Timeline of the Optical Telescope
A timeline is not a simple list of events. It represents the flow of ideas through time, each one connected in a chain to its predecessor and successor. There seems to be periods in history when an apparent rush of ideas spontaneously appeared to push science forward. This is a reductionist view of history, as it reduces progress to a series of unrelated events, where in reality they have all developed from previous events and tested hypotheses. Isaac Newton is sometimes quoted to have said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” in a letter to Robert Hooke. This is not the origin of the idea, which can be seen as far back as Nanos gigantium humeris insidentes, roughly, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”, attributed to Bernard of Chartres in about 1128. You may also see the same idea slightly shortened on the home page of Google Scholar as, “Stand on the shoulders of giants”. Wherever they appear, the sentiment is the same: it is a deprecating statement highlighting current scholarship’s dependence upon previous work. It is easy to imagine that science moves forwards in unrelated leaps orchestrated by individuals of genius. There is no doubt that there have been such people, but it is also true that as we go back in time, only the major players have been recorded, and minor helpers and thinkers of equal value tend to be side-lined or forgotten. This was a function of recorded information. Aristotle has his name recorded on many works of different types, but if a philosopher did not write their work down, those ideas and that person’s name would be lost as history filtered the recorded works.