A replica of Newton's 6-inch reflecting telescope of 1672 for the Royal Society.
From this work he concluded that any refracting telescope would suffer from the dispersion of light into colours, and invented a reflecting telescope (today known as a Newtonian telescope) to bypass that problem. By grinding his own mirrors, using Newton's rings to judge the quality of the optics for his telescopes, he was able to produce a superior instrument to the refracting telescope, due primarily to the wider diameter of the mirror. (Only later, as glasses with a variety of refractive properties became available, did e bodkin."
Newton argued that light is composed of particles, but he had to associate them with waves to explain the diffraction of light (Opticks Bk. II, Props. XII-L). Later physicists instead favoured a purely wavelike explanation of light to account for diffraction. Today's quantum mechanics restores the idea of "wave-particle duality", although photons bear very little resemblance to Newton's corpuscles (e.g., corpuscles refracted by accelerating toward the denser medium).
(dubious;  Newton's interest in alchemy cannot be isolated from his contributions to science. (This was at a time when there was no clear distinction between alchemy and science.) Had he not relied on the occult idea of action at a distance, across a vacuum, he might not have developed his theory of gravity. (See also Isaac Newton's occult studies.)
In 1704 Newton wrote Opticks, in which he expounded his corpuscular theory of light. He considered light to be made up of extremely subtle corpuscles, that ordinary matter was made of grosser corpuscles and speculated that through a kind of alchemical transmutation "Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another,...and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter their Composition?" Newton also constructed a primitive form of a frictional electrostatic generator, using a glass globe (Optics, 8th Query).
Gravity and motion
Newton's own copy of his Principia, with hand written corrections for the second edition.
- Further information: the writing of Principia Mathematica
In 1679, Newton returned to his work on mechanics, i.e., gravitation and its effect on the orbits of planets, with reference to Kepler's laws of motion, and consulting with Hooke and Flamsteed on the subject. He published his results in De Motu Corporum (1684). This contained the beginnings of the laws of motion that would inform the Principia.
The Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (now known as the Principia) was published on 5 July 1687 with encouragement and financial help from Edmond Halley. In this work Newton stated the three universal laws of motion that were not to be improved upon for more than two hundred years. He used the Latin word gravitas (weight) for the force that would become known as gravity, and defined the law of universal gravitation. In the same work he presented the first analytical determination, based on Boyle's law, of the speed of sound in air.
With the Principia, Newton became internationally recognised. He acquired a circle of admirers, including the Swiss-born mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, with whom he formed an intense relationship that lasted until 1693. The end of this friendship led Newton to a nervous breakdown.
- For more details on this topic, see Isaac Newton's later life.
In the 1690s Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. Henry More's belief in the universe and rejection of Cartesian dualism may have influenced Newton's religious ideas. A manuscript he sent to John Locke in which he disputed the existence of the Trinity was never published. Later works — The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728) and Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733) — were published after his death. He also devoted a great deal of time to alchemy (see above).
Newton was also a member of the Parliament of England from 1689 to 1690 and in 1701, but his only recorded comments were to complain about a cold draft in the chamber and request that the window be closed.
Newton moved to London to take up the post of warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, a position that he had obtained through the patronage of Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. He took charge of England's great recoining, somewhat treading on the toes of Master Lucas (and finagling Edmond Halley into the job of deputy comptroller of the temporary Chester branch). Newton became perhaps the best-known Master of the Mint upon Lucas' death in 1699, a position Newton held until his death. These appointments were intended as sinecures, but Newton took them seriously, retiring from his Cambridge duties in 1701, and exercising his power to reform the currency and punish clippers and counterfeiters. As Master of the Mint Newton unofficially moved the Pound Sterling to the gold standard from silver in 1717; great reforms at the time and adding considerably to the wealth and stability of England. It was his work at the Mint, rather than his earlier contributions to science, that earned him a knighthood from Queen Anne in 1705.
Newton was made President of the Royal Society in 1703 and an associate of the French Académie des Sciences. In his position at the Royal Society, Newton made an enemy of John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, by prematurely publishing Flamsteed's star catalogue, which Newton had used in his studies.
Newton's grave in Westminster Abbey
Newton died in London on March 20th, 1727, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His half-niece, Catherine Barton Conduitt, served as his hostess in social affairs at his house on Jermyn Street in London; he was her "very loving Uncle", according to his letter to her when she was recovering from smallpox. Although Newton, who had no children, had divested much of estate onto relatives in his last years he actually died intestate. His considerable liquid estate was divided equally between his eight half-nieces and half-nephews (three Pilkingtons, three Smiths and two Bartons (including Catherine Barton Conduitt). Woolsthorpe Manor passed to his heir-in-law, a John Newton ("God knows a poor representative of so great a man"), who, after six years of "cock[fight]ing, horse racing, drinking and folly" was forced to mortgage and then sell the manor before dying in a drunken accident.
After his death, Newton's body was discovered to have had massive amounts of mercury in it, probably resulting from his alchemical pursuits. Mercury poisoning could explain Newton's eccentricity in late life.
- See also: Isaac Newton's occult studies
Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton's best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."
Isaac Newton (Bolton, Sarah K. Famous Men of Science. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1889
His scientific fame notwithstanding, Newton's study of the Bible and of the early Church Fathers were among his greatest passions. He devoted more time to the study of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and to Alchemy than to science, and said, "I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily." Newton himself wrote works on textual criticism, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. Newton also placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which is now the accepted traditional date. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to find hidden messages within the Bible (See Bible code). Despite his focus on theology and alchemy, Newton tested and investigated these ideas with the scientific method, observing, hypothesising, and testing his theories. To Newton, his scientific and religious experiments were one and the same, observing and understanding how the world functioned.
Newton may have rejected the church's doctrine of the trinity. In a minority view, T.C. Pfizenmaier argues that he more likely held the Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity rather than the Western one held by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and most Protestants. In his own day, he was also accused of being a Rosicrucian (as were many in the Royal Society and in the court of Charles II).
In his own lifetime, Newton wrote more on religion than he did on natural science. He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza. Thus, the ordered and dynamically informed universe could be understood, and must be understood, by an active reason, but this universe, to be perfect and ordained, had to be regular.
Newton's effect on religious thought
"Newton," by William Blake; here, Newton is depicted as a 'divine geometer'
Newton and Robert Boyle’s mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteers as a viable alternative to the pantheists and enthusiasts, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as dissident preachers like the latitudinarians. Thus, the clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical superlatives of both superstitious enthusiasm and the threat of atheism, and, at the same time, the second wave of English deists used Newton's discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a "Natural Religion."
The attacks made against pre-Enlightenment "magical thinking," and the mystical elements of Christianity, were given their foundation with Boyle’s mechanical conception of the universe. Newton gave Boyle’s ideas their completion through mathematical proofs and, perhaps more important, was very successful in popularising them. Newton refashioned the world governed by an interventionist God into a world crafted by a God that designs along rational and universal principles. These principles were available for all people to discover, allowed man to pursue his own aims fruitfully in this life, not the next, and to perfect himself with his own rational powers.
Newton saw God as the master creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation. But the unforeseen theological consequence of his conception of God, as Leibniz pointed out, was that God was now entirely removed from the world’s affairs, since the need for intervention would only evidence some imperfection in God’s creation, something impossible for a perfect and omnipotent creator. Leibniz's theodicy cleared God from the responsibility for "l'origine du mal" by making God removed from participation in his creation. The understanding of the world was now brought down to the level of simple human reason, and humans, as Odo Marquard argued, became responsible for the correction and elimination of evil.
On the other hand, latitudinarian and Newtonian ideas taken too far resulted in the millenarians, a religious faction dedicated to the concept of a mechanical universe, but finding in it the same enthusiasm and mysticism that the Enlightenment had fought so hard to extinguish.
Newton and the counterfeiters
As warden of the royal mint, Newton estimated that 20% of the coins taken in during The Great Recoinage were counterfeit. Counterfeiting was treason, punishable by death by drawing and quartering. Despite this, convictions of the most flagrant criminals could be extremely difficult to achieve; however, Newton proved to be equal to the task.
He gathered much of that evidence himself, disguised, while he hung out at bars and taverns. For all the barriers placed to prosecution, and separating the branches of government, English law still had ancient and formidable customs of authority. Newton was made a justice of the peace and between June 1698 and Christmas 1699 conducted some 200 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers and suspects. Newton won his convictions and in February 1699, he had ten prisoners waiting to be executed. He later ordered all records of his interrogations to be destroyed.
Newton's greatest triumph as the king's attorney was against William Chaloner. One of Chaloner's schemes was to set up phony conspiracies of Catholics and then turn in the hapless conspirators whom he entrapped. Chaloner made himself rich enough to posture as a gentleman. Petitioning Parliament, Chaloner accused the Mint of providing tools to counterfeiters (a charge also made by others). He proposed that he be allowed to inspect the Mint's processes in order to improve them. He petitioned Parliament to adopt his plans for a coinage that could not be counterfeited, while at the same time striking false coins. Newton was outraged, and went about the work to uncover anything about Chaloner. During his studies, he found that Chaloner was engaged in counterfeiting. He immediately put Chaloner on trial, but Mr Chaloner had friends in high places, and to Newton's horror, Chaloner walked free. Newton put him on trial a second time with conclusive evidence. Chaloner was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered on March 23, 1699 at Tyburn gallows.
Enlightenment philosophers chose a short history of scientific predecessors—Galileo, Boyle, and Newton principally—as the guides and guarantors of their applications of the singular concept of Nature and Natural Law to every physical and social field of the day. In this respect, the lessons of history and the social structures built upon it could be discarded.
It was Newton’s conception of the universe based upon Natural and rationally understandable laws that became the seed for Enlightenment ideology. Locke and Voltaire applied concepts of Natural Law to political systems advocating intrinsic rights; the physiocrats and Adam Smith applied Natural conceptions of psychology and self-interest to economic systems and the sociologists criticised the current social order for trying to fit history into Natural models of progress. Monboddo and Samuel Clarke resisted elements of Newton's work, but eventually rationalised it to conform with their strong religious views of nature.
Newton's laws of motion
The famous three laws of motion:
- Newton's First Law (also known as the Law of Inertia) states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and that an object in uniform motion tends to stay in uniform motion unless acted upon by a net external force.
- Newton's Second Law states that an applied force, F, on an object equals the time rate of change of its momentum, p. Mathematically, this is written as Assuming the mass to be constant, the first term vanishes. Defining the acceleration to be results in the famous equation which states that the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force acting on the object and inversely proportional to its mass. In the MKS system of measurement, mass is given in kilograms, acceleration in metres per second squared, and force in newtons (named in his honour).
- Newton's Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
A reputed descendant of Newton's apple tree, found in the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge, England.
A popular story claims that Newton was inspired to formulate his theory of universal gravitation by the fall of an apple from a tree. Cartoons have gone further to suggest the apple actually hit Newton's head, and that its impact somehow made him aware of the force of gravity. John Conduitt, Newton's assistant at the royal mint and husband of Newton's niece, described the event when he wrote about Newton's life:
In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge ... to his mother in Lincolnshire & whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition... (King's College, Cambridge, Keynes Ms. 130.4: Conduitt's account of Newton's life at Cambridge (c.1727-8) )
The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon's orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it "universal gravitation".
A contemporary writer, William Stukeley, recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726, in which Newton recalled "when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself. Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the earth's centre." In similar terms, Voltaire wrote in his Essay on Epic Poetry (1727), "Sir Isaac Newton walking in his gardens, had the first thought of his system of gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree." These accounts are probably exaggerations of Newton's own tale about sitting by a window in his home (Woolsthorpe Manor) and watching an apple fall from a tree.
Various trees are claimed to be "the" apple tree which Newton describes, the King's School, Grantham, claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster's garden some years later, the staff of the [now] National Trust-owned Woolsthrope Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. It is also claimed that the tree was replanted in front of the council buildings in Grantham, which is unlikely, considering that they were built over 300 years after Newton's death. A clone of the original tree can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there.
Writings by Newton
- Method of Fluxions (1671)
- De Motu Corporum in Gyrum (1684)
- Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
- Opticks (1704)
- Reports as Master of the Mint (1701-1725)
- Arithmetica Universalis (1707)
- An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture (1754)
- Short Chronicle, The System of the World, Optical Lectures, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, Amended and De mundi systemate were published posthumously in 1728.
- Cultural depictions of Isaac Newton
- History of calculus
- Newton v. Leibniz calculus controversy
- "Standing on the shoulders of giants"
- Newton-Cotes formulas
- Gauss-Newton algorithm
- Newton fractal
- Newton polygon
- Newton's cannonball
- Isaac Newton's religious views
- De Motu (Berkeley's essay)
Footnotes and references
- ^ a b c During Newton's lifetime, two calendars were in use in Europe: the 'Julian' or 'Old Style' in Britain and parts of Eastern Europe, and the 'Gregorian' or 'New Style' elsewhere. At Newton's birth, Gregorian dates were ten days ahead of Julian dates: thus Newton was born on Christmas Day 1642 by the Julian calendar but on 4 January 1643 by the Gregorian. Unless otherwise noted, the remainder of the dates in this article follow the Julian calendar.
- ^ Newton beats Einstein in polls of scientists and the public. The Royal Society. Retrieved on 2006-10-25.
- ^ Wilson, Fred L.. History of Science: Newton. Fred Wilson's Physics Web. Retrieved on 2006-08-29. citing: Delambre, M. "Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. le comte J. L. Lagrange," Oeuvres de Lagrange I. Paris, 1867, p. xx.
- ^ Bell, E.T.  (1986). Men of Mathematics, Touchstone edition, New York: Simon & Schuster, pp. 91-2.
- ^ Keynes, John Maynard (1972). “"Newton, The Man"”, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes Volume X, pp. 363-4.
- ^ Westfall, Richard S.  (1983). "Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 530-1. notes that Newton apparently abandoned his alchemical researches.
- ^ Dobbs, J.T. (December 1982). "Newton's Alchemy and His Theory of Matter". Isis 73 (4): p. 523. quoting Opticks
- ^ Westfall 1980, p. 44.
- ^ Westfall 1980, p. 595
- ^ Westfall 1980, p. 870
- ^ Westfall 1980, p. 870
- ^ Newton, Isaac (1642-1727). Eric Weisstein's World of Biography. Retrieved on 2006-08-30.
- ^ Tiner, J.H. (1975). Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist and Teacher. Milford, Michigan, U.S.: Mott Media.
- ^ Tiner 1975
- ^ Pfizenmaier, T.C. (1997). "Was Isaac Newton an Arian?". Journal of the History of Ideas 68 (1): pp. 57-80.
- ^ Yates, Frances A. (1972). The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge.
- ^ Jacob, Margaret C. (1976). The Newtonians and the English Revolution: 1689-1720. Cornell University Press, pp. 37,44.
- ^ Westfall, Richard S. (1958). Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 200.
- ^ Haakonssen, Knud. “The Enlightenment, politics and providence: some Scottish and English comparisons”, Martin Fitzpatrick ed. Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 64.
- ^ Frankel, Charles (1948). The Faith of Reason: The Idea of Progress in the French Enlightenment. New York: King's Crown Press, p. 1.
- ^ Germain, Gilbert G.. A Discourse on Disenchantment: Reflections on Politics and Technology, p. 28.
- ^ Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953.
- ^ A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir David Brewster, Edinburgh, 1850; cited in; ibid, p. 65.
- ^ Webb, R.K. ed. Knud Haakonssen. “The emergence of Rational Dissent.” Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1996. p19.
- ^ Westfall, Richard S. Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England. p201.
- ^ Marquard, Odo. "Burdened and Disemburdened Man and the Flight into Unindictability," in Farewell to Matters of Principle. Robert M. Wallace trans. London: Oxford UP, 1989.
- ^ Jacob, Margaret C. The Newtonians and the English Revolution: 1689-1720. p100-101.
- ^ Westfall 1980, pp. 571-5
- ^ Cassels, Alan. Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World. p2.
- Bell, E.T. (1937). Men of Mathematics. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46400-0. Excerpt
- Christianson, Gale (1984). In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton & his times. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-905190-8. This well documented work provides, in particular, valuable information regarding Newton's knowledge of Patristics
- interview with James Gleick: "Isaac Newton" (Pantheon). WAMU's The Diane Rehm Show Friday, June 13, 2003 (RealAudio stream). Retrieved on March 8, 2005.
- Sir Isaac Newton. School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved on March 8, 2005.
- The Newton Project. Imperial College London. Retrieved on March 8, 2005.
- Westfall, Richard S. (1980, 1998). Never at Rest. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27435-4.
- Craig, John (1963). “Isaac Newton and the Counterfeiters”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society (18). London: The Royal Society.
- "The Invisible Science." Magical Egypt. Chance Gardner and John Anthony West. 2005.
- Berlinski, David, Newton's Gift:How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of our World, ISBN 0-684-84392-7 (hardback), also in paperback, Simon & Schuster, (2000).
- Christianson, Gale E. In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times. Collier MacMillan, (1984). 608 pages.
- Dampier, William C. & M. Dampier. Readings in the Literature of Science. Harper & Row, New York, (1959).
- Gjertsen, Derek. The Newton Handbook, Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1986).
- Gleick, James. Isaac Newton. Knopf, (2003). hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 0-375-42233-1.
- Hawking, Stephen, ed. On the Shoulders of Giants. ISBN 0-7624-1348-5 Places selections from Newton's Principia in the context of selected writings by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Einstein.
- Hart, Michael J. The 100. Carol Publishing Group, (July 1992), paperback, 576 pages, ISBN 0-8065-1350-0.
- Keynes, John Maynard. Essays in Biography. W W Norton & Co, 1963, paperback, ISBN 0-393-00189-X. Keynes had taken a close interest in Newton and owned many of Newton's private papers.
- Newton, Isaac. Papers and Letters in Natural Philosophy, edited by I. Bernard Cohen. Harvard University Press, 1958,1978. ISBN 0-674-46853-8.
- Newton, Isaac (1642-1727). The Principia: a new Translation, Guide by I. Bernard Cohen ISBN 0-520-08817-4 University of California (1999) Warning: common mistranslations exposed!
- Shapley, Harlow, S. Rapport, and H. Wright. A Treasury of Science; "Newtonia" pp. 147-9; "Discoveries" pp. 150-4. Harper & Bros., New York, (1946).
- Simmons, J. The giant book of scientists -- The 100 greatest minds of all time, Sydney: The Book Company, (1996).
- Villamil (de), Richard. Newton, The man. G.D. Knox, London, 1931. Preface by Albert Einstein. Reprinted by Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York (1972). Richard de Villamil discovered in 1928 Newton's library.
- Whiteside, D. T. The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton - 8 volumes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, (1967-81).
- Isaac Newton, Sir; J Edleston; Roger Cotes, Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes, including letters of other eminent men, London, John W. Parker, West Strand; Cambridge, John Deighton, 1850. – Google Books