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The printing revolution and the information revolution and their effect on the scientific revolution

The printing revolution led to a variety of unexpected results, one of which is the scientific revolution. From the common thought concept in the Middle Ages that innovation and research are wrong and diabolical, a trend of innovation and technological development slowly began that could not have existed without Gutenberg's printing revolution

A printing press from 1870 in Italy. Photo: Amnon Carmel
A printing press from 1870 in Italy. Photo: Amnon Carmel

I took the photo in Tuscany, Italy. This is a printing press from 1870 that stands in the yard of a company that is currently engaged in digital printing. It's a family-owned company, and it was their first machine in a factory founded by the current owner's great-grandfather's father.


"The Scientific Revolution" is a chapter from Miri Eliav-Feldon's book "The Printing Revolution" published by the Broadcasting University. In this chapter, Eliav-Feldon raises the idea that the printing revolution had a decisive effect on the scientific revolution in that it allowed for the first time the creation of an international scientific community that is not concentrated in a specific geographic area. The creation of such a community led to the development of scientific testing tools and the creation of scientific paradigms, to which rigorous testing methods could be applied, allowing for more accurate and up-to-date research. As a result, the scientists reached far-reaching scientific discoveries and developments, which were based on studies done simultaneously in remote places around the world.

In this article I will examine the claim in the light of contemporary technology, and in particular I will put the emphasis on the Internet and the digital revolution, and I will try to show that the impact of this technology on science is more revolutionary than ever before.

Summary of the chapter "The Scientific Revolution" by Miri Eliav-Feldon

Eliav-Feldon claims that there is a close connection between the development of printing in particular and the scientific revolution, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and that in fact science in its current form was only possible thanks to the development of printing. While during the Renaissance, knowledge was perceived as more accurate the older it was (similar to the perception in different cultures such as in China during the time of Confucius), according to the contemporary perception, knowledge is an accumulated thing, and the newer it is, the more accurate it is and gradually approaches the truth.

The first significant turning point in this field, Aliba Daliab-Feldon, came in the field of geography, when revolutionary discoveries from the fifteenth century such as the discovery of America and the sea route around Africa to East Asia contradicted the writings of the ancients, such as Aristotle and Ptolemy. Gradually, the realization came that the ancients were wrong and their teachings must be corrected, and the need arose to abandon the ancient writings and go on journeys to explore the world as it is in reality. It was possible to go out and change. "The transition to new knowledge and concepts have meaning only if they are the property of an entire public, and only if they have a continuation with further observations and proofs." (p. 113).

The most classic example, which Eliav-Feldon also mentions, of the scientific revolution is the cosmological revolution brought about by Copernicus, which completely changed the worldview that had been known for thirteen hundred years.

Eliav-Feldon points out, as mentioned, that in order for such a revolution to be possible, two conditions must be met: the actual existence of an old paradigm and the dissemination of a new paradigm to a wide public to the point of eliminating any other Torah. Thomas Kuhn, in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", claimed that the Copernican revolution was indeed a scientific revolution, "because only then, thanks to printing, did there exist a common paradigm for the entire international community of scientists, at least in the West". (p. 119)

As the printing revolution developed, so did the scientific revolution - and if we refer again to the field of geographical knowledge, the improved ability to print drawings and charts led to the accurate documentation of maps and drawings from new and exotic regions, which illustrated for the first time to the European public what distant lands and cultures looked like in America, the Holy Land and East Asia, and thus received The public knew more accurately about the world. Eliav-Feldon also mentions the great anatomy book of Andreas and Salius "De humani corporis fabrica" ​​published in Basel in 1534 as a significant landmark that led to a breakthrough in the medical field thanks to the hundreds of detailed illustrations in the book written at a time when dissection of human corpses was still prohibited for religious reasons.

While in a world where there are only manuscripts, scientific development could only occur in a community sitting in a small and well-defined geographical area, the printing revolution expanded this area and led for the first time to scientific development among an international community. This development led not only to a paradigm shift in the field of accumulated knowledge and proven facts, but also in the field of scientific research methods and the definition of the role of science and the scientist. For the sake of illustration, Eliab-Feldon compares Roger Bacon - an English Franciscan monk and scholar who lived and worked in the thirteenth century, and Francis Bacon who lived and worked in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and championed the idea of ​​scientific development and progress and established the immortal phrase - "Knowledge is power" . Roger Bacon explored a variety of fields, he came up with ideas for inventions only with words and did not try them himself, and did not use systematic and orderly experiments. The essays he wrote to the Pope reached only a small handful of people, and being a scientist at that time he was considered suspicious and dangerous by the establishment. In contrast, Francis Bacon insisted on the importance and efficiency of progress and science and emphasized the systematicity and methodology of experiments. He is the one who influenced the Royal Society in England to start organized and efficient research and create a large scientific community. His books were printed in thousands of copies and became a kind of ideological manifesto of the new science.

The scientific community received a significant quantitative boost from academic clubs and scientific societies in which both amateurs and laymen studied. These clubs and associations were important to the process of imparting the new worldviews to a wide public, and this impartation was done through the printed word, the books and scientific journals that appeared starting in the mid-seventeenth century. Another factor that has become essential among the scientific community is the libraries that enable the transfer of knowledge in different fields to a large number of people in different parts of the world. In ancient times there were indeed large libraries, such as the library in Alexandria, but they were completely destroyed for various reasons, and the knowledge that was lost in those libraries did not exist for the most part in other places, and therefore in many cases could not be restored. In modern times, publication has become the bread and butter of the scientist and the publications are distributed in many academic libraries in the world, so that even if one library is destroyed for one reason or another, the absolute majority of the material can be restored.

The information revolution and its effect on the scientific revolution

I tend to agree with Eliav-Feldon's conclusion that the printing revolution led to a scientific breakthrough. But the printing revolution already belongs to the distant past, and the revolutions we are experiencing these days are leading science and humanity as a whole to a new and unpaved road that is developing at an enormous speed. Considering the tremendous technological revolutions that have passed over the world since the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, this technology lasted quite a long time. Of course, many improvements and changes have been made in printing technology, but even today we witness a lot of information being printed using ink on paper pages. As a matter of fact, most of the written material in the world today already exists digitally and the amounts of information are only increasing. The information revolution penetrated our lives mainly through the Internet which developed as a scientific and military tool in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century, and massively penetrated the private market from the mid-nineties. The information revolution has significantly intensified the advantages and disadvantages of the printing revolution, and already today, only a short period after its beginning, has fundamentally changed the world around us and has affected every field, from media and scientific research to our private lives.

the scientific community

The information revolution began when the development of science already existed in its modern form, i.e. dependent on an international scientific community which engaged in experiments, scientific publications, refutations of various theories and developments, and which was based on paradigms. The information revolution has expanded the scientific community to almost unimaginable dimensions by the standards of the first half of the twentieth century. For the first time, the Internet also allowed distant and physically isolated universities and small and less important research institutes access to the latest research, and possibilities to publish scientific studies that were distributed all over the world. On the other hand, the expansion of the scientific community led to the tightening of the criteria for scientific publications and the basic scientific research methods. This change was created to better monitor the scientific research being carried out among the millions of scientists around the world. The expansion of the scientific community has also led to a significant increase in the number of existing scientific theories, and hence also to an increase in the number of paradigms on which science is based. One of the negative consequences of the information revolution was the possibility of spreading wrong and even false theories around the world, as I will detail later.

An increase in the scope of the community of science enthusiasts

The increase in the scope of the scientific community was nothing compared to the increase in the number of science enthusiasts among the general population. Eliav-Feldon mentions in her book the first scientific journals and popular science books that were distributed at the end of the seventeenth century. According to her, increasing the number of educated people and science enthusiasts among the public also contributed, in its own way, to the development of science. Today, anyone equipped with an Internet connection can find current research and read about the latest developments and developments in the scientific arena. Science enthusiasts contribute, among other things, new and original ideas and suggest the development of various theories. Although the vast majority of new ideas raised through the community of science enthusiasts are fundamentally wrong and even far-fetched, some of the ideas gain public momentum which in many cases leads to scientific research. An example of this can be found in a study on the effect of the radiation coming out of cell phones on the human body. The importance attributed in the media following the murmurs of the public's heart, received a response in the form of various studies that are gaining momentum among various scientific communities. Another example is the investigation of cases such as the Loch Ness monster, the Bermuda Triangle and the UFO phenomenon. Studies on topics that were traditionally considered esoteric and superstitious, and which scientists were afraid to investigate for fear of their good name, have received serious research in recent years, among others from leading research institutes and universities. For example, NASA chose a special orbit for the Mars Surveyor Satellite that was sent to Mars in 2001 to study a mountain that in the Viking 1 spacecraft's photographs from 1976 looked like a face. The outline of this mountain has given rise to various theories about intelligent beings who built a huge statue in their image. The spacecraft photos from 2001 proved that this is only an optical illusion, and that it is actually a completely normal mountain.

The glorification of science

Another interesting point related to the contribution of the information revolution to the development of science is the strengthening of the understanding that science is an important tool like no other, and the increasing hope to use science as the savior of the human race and as an aid to its development. Indeed, the digital revolution and the information revolution have led to amazing developments in science in various fields, from weather forecasting, through space exploration to genetic engineering, and these and other developments lead many to believe in the enormous power of science. Eliav-Feldon also mentions in this context Francis Bacon who claimed in his essay The New Atlantis that "knowledge is power", and today this attitude is indeed very widespread in the Western world.

Even extremist Islamic organizations such as al-Qaeda, which usually advocate the destruction of technology and Western civilization, understand the power of science and try to obtain different technologies, mainly through the Internet. These organizations also see science as hope for the human race, although, according to their personal perception.

A reduction in the ability to destroy knowledge

Eliav-Feldon also mentions the destruction of knowledge that was common in the pre-print era, which usually resulted from the fact that knowledge was treasured, as mentioned, in large libraries that were destroyed in various disasters. In Simon Singh's book, "The Last Theorem of Fermat" [1], it is told about the bitter end of the great library in Alexandria: at its peak, the library contained a huge collection of over 600,000 books - all the recorded knowledge of the ancient world, including books on mathematics, geography, philosophy and more. In 47 BC, Julius Caesar attacked Cleopatra's fleet. The library that was near the port caught fire and many books were burned. Cleopatra decided on the restoration of the library in the temple of Serapis. In the four hundred years that followed, the library continued to accumulate books, until in 380 AD the emperor Theodosius ordered the destruction of every pagan monument. Since the library was housed in a temple, a Christian mob arose, smashing, smashing and burning everyone who came near. The "pagan" scholars tried to save even a part of the tremendous knowledge in the library, but before they could do anything they were slaughtered by the mob. And yet a few copies managed to survive. And scholars from all over the world continued to come to Alexandria in search of knowledge, until a Muslim attack succeeded in 642 in a place where the Christian attack failed - Caliph Omar ordered the destruction of all books that are not in line with the Koran, and those that are in line with the Koran he ordered to be destroyed because they are unnecessary... In the flames of the rest of the manuscripts - tremendous knowledge accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years, and this in order to heat public baths.

If we go even further into the distant past, before humans established permanent settlements, one can imagine how one tribe developed for itself all kinds of methods and technologies that were passed down from father to son for several generations, until one day another tribe arrived and destroyed the members of the first tribe. All the knowledge accumulated in that tribe was lost, but it is even possible that the attackers found some of the technologies of the destroyed tribe, such as new weapons, special cave paintings, jewelry, etc., they adopted these technologies and moved on with them. And so, despite everything, humanity continued to develop.

Today humanity is gaining common knowledge. In order to erase all the knowledge that has been accumulated to date, it is necessary to erase all of humanity, or at least to seriously damage the capabilities of communication, computing, printing and other technologies, for a sufficiently long period of time, so that everything that has been accumulated so far will be forgotten. Apparently we can be sure of the continued existence of The human race and further the expansion of knowledge. But it must be remembered that at the same time as the knowledge revolution, weapons capable of causing destruction on a global scale are also being developed, and the winds of war that have been blowing in recent years, raise grim scenarios.
The decline of the paradigm

Eliav-Feldon points out that the scientific paradigm, i.e. the common perception among the scientific community, is the one that was at the focus of the technological development that characterizes the scientific revolution. The existence of the paradigms was made possible, according to her words, thanks to the printing revolution. But if we examine the trends that characterize the digital revolution in recent years, we can see the beginnings of the decline of the paradigm.

The digital revolution, characterized by the accessibility of infinite information to anyone with access to the Internet, also gives a platform to an almost infinite variety of different opinions. The scientific community, which used to be the exclusive property of a small and closed community of scientists, now contains an increasing number of people thanks to the digital revolution. There is no doubt that it is still almost impossible for a private person who is not affiliated with a university institution to publish his articles in scientific journals such as "Nature" or the "Lancet" magazine, but anyone with access to the Internet has access to this information as well as to millions of university studies and research results, and every One can research on his own on any subject close to his heart. This situation in which people without a formal scientific education study and research on their own leads to a situation where conspiracy theories and bizarre and unusual ideas that in the past remained far outside the consensus of the scientific community, and therefore also far from the results of research and science itself, are now getting closer and closer to the public consensus in more and more regions of the world, and from there In the end also to the scientific consensus.

One of the best examples of this process is "creationism" also known as the theory of intelligent design. The theory of evolution developed by Darwin left the religious establishment among the major religions embarrassed. After all, if evolution did take place, there is a complete contradiction to the biblical story of creation on which the three great monotheistic religions - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - are based. After more than a hundred years of sweeping denial attempts based mainly on theological arguments on the one hand and pseudo-scientific arguments on the other, a new and sophisticated method has been formed to try and refute evolution. In 1996 Michael Behe ​​published the book "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution". This book tried to attack evolution from an apparently scientific direction, and while he agreed with many principles of the theory of evolution and the way different large animals developed, he claimed that science has no way of explaining how complex biochemical mechanisms are created. "Take blood clotting for example. In order for the blood to clot when the skin is cut, several proteins must act in careful order. If you take any of them out, you will bleed to death. Or, as another example, let's think about the flagellum of bacteria (the "tail" that allows some types of bacteria to swim). The rod is made of several parts connected together in a complex way. Again, if we remove any of them, the bacteria will remain stuck in place forever. But, Beh points out, evolution is supposed to work gradually, putting together structures that work at each stage (because it can't anticipate something's future use). This creates an apparent paradox where a mindless force of nature is supposed to create something that closely resembles intelligent design. Isn't this a death blow to the idea that evolution explains the complexity of life?[2]".

The theory of "intelligent design" broke into the world and tried to fight evolution from within the scientific establishment itself while bringing seemingly scientific ideas. The thinkers of the theory of intelligent design tried to claim that it is a legitimate scientific theory, similar to the theory of evolution, and therefore students should be allowed to study both theories at an equal level, since according to them there is no absolute evidence for any of the views. In the USA, the superpower based on science and technology, the religious and conservative right pushed intelligent design to the heart of the public agenda, and while the official scientific establishment remained in almost complete support of evolution, the opinion spread among the general public that both theories should be taught equally in schools. This trend is still gaining momentum in the US and elsewhere in the world, including in Israel where the religious influence on the school system is still very strong.

When Galileo claimed that the world was round, he had to face the Catholic establishment which was a body with almost unlimited power, but in the end only a small handful of people actually examined the theory and decided on the appropriate response. Today, when intelligent planning is gaining momentum, the war is on the heart of the common man, (and some would say - the layman), knowing that the masses ultimately influence the scientific community. Using scientific concepts and statistical data, the developers of the theory of intelligent design try to give biblical ideas the appearance of scientific content.

It can be argued that the information revolution brought with it too much information to too many people and thus the scientific paradigm is losing its strength and may in the future lead to its collapse. On the other hand, it can be argued that the multiplicity of ideas actually leads to different and more creative tests and puts the paradigms through many tests, which ultimately help to validate the paradigm or replace it with another scientific theory.

The next stage - artificial intelligence and the singularity

The question of the human ability to develop artificial intelligence is at the center of a long-standing scientific debate[3], but assuming that humanity will indeed manage to survive for several more decades without a colossal disaster that will cause real damage to scientific research, it is clear to almost everyone that computing capabilities will only continue to grow. The futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates in his book "The Age of Thinking Machines"[4] that the calculation capacity of the personal computer will equal the calculation capacity of the human brain in about 2020. Kurzweil estimates that if the human race has the hardware necessary to create intelligence, then we will eventually succeed in creating the the software needed for this. In his latest book - "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" [5] Kurzweil claims that the creation of artificial intelligence will lead to an extremely fast scientific breakthrough which will lead to a complete revolution in our lives that we have no ability to try and assess what the results will be. It is important to note that Kurzweil's claims are controversial and many accuse him of technological over-optimism and others claim as mentioned that it is not possible to produce true artificial intelligence at all. Personally, I tend to see Courzeil's ideas as fascinating, and even if his calculations are based on speculation, I believe that the theories he puts forward in his books will indeed eventually be realized in the next hundred years. Time will tell if the information revolution will indeed lead to the development of artificial intelligence, which in turn will lead to a total revolution in scientific research.


As I mentioned in this article, in my humble opinion the information revolution did lead to a significant leap in the development of science, and thus the information revolution is the direct continuation of the printing revolution. But the knowledge revolution managed to influence science in a much shorter time than the time required for the printing revolution, and this trend is only getting stronger. In this article, I described how the information revolution affects the expansion of the scientific community and the community of science and popular science enthusiasts, how the information revolution contributes to glorifying the name of science, and I also mentioned the aspiration for scientific and technological developments and progress and that the ability to destroy existing knowledge has been significantly reduced. However, I made the claim that the power of the scientific paradigm is diminishing and that the scientific revolution is only a prelude to a much bigger and more significant revolution - artificial intelligence.


  • Miri Eliav-Feldon "The Printing Revolution", Broadcasting University Press
  • Singh, Simon - "Perma's Last Theorem", Moshkhal Publishing
  • Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's article, "Intelligent design - the modern argument"
  • Kurzweil, Ray - "The Age of Thinking Machines", Kinneret Publishing
  • Kurzweil, Ray - "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology", Viking Press
  • Articles penned by me related to this article:
    · The forecast - the destruction of humanity:
    · The collision between technology and morality:
    · Can computers be intelligent?


[1] Singh, Simon - "Perma's Last Theorem", Lamishkal Publishing House, 1997

[2] From Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's article, "Intelligent planning - the modern argument". The Hebrew translation of the article can be found at the following link:

[3] See an article by Peri Atti on the subject: Carmel, Amnon "Can computers be intelligent?"

[4] Kurzweil, Ray - "The Age of Thinking Machines", Kinneret Publishing House, 1999

[5] Kurzweil, Ray - "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology", Viking Press

More on the science website

Towards the end of the second scientific era - Prof. Yuval Neman

(This article is taken from Amnon Carmel's blog which deals with futurism, technology, science and more)

5 תגובות

  1. We went from engraved tablets to scrolls to printing and we got to the point where we have tablets full of electricity which does not stop ruling on it and which shows us symbols in the form of letters and numbers with a high frequency which looks as if it is written (the screen, the tablet and its likeness)...actually there was no big change in terms of symbolism only in terms of technology.... The world has never changed, only the technology... the future, according to what is implied, is electronic papers or another technological method for displaying some kind of symbolism on that "paper-like"...

  2. Please buy the researcher's name
    Prof. Miri Eliav-Feldon, Tel Aviv University
    Not as written throughout the article and reference

  3. Informative article, thank you.

    And by the way, creationism, although I do not agree with this "theory" even a little,
    I am surprised to find out how many (smart and intelligent) people do accept it,
    I agree with my predecessor that the advocacy should be improved and deal with this theory.

  4. exciting. The process you described of diffusion of ideas from the general public to the scientific community is successful in my opinion. Its result is the weakening of the monopoly of institutionalized science (academia) on scientific truth. I of course think that theories like creationism are refutable, but that doesn't mean that science doesn't have to deal with them seriously (and in the way scientists develop tools to explain themselves to the general public - certainly blessed!).

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