were few advances in medicine and science. The Greek terms asthma and dyspnea had made their way into the vocabularies of physicians, yet little was considered about their causes. Theories speculated air contained a life-giving substance, although what it contained was left to speculation.  That was all about to change. 

Up until this time the works of the famous Greco-Roman physician Claudius Galen of the 2nd century were considered the gold standard in medicine.  Science wasn't needed, because everything any physician could possibly need to know about any diseases and air was in one of Galen's books 
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

This started to change when the dark ages ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This is believed by many historians to have ended the dark ages and sparked a Renaissance where lost Greek and Roman wisdom was recaptured.

It was in 1514 that Galen's reign as supreme master and god of medical superstitions took a major hit. This was the year Nicolaus Copernicus was questioning the belief that the Earth was the center of the Universe and started writing his theories about the earth rotating the sun. Out of fear of being rejected and maybe even killed, his works weren't published until eight years after his death in 1543.

This one event got many people to thinking, or, better yet, inspired thinkers to become courageous, thus gave birth to the age of reason, or the Renaissance. This was a time people started questioning the views that were etched in stone by the Ancient Greeks and followed through the Middle Ages.

This was a time of fresh ideas based on science as opposed to superstitions and false logic. New ideas were formed in physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, alchemy and medicine.

Copernicus was the first to use scientific research as opposed to superstitions in science (at least he was the first to publish such results).

Perhaps among the most significant contributions to science came from Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who in 1543 discovered that the planets revolve around the sun.  Out of fear of persecution, his works weren't published until after his death, although they had an astounding impact on other great minds, thus opening the door for the scientific revolution that followed.

Galileo Galileo was the first to oppose the Church during his lifetime. As a result Galileo became famous, and because of this he is now called the father of modern science.

In 1609 Galileo Galilee  (1564-1642) invented the telescope,  (1, page 255), and continued on to make astronomical observations that supported the works of Copernicus.  He had the courage to face the dogmatic Church, and published his works during his lifetime.  As a result, he was arrested for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  His energy, courage and sacrifices, however, made him a significant player in the scientific revolution.  By history, he is considered among the fathers of modern physics and science.

Fielding Hudson Garrison, in his book "Introduction to the history of medicine," said that the works of investigators such as Copernicus and Galileo, and other such great men, also had an impact on medicine.  For example, in 1600 Galileo invented a "rude thermometer or thermoscope, and as early as 1600 (Johannes) Kepler had used pulse-counting to time his astronomic observations."  (1, page 258)

Surely investigators studied the stars and planets, they also studied plants, animals and humans, learning much about anatomy, how life is created and sustained, and about diseases.  Also investigated was the air we breathe, and its relationship with the sustenance of life.

Thanks to these two men, over the next few hundred years diseases like asthma would be better understood, and theories about air and the purpose of breathing would be proven false and replaced with scientific fact.

  1. Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "Introduction to the history of medicine," 1921, 
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