The scientific revolution of the 17th century is strongly associated with the name of a genius scholar Isaak Newton. His contribution to the world’s scientific thought can hardly be overestimated.
Born in 1642 on the Christmas night in Woolsthhorpe, which is situated in Lincolnshire, England, the child was destined to change the world and become the culminating figure in the revolution of scientific knowledge. A genius as he was, Isaak Newton left his legacy in every fundamental area of that time science: mathematics, mechanics, optics and astronomy.
Isaak stepped into this world in the farmer’s family but he was never to see his father, who died several months before the boy’s birth. So Newton spent his childhood with his remarried mother, a stepfather and a grandmother, who surrounded the boy with love and care. Learning in grammar school finished for him in 1656, because family estate needed a firm hand after Isaak’s stepfather’s death. However, the adolescent turned his interest to reading books and studying mathematics. At first annoyed, but later seeing proneness to science, the family decided he should prepare for entering the university. His mother was never successful in persuading Isaak to turn to the running of the family estate, which greatly increased in size since the young man’s childhood. According to Christianson, Newton found great delight in modeling and inventing something. He could always be found with a knife, cutting intricate models out of wood or he would go to the running steam, busying himself with making little millwheels. (Christianson). June 1661 became the year of Isaak Newton’s entering Trinity College in Cambridge.
The Cambridge years passed under the dominance of Aristotle philosophy, but students were not forbidden to plunge into some other scholar’s doctrines and so the young student did. The third year immersed him into mechanical philosophy of Descartes, Boyle and Gassendi; Vieta, Wallis and again Descartes opened new algebra and analytical geometry to him; Copernican and Galileo astronomy. Those prominent works served as the foundation for his soon genius theories. Plague became some kind of a push, it broke out in 1665, which made the authorities close the university and send Newton home to Lincolnshire.
Revolutionary discoveries in mathematics, optics, physics and astronomy followed within 18 months. Having left on his own in the native estate, in Lincolnshire, Newton started ‘one of the greatest intellectual odysseys in the history of modern science’. He was in his flourishing years when the era of incredible inventions started. This can be proved by his words written to the French scholar: ‘For in those days I was in the prime of my age of invention and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since’ (Christianson).
The book by Gale E. Christainson, which I used as the main source for my research, describes Isaak Newton’s biography, touching upon every aspect of his life with the smallest details. Besides, the essence of his main contributions finely parsed here makes it possible to use the book for this paper.
As mentioned above Isaak Newton’s revolution rocked the world of such scientific spheres as mathematics, mechanics, optics and astronomy.
Cambridge was the place where Newton’s first interest in mathematics emerged. Here he got acquainted with the works of contemporary scholars: Descartes ‘Geometrie’, John Wallis’ ‘Arithmetica infinitorum’ and some other. Having returned to Cambridge after an outbreak of plague, Isaak Newton developed some fundamental theories in analytic geometry, algebra and calculus. What is meant to say is that he elaborated the binomial theorem, new methods for expansion of infinite series and, perhaps, the most famous ‘direct and universe method of fluxions’. Under this term we understand the means for treating, changing or flowing quantities. What is meant by is that a ‘fluxion’ is the level of change of a ‘fluent’. The term ‘fluent’ implies ‘a continuously changing or flowing quantity, such as distance, area or length’. The theory of ‘fluxions’ was a kind of innovation in the world of physics (Hatch).
The second source used in this research is a scientific article which belongs to Robert A. Hatch, a professor from the University of Florida. He contracts Isaak Newton’s life and the main ideas of his achievements into the limits of an article, highlighting the most essential moments.
Newton devoted 32 years of his productive life to researches in mathematics, having achieved prominent results. Newton’s predecessors had worked on the developments in calculus, but the scientist generalized and integrated all the previous knowledge and what’s more introduced new and more productive methods. His innovative elaborates and thoughts developed into three scientific tracts, one of which was published after Newton’s death. De analysi (On analysis) was the first appeared in a privately circulated treatise and only in 1711 published. The theory of fluxions found its generalizing in Methodus fluxionium et serierum infinitarum (The Method of Fluxions and Infinite Series) and having been published only after the scholar’s death in 1736. The tract in Optics was the last to appear in 1704, marking the new stage of his work (The Newton’s project).
The Newton’s project is a specially designed website, created by the University of Sussex. This source is found to be appropriate for the current research.
The beginning of Newton’s optical research was parallel to studying mathematics in Cambridge. However, his developments in optics gained popularity much quicker. Having been elected to the Royal society in 1671, Isaak Newton published his first paper on the subject. The period between 1665 and1666 was highlighted by the number of experiments on composition of light. The works of Kepler and already mentioned Descartes became the foundation for Newton’s main discovery, which states that white light is composed of different, separate colors. Contradicting to the Aristotle theory, Newton stated that white light is heterogeneous and secondary, whereas the separate colors are homogeneous and primary.
‘Capturing the sun's image in a looking glass, he observed its rays with his right eye and then turned away. Circles of colors appeared and then gradually vanished (Christianson). This extract describes one of Newton’s famous experiments, the crucial experiment, which gave the world the theory of light composition. Time after time he observed the sun, capturing its rays, until having found out that they were not homogeneous in color.
The experiment demonstrated that the two colors in the prism of the beam couldn’t be separated, thus possessing the same colour and the constant angle of refraction. The results of Newton’s experiments and further comments on its results were reflected in the book ‘The Optics’, released in 1704. ‘The Optics’ became a visual aid for experimental physics in the 18th century (Lectures on Early Modern European History).
History guide is the collection of lectures on Early Modern European History. Being a scientific source, designed for students, it was used in the preparation of the assignment.
The myth about Newton and his famous apple is known to every child, but hardly any child knows that the scholar began his work and development of the theory during his years in Woolsthorpe, after having left plague-stricken Cambridge. He turned to gravitation concerning its effects on the planets. As the foundation Kepler’s laws about planetary motion were used. Having developed these laws and combined them with Galileo theory, Newton developed a new system of laws, which explained mathematically mechanics and motion. The profundity of the theory was reflected in the law of universal gravity: the main principle of motion of the objects. He said that every object, every alive substance attracts each other in this universe and this relationship follows the mathematical laws. Thus the law of the universal gravitation runs as follows: ‘the force of attraction is proportional to the quantity of the matter and is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them’. The results of the researches saw the world in a book ‘Principia’, perhaps one of the most famous works of that time. ‘Principia’ was published on 5 July 1687, and being republished two more times during his lifetime. The three universal laws of motion could not be proved till the 19th century (Kalikow).
Newton: Planets, Apples, and Scientific Revolution – is a summary of a lecture by Theodor Kalikow, which describes the content of ‘Principia’ and the history of its creation.
Isaak Newton left his legacy in almost every sphere of the science in the 17th century. Apart from his contribution to mathematics, mechanics and optics, theology and popular alchemy at the time, were also marked be his presence. In Cambridge he turned his attention to the search of a ‘philosopher’s stone’ – a substance which could convert one element into another, lead for example, into the most precious substances – gold or silver. The ‘stone’ is also called ‘the grand elixir’ and appears to be a liquid, which possesses magical powers. Besides, when drunk on the regular basis, it promised the infinite life.
Throughout all the years of his scientific career we see that he was dominantly influenced by the works or Rene Descartes, and following his philosophy and developing his ideas Newton was considered to be a rationalist. However, Descartes totally excluded God from all human’s activities and Newton, being devoted to God, did not agree with him. Newton considered that in order to keep the world’s balance, he, God, should intervene. Newton was a believer, he wrote some works on theology as well, proving that science and religion could coexist. But strangely enough he ranked himself to neither to catholic nor to orthodox. This problem led to refusal from the Holy sacrament at the sunset of his life.
Having done the fundamental discoveries, Newton himself did not consider himself a genius. He rather portrayed himself as a child: ‘I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me’ (Christianson) – a child, who changed the world.
Gale E. Christianson. ‘Isaak Newton and the Scientific Revolution’ Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print
Robert A. Hatch. ‘Sir Isaak Newton’. The scientific revolution homepage. 22 February 2013 http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/ufhatch/pages/01-Courses/current-courses/08sr-newton.htm>
The Newton project. ‘Newton’s life and work at a glance’. 22 February 2013
Theo Kalikow. ‘Newton: Planets, Apples, and Scientific Revolution’ 28 September 2005. 22 February 2013
Lectures on Early Modern European History. ‘The Scientific Revolution, 1642-1730’ 22 February