Animadversions on the Origins of the Microscopre

  • G. L’E. Turner
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 110)


The Western scientific tradition is based on observation and experiment. The consequence is that the means of experimenting and of making instruments form one of the two pillars supporting that tradition, the other being theoretical concepts. In fact, the instruments, too, are concepts, for they may well be regarded as “ideas made brass”; they are not tools like a hammer or file, though they are sometimes referred to as “tools” of science. For scientific knowledge to increase, the accuracy of measurement is always itself increasing, and this may be achieved by the refinement of a particular method of making a measurement, or by a conceptual breakthrough in the means by which the measurement is made. To clarify this argument, I will give as examples the changes in time measurement. The sundial is capable of refinement, but the mechanical clock is a constant time-teller, and it achieved its maximum accuracy in the late-nineteenth century after some five centuries, by which date the accuracy had increased by about 106. During the middle of the twentieth century the technical frontier preventing time measurement from becoming even more accurate was broken first by the quartz crystal clock, which used the new knowledge that a quart crystal could produce an electrical charge difference across its faces when under pressure (piezo-electric effect); and conversely, a charge across its faces would cause the crystal to resonate with a precise frequency. This produced a ten-fold increase in accuracy over the finest mechanical clock.


Optical Instrument Thirteenth Century Chromatic Aberration Mechanistic Hypothesis Single Lens 
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • G. L’E. Turner

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