Isaac Newton Essay Example
Isaac Newton Essay Example

Isaac Newton Essay Example

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  • Pages: 9 (2207 words)
  • Published: March 31, 2019
  • Type: Autobiography
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Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), widely hailed as one of the most brilliant scientific minds in history, was a renowned mathematician and physicist. Born in Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, Newton attended school there before enrolling at Cambridge University in 1661. In 1669, he became a Fellow of Trinity College and was appointed the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Except for the years 1665-1666 when he stayed in Lincolnshire due to an outbreak of disease in Cambridge, Newton continued to give lectures at Cambridge University until 1696. This period is considered by Newton himself as the most fruitful time of his life, during which he immersed himself in extensive intellectual pursuits and wrote Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), also known as the Principia. However, this groundbreaking work wa


s not published until 1687.

Newton strongly opposed King James II's efforts to Catholicize the universities. He represented the University of Cambridge in the Convention Parliament in 1689 and again in 1701-1702. In 1696, he relocated to London and became Warden of the Royal Mint. He served as Master of the Mint until his death in 1727. Newton joined the Royal Society of London as a Fellow in 1671 and was its President from 1703 until his death, being re-elected annually. After assuming presidency, he published his significant work called Opticks the following year and was knighted at Cambridge in 1705.

As Newtonian science gained more acceptance in Europe, particularly after the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, Newton emerged as the most esteemed natural philosopher on the continent. During his final years, he dedicated himself to revising his major works, perfecting his

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studies of ancient history, and defending his ideas against critics. He also fulfilled his official duties and maintained a modest and reserved lifestyle. Despite occasionally reacting with anger when faced with criticism or opposition, he demonstrated generosity towards friends and displayed harshness towards enemies. In his roles in government and at the Royal Society, he exhibited exceptional administrative skills. Despite never marrying or leading an extravagant existence, Newton was granted an elaborate burial at Westminster Abbey.

For nearly 300 years, Newton has been seen as the central figure in the development of modern physical science. His contributions to experimental investigation were just as pioneering as his work in mathematical research. He also delved into chemistry, the early history of Western civilization, and theology with equal enthusiasm and ingenuity. One of his particular interests was studying the form and measurements of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, as described in the Bible.


As a student in 1664, Newton studied optics and light by reading the works of English physicists Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. He also examined the mathematics and physics of French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes. Newton conducted experiments on the refraction of light using a glass prism. Over time, he developed increasingly complex experiments and discovered mathematical patterns in the phenomenon of color. He found that white light was composed of various colored rays, each with a specific angle of refraction when entering or leaving a transparent medium. Newton connected this concept to his investigation of interference colors in thin films, such as oil on water or soap bubbles. By using precise measurements, he determined the thickness of these films. Newton believed that

light was made up of tiny particles and from his experiments, he could determine the size of these particles on the surfaces of objects. These particles selectively reflected different colors based on their dimensions, resulting in the observed colors of those surfaces.

Newton first introduced his unconventional ideas around 1668. Initially, when these ideas were partially and briefly expressed in public in 1672 and 1675, they faced strong criticism because it was believed that colors were derived from white light. Newton's doubts and his responses were published in academic journals. However, his ideas faced skepticism from Christiaan Huygens and the failure of French physicist Edme Mariotte to replicate Newton's refraction experiments in 1681 further fueled doubts among Continental scientists for several decades. Newton postponed the publication of Opticks, which was mostly written by 1692, until his critics had passed away. Although the book was not perfect, as it failed to explain the colors of diffraction, Opticks eventually gained recognition from approximately 1715 onward for its exemplary integration of theory and quantitative experimentation.

Newton's early mathematical brilliance was evident in his student notes. Although he claimed to be self-taught, it is likely that he learned geometry at school. He furthered his knowledge by studying the works of William Oughtred, John Wallis, Descartes, and the Dutch school. Across all areas of mathematics during that time period, Newton made contributions but gained particular fame for solving problems in analytical geometry. These problems included drawing tangents to curves (differentiation) and defining areas bounded by curves (integration). Newton not only discovered the inverse relationship between these problems but also developed general techniques for solving curvature problems. He introduced the terms "method of

fluxions" and "inverse method of fluxions," which are equivalent to Leibniz's later differential and integral calculus. The term "fluxion" represented a quantity flowing from one magnitude to another. Newton expressed fluxions algebraically, similar to Leibniz's differentials, but also extensively used geometrical arguments, especially in his work Principia. In his later years, Newton expressed regret for the dominance of algebraic methods in recent mathematical progress and favored the clarity and rigor of the geometric approach employed by the Classical Greeks.

Newton's work on pure mathematics was not widely known until 1704, when he published two tracts: one on the integration of curves (quadrature) and another on the classification of cubic curves. In addition, his lectures at Cambridge University, given between 1673 and 1683, were published in 1707.

In 1666, Newton discovered fluxions and in 1668 privately shared his method of integration by infinite series with other mathematicians. Around the same time in Paris, Leibniz began developing his own ideas for differential calculus and later discussed them with Newton in 1677. While Newton had previously revealed some mathematical discoveries to Leibniz, he did not reveal his method of fluxions. Finally, in 1684, Leibniz published his first calculus paper which gained recognition among a small group of mathematicians.

In the 1690s, there was a dispute between Newton's supporters and Leibniz's supporters regarding the priority of Newton's methods of fluxions. Leibniz's supporters claimed that he had communicated the differential method to Newton, although Leibniz himself had never made such a claim. Newtonians argued that Leibniz had seen papers on fluxions during a visit to London in 1676, but in reality, Leibniz did not pay any attention to the material.

This dispute escalated

into a violent disagreement, both publicly and privately, with Leibniz even attacking Newton's theory of gravitation, as well as his ideas about God and creation. The dispute continued even after Leibniz's death in 1716. As a result of this dispute, the acceptance of Newtonian science was delayed in the Continent, and British mathematicians refrained from collaborating with their Continental colleagues for a century.

Newton's discovery about mechanics and gravitation was inspired by an apple falling in his orchard in 1665 or 1666. He realized that the same force controlled the movement of the Moon and the apple. Newton conducted calculations to determine the force required to maintain the Moon in its orbit, compared to the force pulling objects towards the ground. Additionally, he calculated the centripetal force necessary to keep a stone in a sling and the relationship between a pendulum's length and its swing time. Despite studying astronomy and planetary motion, Newton did not immediately explore these initial findings.

Newton was redirected to the problem of the path of a body subjected to a centrally directed force that varies as the inverse square of the distance during his correspondence with Hooke from 1679 to 1680. He informed Edmond Halley in August 1684 that he had determined the path to be an ellipse. Halley's interest then prompted Newton to demonstrate the relationship again, compose a brief tract on mechanics, and ultimately write the Principia.

In Book I of the Principia, Newton presents the principles of mechanics and explores the mathematical aspects of orbital motion around centers of force. He establishes the significance of gravitation as the primary force governing the movements of celestial bodies. Although Newton couldn't determine

the exact cause of gravitation, he acknowledged that those who found the concept of attractions in empty space difficult to comprehend may find the idea more plausible if it was attributed to the impacts of imperceptible particles.

In Book II, Newton introduces the theory of fluids. He presents solutions to problems regarding the movement of fluids as well as motion through fluids. Additionally, he calculates the speed of sound waves based on the density of air.

The theme of Book III is the law of gravitation operating in the universe, as Newton illustrates through the movements of the six known planets and their satellites, including Earth. However, he faced challenges in fully understanding the complex motion of the Moon. Newton also demonstrates that comets follow the same law, and in later versions of his work, he introduces speculations regarding their potential returns. Through precise calculations, he determines the relative masses of celestial bodies based on their gravitational forces, and he also notes the observed oblateness of Earth and Jupiter. Furthermore, Newton explains phenomena such as tidal ebb and flow and the precession of the equinoxes by considering the influences exerted by the Sun and Moon. All of these findings are derived through meticulous computation.

Newton's contributions to mechanics were immediately accepted in Britain and eventually recognized worldwide within fifty years. His work is considered one of humanity's most significant accomplishments in abstract thinking. Other scientists, particularly Pierre Simon de Laplace, built upon and refined Newton's theories, while still maintaining its original foundations. However, as the late 19th century approached, the principles of Newtonian mechanics started to exhibit signs of inadequacy. For more information, refer to Quantum Theory;



Newton possessed a collection of manuscripts concerning alchemy and chemistry, two closely related subjects. While most of these papers were extracts from various sources such as books, bibliographies, dictionaries, etc., there were a few originals. From 1669 until his departure from Cambridge, Newton conducted extensive experiments with the aim of unraveling the hidden meaning he believed existed within the enigmatic world of alchemy. His objective was to comprehend the nature and structure of all matter which he perceived as consisting of solid, massive, hard, impenetrable particles that God had created. In his "Queries," appended to his book "Opticks," and in his essay "On the Nature of Acids" (1710), Newton divulged an incomplete theory about the force of chemistry while discreetly concealing his investigations into alchemy. It took a century after his demise for these explorations to become known.

Newton possessed more books on humanistic learning than mathematics and science in his extensive collection. He dedicated much of his life to studying these subjects deeply. His "classical scholia," which were explanatory notes intended for a future edition of the Principia, demonstrated his knowledge of pre-Socratic philosophy. Additionally, he delved further into researching the Fathers of the Church. Newton's goal was to reconcile Greek mythology and historical records with the Bible, which he considered as the ultimate authority on early human history.

In his chronology work, Newton aimed to establish compatibility between Jewish and pagan dates while determining their absolute timeline. To support this, he utilized an astronomical argument centered around the earliest constellation figures created by the Greeks. Interestingly, Newton placed the fall of Troy at 904 BC, differing from

other scholars who positioned it about 500 years earlier. However, this alternative viewpoint faced significant opposition and criticism.

VII RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS AND PERSONALITY Newton also wrote on Judaeo-Christian prophecy, a topic he believed was crucial for understanding God. His book on this subject, which remained in print well into the Victorian Age, reflected a lifetime of study. The book argued that Christianity strayed from its true path in the 4th century AD, when the first Council of Nicaea introduced incorrect teachings about the nature of Christ. It was only in the modern era that the full extent of Newton's unorthodox beliefs became recognized. Despite being critical of accepted Trinitarian beliefs and the Council of Nicaea, Newton had a deep religious conviction, held the Bible in high regard, and accepted its account of creation. In later editions of his scientific works, Newton expressed a strong belief in God's providential role in nature.


Newton published various works throughout his career. In 1672, he released an edition of Geographia generalis by Varenius, a German geographer. From 1672 to 1676, his own letters on optics were also printed. There was then a period of no publications until the release of the Principia in 1687. This significant work was originally published in Latin and later revised in both 1713 and 1726. It was eventually translated into English in 1729. Newton's other notable publications include Opticks, which first appeared in 1704 and received a Latin revision in 1706. After his death, additional writings were posthumously published such as The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728), The System of the World (1728), the initial draft of Book III of the Principia, and Observations

upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John (1733).

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