Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Apple

“In the beginning all was night, then God said let Newton be, and all was light.” –Alexander Pope. (Modified.)

Anytime an apple is dropped, it falls.
Everybody has known that for a long time. But It would take Isaac Newton, who was born on Christmas day, 1642, the year Galileo died, to find out why.
He was a terrible student in early life. But then, one day, a schoolyard bully kicked him in the stomach. Newton was the student directly beneath that boy in the class. So, instead of striking back, he set to work. Soon, he passed that boy. But he did not stop; the poor student who could not be made to pay attention soon became the best student in the school.
And he continued one from there. Newton lived in his own mind, and was very solitary. He never married. He did many of his own scientific experiments, nearly blinding himself at one point by putting sharp instruments behind his eye to see what was back there. He also stared at the sun for a long time, until he could no longer see anything. He had to be put into a dark chamber for days before he regained the use of his sight. He used a prism, like in the book Pollyanna, to break up light into the different parts of the visible spectrum.
But then, one day, the man who, as a boy, was “the worst” manager of a farm that could ever be found, realized something that would revolutionize science forever.
Anytime an apple is dropped, it falls.
It was a revolution in science. The day Isaac Newton wondered why the above statement is always true. According to some versions the apple fell on his head, and according to others, the apple never fell at all. Newton himself said he was walking in a garden thinking one day when he saw an apple fall.
When it did, he wondered if there was a force pulling down. Then, “all at once” he began to wonder if this force worked on everything. If this was true, then there were forces which did not need to touch each other to work. “They worked at a distance.” If so, then why could not all objects be pulling each other together. It could be why the moon orbited the earth, and why the earth orbited the sun. It was.
Newton called it the effect of gravitas, the Latin word for weight. It was the effect that all bodies of indistinct mass attract each other across all of time and space. It was the force of gravity.
To explain all of his scientific ideas, Newton wrote Principia Mathmatica, possibly the most influential science book ever written. In it, the laws of motion, or physics, are put down as three.
1)      A body in motion will stay in motion. A body at rest continues at rest.
2)      Force exerted by a body when hit equals the mass of the thing colliding with it, times that bodies acceleration.
3)      For all actions, there is an equal or greater reaction.
And so one of the four forces of physics had been discovered. Newton would go down in history, not as an exactly very nice man, you did not dare cross him, and even his most famous phrase “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” was most likely a jab at a short scientist who claimed Newton had built on his work, and Newton said he had not.
But be that as it may, Newton may go down in history with his own words.
“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. Amusing myself now and then by finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary. While the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Soon, more men were to come and attempt to uncover at least a small part of that ocean.
To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott

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