Born on December 25 (OS), 1642, Sir Issac Newton was more than the most brilliant man of his time. He was the first modern scientist. He discovered the physics and the mathematics that made possible the industrial age and the electronic age. He invented a new kind of telescope, based on his research into optics. He was an accomplished lawyer, both a prosecutor for the state, and later an effective political scientist. His achievements in theology are unappreciated today. He was a skilled chemist. He served in Parliament as the representative of Cambridge College. He was president of the Royal Society. In addition, he served as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint for 30 years, rescuing the economy from imminent disaster. Had Sir Isaac Newton done any one of these, his place in history would have been assured. He did all of them.
Newton's famous “three laws of motion” were only introductory propositions to his Principia Mathematica. The purpose of the Principia was to demonstrate that the force which at once moves the planets and holds them in their orbits is the same force that pulls apples from their trees. He achieved this proof by creating a new kind of mathematics, called the calculus.
Many consider Newton to have been the first modern scientist. John Maynard Keynes dubbed him “the last sorcerer.” We commonly believe that alchemy is a superstition or a fraud, like witchcraft or theater magic. To Newton, alchemy was science. We see two magnets drawn together or repulsed. We play with static electricity. We do not doubt that the Sun attracts the planets. Newton believed these things as well specifically because of his understanding of alchemical principles. To Newton, the world operated according to basic principles of natural law that were the same everywhere for everyone.
|Feynman's Lecture on Newton's Proof of Kepler's Laws |
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Few people have read the Principia Mathematica in its entirety. The very popular Nobel laureate physicist, Richard P. Feynman, attempted to delight a class with a demonstration of Newton's proof of Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion. He could not produce the mathematics as Newton had done it and was forced to present his own geometric proof.
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