Isaac Newton, the founder of modern physics, had a difficult and lonely childhood. His father, a small farm owner, died three months before he was born. Newton born in his family’s home in Lincolnshire, Woolsthorpe Manor, at 1642 Christmas. When he was two years old his mother Hannah married to the neighborhood pastor who was far older than herself and they moved away. As a result, Isaac was raised in Woolsthorpe by his grandmother and a nursemaid. Looking at Newton’s list of sins that he wrote when he was 19, it seems that he was a mad child who “desires the death of many,” at some point he wanted to burn the house where his mother and stepfather lived.
Who is Isaac Newton?
Newton started King’s School near Grantham around 1655. He stayed with a pharmacist during his education. This environment helped him to flourish; He was extraordinarily creative in making wooden toys, watches, and other mechanical tools, and as the 18th-century biographer William Stukeley said, also at “playing philosophical games”. However, in 1659, his mother took him out of school to run the farm. However, Isaac was not interested in performing the tasks expected of him. Isaac was fortunate as his outstanding academic success was noticed by people like the school principal, Trinity College, and his uncle studied in Cambridge. Although her mother Hannah saw the academic life as a waste of time, she allowed her to return to high school to prepare for college.
Newton started at Trinity College in the summer of 1661 and received a traditional education based on the writings of philosopher Aristotle. However, in 1664, he attended the lectures of the first Lucasian mathematics professor (who has a special professorship status in Cambridge) Isaac Brown. Brown’s implementation of physics into mathematics had a lasting effect on Newton. He decided to move away from the old fashioned education methods and concentrated on the “mechanical” philosophies of the advanced thinkers such as Rene Descartes, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Johannes Kepler. During the two years that followed, he had made intriguing discoveries in optics, mechanics, and mathematics mostly in his home in Lincolnshire, as Cambridge was closed because of the plague.
In late 1666, he was the first to describe the calculus (derivative and integral) technique through the analysis of extremely small units, which he called fluxion. He was also the first to express the binomial theorem, which allows the expansion of the form (a + b)n with a formula that can be used for all n values, including minus and fraction. As far as it is known, he saw an apple falling from the tree in this period and compared the gravity applied to the surface of the Earth with the gravity required to keep the Moon in orbit. He thought that the force exerted by the Earth on other objects was inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the object. Both cases were in line with this law. However, the result was not precise enough to announce it to wider circles.
In the same period, through a series of ingenious experiments Isaac Newton discovered how the white light was composed of different light rays, each with its own color and its refractive index. One by-product of this research was to discover a reflecting telescope that produces images from a very bright mirror instead of a lens.
Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke debate
Newton returned to Cambridge in 1617 became a Trinity College
lecturer. But his academic success was just the beginning. Over the next few years, he refined his mathematics research and wrote an article called “Of Analysis by Equations of an Infinite Number of Terms“. Soon after, his efforts were rewarded with the election to the Lucasian professor position, which was vacated by Barrow’s resignation in 1669. Two years later, while Newton rewriting his lecture notes and studies on optics, Barrow showed the members a reflecting telescope made by Newton and brought him to the attention of the Royal Society. Newton sent them a crucial article. This article was demolishing the continuing ancient belief that the white light changes as it passes from one environment to another, and also introducing the science of colors into mathematics.
Newton made a definite distinction between absolute mathematical claims and those that could not be proved, describing the latter as mere hypotheses or predictions. His arguments did not make a strong influence on Robert Hooke, the author of the famous Micrographia of 1665, and the dominant personality of the Royal Society. Hooke thought the light was a wave or vibration moving in an invisible medium or ether. He joined Newton in the reality of what he was explaining, but he still believed that the colors were forming by the change of white light in the prism. He argued that Newton’s theory was only a hypothesis, this argument really upset the Lucasian professor.
In 1675, Isaac Newton was reluctantly convinced to publish the interpretation of his private views on natural philosophy under the title “Theory of Light“. In this impressive text, he made a detailed account of his understanding of the various cosmological roles of the ether associated with light, sound, electricity, magnetism, and gravity. His work sparked a second debate with Hooke, Hooke had told many people that most of the text was taken from his own Micrographia. Always quick to sense that he was underestimated, Newton accused Hooke of stealing all his work from Descartes. However, when Hooke stated that his views were misled, Newton calmed down. In his famous reply, Newton says to Hooke that he is doing well and adds: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.“
Alchemy and theology
The controversy caused by his entry into the intellectual community in Europe and America, known as the Republic of Letters, communicating through intensive amounts of letters, led Newton to abandon his plans to publish his optical and mathematics work. He became increasingly devoted to other studies, such as alchemy. In one of his texts, he claimed that metals were ‘growing’ on the Earth like trees, according to the laws governing the development of living things. The behind this was the hidden soul, which energized other processes such as fermentation, nutrition, and chemical processes. Newton was also committed to theology. He developed a sophisticated and profoundly Protestant view of history in the late 1670s. Probably in a draft text he created in the mid-1680s, he argued that ancient people believed in the Newtonian cosmos and worshiped around the central Vesta fire imitating the solar system. He claimed that this custom was proven by the shape of the ruins in Stonehenge and Avebury, and this was the most rational religion before Christianity.
Throughout his adult life, his main interest was to explain the mystery of prophecies. Influenced by the Protestant movement where the Pope was the antichrist and Catholicism was seen as the religion of the devil, Newton’s investigations were in an extraordinarily radical style, highly opposed to the Trinity (he believed the Trinity was deliberately fabricated). According to Newton, shyster politicians like Athanasius of Alexandria were deviated the by devil, who was born in the 4th century AD. According to Newton, they had imposed an incomprehensible and corrupt form of Christianity on the world that easily believed it. Isaac Newton lived in a society that would be horrified by these thoughts. If his contemporaries knew his views, he would be excluded from society at best.
Hooke wrote to Newton at the end of 1679 about the orbital dynamics of the celestial bodies. During this correspondence, Hooke stated that the motions of the planets and their moons can be determined by adding the linear line of the inertial movement to the force that attracts objects. He also brought up that this force would be inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two objects. As we have seen before, Newton was aware of the inverse square law, he would only realize Hooke’s other point about the orbital motion when he finally encountered an important celestial event that took place in 1680.
Later that year, the Great Comet of 1680 appeared in the skies. It disappeared behind the Sun at the end of November, and then another comet appeared at the beginning of the next month. Royal astronomer John Flamsteed wrote to Newton in January 1681 that he predicted the return of the comet and these comets were the same, as the comet in November was now in front of the Sun with the magnetic thrust.
Newton still considered the two comets to be different, and responded by saying that the routes of both comets would be inconsistent if they passed in front of the Sun. If the two were the same comet, then they had to go in the back of the Sun, but there was not a known physical mechanism for that. In any case, Newton doubted that the force of the Sun was magnetic. Because the heated magnet was losing its strength.
At a time when the physical causes of the philosophy of nature had to be used to properly describe a case, the only possible theory of magnetism was the vague “ether” fluid defined by Descartes in the 1630s and 1640s, and the “whirlpool” idea of the period. When Isaac Newton published the Universal Law of Gravitation Theory in his 1687, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, known as Newton’s masterpiece Principia, he explicitly denied that there is ether or whirlpool in space.
Isaac Newton and De Mundi Systemate
Such abstract mechanisms were leaving no room for God’s intervention (that keeps the cosmos standing as an absolute reference system) in what he created. Whereas, he had to intervene once a while. Newton was criticized by many contemporary scientists for throwing away the physical mechanisms to explain the idea of universal gravity, but he eventually managed to change the way of expressing natural phenomena.
Edmond Halley’s visit in 1684 served as a stimulus that guided the publication of the Principia. When Halley insisted, Newton claimed that he could demonstrate the relation of the elliptical orbit with the inverse square law, but was unable to show it until November of that year. In 12 months, he discovered that all bodies, no matter how small, were attracting other bodies, according to the equation F=Gm1m2/R2 (G is the gravity constant, r is the distance between masses m1 and m2). Thus, Newton presented the modern force and mass ideas, and the laws of motion as well as universal gravity.
Principia’s final version consisted of three volumes. The first deals with a variety of “mathematical worlds” about different laws of nature. The second relates to motion in mediums such as liquid, and the third is called the De Mundi Systemate (The System of the World) which handles the laws of nature that really exist in the cosmos. Isaac Newton made the first explanations of the tide, motions of the comet, the shape of the Earth, and the orbit of the Great Comet (which he now knows was a comet) that played an important role in his work. Soon, Newton’s work had seen as the creation of a genius. The brightest natural philosophers and mathematicians tried to have a grasp of the content and the difficulty of it had become a legend. Many people had great respect for him, but some weren’t too impressed.
When Principia was about to hit the shelves, Hooke was angry for Newton’s lack of esteem for the tips he got on the orbital dynamics. Newton became disturbed when he heard Hooke’s complaints. He took out some of the references he made to him in the manuscript of the work, told Halley that Hooke was a braggart thief and a novice mathematician. Likewise, Flamsteed began to see Newton as a pathological tyrant in which his fans worshiped him obsessively.
Isaac Newton signs a death sentence
In 1687, Isaac Newton publicly defended Cambridge University against Catholic King James II’s efforts to appoint a Catholic priest at Sydney Sussex College. Two years later, at the dawn of the 1688 Revolution, Newton was elected to Parliament on behalf of Cambridge University. The following few years he failed in his attempts to obtain an office in London. But he continued to work intensively on several different topics. For example, he tried to explain how ancient people knew that God was the main cause of gravity, but they hid it and other facts in public in a mysterious and obscure language. Newton was eventually assigned to the mint in 1696.
He took this job–which his predecessors saw as an opportunity to receive a salary without working–into a mission in which he was devoted to seek out and find treacherous counterfeiters who lowered the value of the British coin. Therefore, his job required to sign the execution warrant for the people who committed this crime. With his appointment as a new director of the mint in 1699, he played an important role in the realization of the merging of the English and Scottish mints, which paved the way to the Acts of Union that would create Great Britain in 1707.
He was elected as the president of the Royal Society in 1703 and moved to one of the highest positions in British science, two years later he was declared as a knight. Those who supported and spread his ideas outside of England gained great respect. By the 1720s, the Newtonian system was dominant in British and Dutch universities and cities. The wide acceptance of the doctrine in Italy and France took more than twenty years.
But the idea of some kind of mysterious force that acts between all the objects in the universe since the beginning, seemed incredible and unscientific to great European natural philosophers like Gottfried Leibniz and Christiaan Huygens. Newton’s theories had led to various debates with his rivals throughout his life. Leibniz visited England in 1673 and 1676, before the second visit he had designed a calculus that is different from Newton’s. At this time, he had a good relationship with Newton, which was expressed by Newton’s two letters to Leibniz in 1676. However, this mutual respect would not last long. Leibniz wrote the rules of calculus in 1684, but evidence of Newton’s work in this area would appear only 20 years later.
While the fight with Leibniz continues
Meanwhile, some of Newton’s followers suggested that Leibniz’s calculus method was worthless compared to Newton’s and their “hero” was the one who found it first, and even Leibniz was received important clues about Newton’s discovery when he visited London in 1676. In the years 1712-1713, fierce swordplay broke out between Newton and Leibniz supporters. When Queen Anne died in the summer of 1714, Leibniz was the librarian and effective court philosopher of the Hanover regime (in the name of George I) that would continue the Protestant comprehension, and this further complicated the debates.
According to Leibniz, the Newton’s system was stupid not only because of his absurd gravity doctrine but also because it meant God had to intervene again and again perversely in what he created. Isaac Newton thought that Leibniz had designed such a perfect system like Descartes that does not require God. He also matched Leibniz’s fuzzy metaphysical subtleties with the doctrines of those who corrupt the plain truths of Christianity.
Despite these discussions, Newton’s theories continued to dominate much of the intellectual environment. The publication of his new book called Opticks, in 1704 enabled a much richer set of doctrines to be discussed and supported. While it mostly encapsulated his previous works, he also added the “Quaestiones” section to the book, where he explained his personal views on active principles governing phenomena such as growth and movement. In subsequent editions, other Quaestiones were added about subjects such as chemistry, electricity, and magnetism, surprisingly, he tried to explain the ether in his work Hypothesis, dated 1675.
Isaac Newton continued his administrative duties perfunctorily in the last years of his life, but his solid interest in theology and chronology continued. When he died in 1727, he was a scientific legend for decades. He received the greatest respect by the British state and was declared the founder of reasoning. Despite some of the immoralities that have been revealed recently, historians have agreed he was mentally better equipped than his contemporaries. They agreed with Halley’s quote saying “Nor can any mortal come closer to touching the gods.“
Isaac Newton quotes
- “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.”
- “Errors are not in the art but in the artificers.”
- “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”
- “If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.”
- “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
- “Atheism is so senseless. When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance.”
- “To me there has never been a higher source of earthly honor or distinction than that connected with advances in science.”
- “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
- “A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true, for if the things be false, the apprehension of them is not understanding.”