Otto von Guericke's air-pump.
Otto von Guericke, Experimenta Nova
(ut vocantur) Magdeburgica De Vacuo Spatio, Amsterdam 1672
Boyle, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring
of the Air and its Effects, Oxford 1660
theory of the void and the elements started to be discussed and
questioned animatedly from the mid-sixteenth century. The rebirth
of atomism was of increasing importance in this process. Atomism reasserted
the doctrine of the existence of the void as central and essential.
At the same time, the development of experimentation helped put the
question of the weight of air at the centre of the debate.
In 1630, a distinguished experimenter,
Rey, interpreted the increase of weight observed in calcinated
tin as caused by the absorption of air by the metal during the process
largely misunderstood until the start of the seventeenth century,
in spite of some intuitions by certain medieval authors.
Amongst the first to offer innovative ideas on the void and air-pressure
was the Dutchman Isaac
Beeckman. He accepted the existence of the void and recognised
that air pushes in every direction. He was also one of the first to
introduce the concept of the elasticity of air. Beekman communicated
these innovative ideas to Descartes,
who absolutely denied the vacuum, and developed a lively and interesting
discussion with the great French philosopher.
In the mid-years of the seventeenth
century, at the heart of the Scientific Revolution, the debate on
the void and atmospheric pressure represents one of the key points
of the discussion of the constitution of matter and the nature of
the universe. We can judge, with these delicate concepts, Galileo,
Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes,
Pascal and Newton.