Essay, Research Paper

Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), mathematician and physicist, one of the foremost scientific intellects of all time. Born at Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, where he went to school, he began to attend Cambridge University in 1661; he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1667, and a Lucasian mathematics professor in 1669. He stayed at the university, lecturing most of the years, until 1696. During these Cambridge years, in which Newton was at the top of his creative power, he singled out 1665-1666 as “the prime of his age for invention”. During two to three years of intense mental effort he prepared Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) known mostly as the Principia, though it was not put into print until 1687.

As a firm opponent of the attempt by King James II to make the universities into Catholic institutions, Newton was elected Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge to the Convention Parliament of 1689, and was also re-elected again in 1701-1702. Meanwhile, in 1696 he had moved to London as Warden of the Royal Mint. He became Master of the Mint in 1699, an office he held to his death. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1671, and in 1703 he became President of the society, being annually re-elected for the rest of his life. His major work Opticks, appeared the next year; he was knighted in Cambridge in 1705.

As Newtonian science became increasingly accepted on the Continent, and especially after a general peace was restored in 1714, following the War of the Spanish Succession, Newton became the most highly esteemed philosopher in Europe. His last decades were passed in revising his major works, polishing his studies of ancient history, and defending himself against critics, as well as carrying out his official duties. Newton was modest, reserved, and a man of simple tastes. He was upset by criticism or opposition, and hated resentment; he was harsh towards enemies but nice to friends. In government, and at the Royal Society, he was an able administrator. He was never married and lived humblely, but was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey.

Newton has been considered for almost 300 years as the founding philsospher of modern physical science, his achievements in experimental investigation as good as those in mathematical research.

In 1664, while still a student, Newton read recent work on optics and light by the English physicists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke; he also studied both the mathematics and the physics of the French philosopher and scientist Rene’ Descartes. He explored the refraction of light by a glass prism; developing over a few years a series of increasingly detailed, refined, and exact experiments, Newton discovered measurable, mathematical patterns in the mircle of color. He found white light to be a mixture of infinitely varied colored rays (shown in the rainbow and the spectrum), each ray identified by the angle through which it is refracted on entering or leaving a given transparent medium. He correlated this notion with his study of the interference colors of thin films , using a simple technique of extreme acuity to measure the thickness of such films. He held that light consisted of streams of minute particles. From his experiments he could conclude the magnitudes of the transparent “corpuscles” forming the surfaces of bodies, which, according to their dimensions, so interacted with white light as to reflect, selectively, the different observed colors of those surfaces.

The roots of these unconventional ideas were with Newton by about 1668; when first expressed in public in 1672 and 1675, they brought on hostile criticism, mainly because colors were thought to be changed forms of homogeneous white light. Doubts, and Newton’s answers, were printed in the learned journals. Notably, the scepticism of Christiaan Huygens and the failure of the French physicist Edme’ Mariotte to copy Newton’s refraction experiments in 1681 set scientists on the Continent against him for a years. The publication of Opticks, mostly written by 1692, was delayed by Newton until his critics were dead. The book was still not right: the colors of diffraction defeated Newton. Still, Opticks established itself, from about 1715, as a model of the intertwining of theory with quantitative experimentation.

In mathematics too, Newton’s student notes showed early brilliance. He may have learner geometry at school, though he always spoke of himself as self taught; he advanced through studying the writings of his colleagues William Oughtred and John Wallis, and of Descartes and the Dutch school. Newton made contributions to all branches of mathematics studiedabck then , but is mostly famous for his solutions to the contemporary problems in analytical geometry of differentation or drawing tangents to curve and intergration or defining areas bounded by curves. Not only did Newton discover that these problems were inverse to each other, but he discovered general methods of solving problems of curvature, embraced in his Method of Fluxions and Inverse Method of Fluxions, respectively equil to Leibniz’s later differential and integral calculus. Newton used the term fluxion because he pictured a quantity flowing from one magnitude to another. Fluxions were expressed algebraically, as Leibniz’s differentials were, but Newton made extensive use also of analogous geometrical arguments. Late in life, Newton expressed regret for the algebraic style of recent mathematical progress, preferring the geometrical method of the Classical Greeks, which he regarded as clearer and more rigorous.

Newton’s work on pure mathematics was basically hidden from all but his counterparts until 1704, when he published, with Opticks, a tract on intergration or the quadrature of curves and another on the classification of the cubic curves. His lectures from Cambridge, given from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707.

A The Calculus Priority Dispute Newton had the essence of the methods of fluxions by 1666. The first to become known, privately, to other mathematicians, in 1668, was his method of integration by infinite series. In Paris in 1675 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz independently evolved the first ideas of his differential calculus, outlined to Newton in 1677. Newton had already described some of his mathematical discoveries to Leibniz, not including his method of fluxions. In 1684 Leibniz published his first paper on calculus; a small group of mathematicians took up his ideas.

In the 1690s Newton’s friends proclaimed the priority of Newton’s methods of fluxions. Supporters of Leibniz asserted that he had communicated the differential method to Newton, although Leibniz had claimed no such thing. Newtonians then asserted, rightly, that Leibniz had seen papers of Newton’s during a London visit in 1676; in reality, Leibniz had taken no notice of material on fluxions. A violent conflict sprang up, part public, part private, extended by Leibniz to attacks on Newton’s theory of gravitation and his ideas about God and creation; it was not quieted even by Leibniz’s death in 1716. The disagreement slowed the reception of Newtonian science on the Continent, and pulled British mathematicians away from sharing the researches of Continental colleagues for a century.

According to the well known story, it was on seeing an apple fall in his orchard at some time during 1665 or 1666 that Newton imagined that the same force governed the motion of the Moon and the apple. He calculated the force needed to hold the Moon in its orbit, as compared with the force pulling an object to the ground. He also calculated the centripetal force needed to hold a stone in a sling, and the relation between the length of a pendulum and the time of its swing. These early explorations were not soon exploited by Newton, though he studied astronomy and the problems of planetary motion.

Correspondence with Hooke redirected Newton to the problem of the path of a body subjected to a centrally directed force that varies as the inverse square of the distance; he determined it to be an ellipse, so informing Edmond Halley in August 1684. Halley’s interest led Newton to demonstrate the relationship afresh, to compose a brief tract on mechanics, and finally to write the Principia.

Book I of the Principia states the foundations of the science of mechanics, developing upon them the mathematics of orbital motion round centres of force. Newton identified gravitation as the fundamental force controlling the motions of the celestial bodies. He never found its cause. To contemporaries who found the idea of attractions across empty space unintelligible, he conceded that they might prove to be caused by the impacts of unseen particles.

Book II initiates the theory of fluids: Newton solves problems of fluids in movement and of motion through fluids. From the density of air he calculated the speed of sound waves.

Book III shows the law of gravitation at work in the universe: Newton shows it from the revolutions of the six known planets, including the Earth, and their satellites. Still, he could never quite perfect the difficult theory of the Moon’s motion. Comets were shown to obey the same law; in later editions, Newton added conjectures on the possibility of their return. He calculated the relative masses of heavenly bodies from their gravitational forces, and the oblateness of Earth and Jupiter, already observed. He explained tidal ebb and flow and the precession of the equinoxes from the forces exerted by the Sun and Moon. All this was done by exact computation.

Newton’s work in mechanics was accepted at once in Britain, and universally after half a century. Since then it has been ranked among humanity’s greatest achievements in abstract thought. It was taken further and perfected by others, mostly Pierre Simon de Laplace, without changing its foundation and it survived into the late 19th century before it started to show signs of failing.

Newton left a alot of writings on the subjects of alchemy and chemistry, then closely related topics. Most of these were taken from books, bibliographies, dictionaries, ect., but a couple are original. He began intensive experimentation in 1669, continuing till he left Cambridge, looking to find the meaning that he hoped was hidden in alchemical obscurity and mysticism. He searched for understanding of the nature and structure of all matter, formed from the solid, mass consuming, hard, unpenetrable, and unmovable particles that he believed God had created. Most importantly in the Queries appended to Opticks and in a essay On the Nature of Acids written in 1710, Newton published an incomplete theory of chemical force, hiding his exploration of the alchemists, who became known a century after his death.

Newton had more books on humanistic learning than on mathematics and science; his whole life he studied them deeply. His unpublished Classical Scholia (explanatory notes) intended for use in a future edition of the Principia; reveal his knowledge of pre-Socratic philosophy; he read the Fathers of the Church even deeper. Newton searched to reconcile Greek mythology and record with the Bible, considered the prime authority on the early history of people. He undertook to make Jewish and pagan dates agree, and to fix them from an astronomical argument about the earliest constellation figures arranged by the Greeks. He put the fall of Troy at 904 BC, about 500 years later than other scholars; this was not accepted by them.

Newton wrote on Judaeo Christian prophecy. Whose decipherment was essential, he thought, to the understanding of God. His book on the subject, which was done over well into the Victorian Age, stood fr his lifelong study. Its message was that Christianity went astray in the 4th century, when the first Council of Nicaea proposed false documents of the nature of Christ. The full extent of Newton’s nonconformism was seen only in the present: but although a critic of accepted Trinitarian writings and the Council of Nicaea, he had a deep religious sense, venerated the Bible and believed its account of creation. In late pieces of his works he expressed a good sense of God’s role in nature.

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