A retrospective: Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day, 1642 in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, England. That same year Galileo Galilei died near Florence, Italy, and Isaac would further his work on the science of motion. His father died three months before his birth, and at two his mother remarried and Isaac was forced to live with his grandparents.

After she was made a widow again, she focused her attention towards Isaac and the running of their farm, but Isaac was an academic, and he had no desire to run a farm, so his mother sent him away to a school in Grantham in preparation for university. Whilst in Grantham he became fluent in Latin, and discovered he had mechanical abilities that involved fixing clocks.

In 1661, Isaac arrived in Cambridge to join the scientific revolution that was in full swing. From astronomy to philosophy, scientists were beginning to understand the world around them, and the nature of its inhabitants. The world was changing and the idea of a geocentric universe was fading fast, despite the church disagreeing and interfering by condemning anything that went against the words of the Bible. This conflicted Isaac as he was a devoutly religious man, but he wasn’t afraid of pursuing the truth.

Isaac discovered the works of René Descartes, a French scientist and philosopher, who was an expert in the field of motion, and he started working his own theories, and after getting his bachelors degree in 1665, he studied studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy, and would make important discoveries in each field including:

•optics (studies the behaviour and properties of light)

•law of universal gravitation (Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that two objects are attracted to each other by a force which is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them)

• infinitesimal calculus (is the mathematical study of continuous change)

Due to the plague (Black Death), Cambridge university was closed, which left Isaac with plenty of time on his hands, and he started early work on his three laws of motion.

The First Law of Motion states, “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

The Second Law of Motion describes what happens to a massive body when it is acted upon by an external force.

The Third Law of Motion states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

These studies named classical mechanics have been repeatedly tested over the centuries and are taught to students at a university level. Isaac was renowned for being a ‘tinkerer‘ and couldn’t sit still. If it wasn’t a practical invention he was working on, it was theoretical, and he’s credited for many inventions in his life.

The Newtonian reflector

In 1668 Isaac constructed the first reflector telescope using a concave mirror and a flat diagonal secondary mirror, and to this day it remains the telescope of choice for many amateur and professional astronomers. Isaac had a borderline obsession with light, and performed many experiments exploring refraction and diffraction, and after studying Aristotle at university, he studied the modification of light in rainbows, prisms, and the retina of the eye. Pink Floyd and The Dark Side of the Moon album cover portrays the prism of light perfectly.

The perfect coin

In the 17th century, counterfeiting was rife, and it was known as ‘clipping‘. Isaac was given the task by the Royal Mint to design currency that was difficult to forge. At the time England was in a financial state of chaos, and it needed a radical outcome. He painstakingly designed coins with ridges on the edge, which gave forgers a massive headache as they couldn’t successfully mimic them.

• The Law of Gravitation

Isaac studied Kepler’s empirical laws of planetary motion, and it worked perfectly with his theory of gravity. Obviously many people had observed the illusion of an object falling, but none considered why, how and the logic behind it, and how every object with mass has a gravitational force, and it took the keen mind of Isaac Newton to bring a reasonable and rational explanation.

• Newton’s Law of Cooling

Isaac came up with a mathematical formula which explained the rate of which something cools down, and it’s proportional to the temperature difference between the hot object and its surroundings.

“Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.” – Isaac Newton

It really begs the question that if perhaps the greatest mind to have ever existed was born in the 20th century, would he have been as devoutly religious? He lived in a time when it was expected for a man to have faith, and to suggest otherwise was considered heresy.

Galileo Galilei was considered to be the father of observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of the scientific method,  and the father of modern science, but this all came at a cost when he dared to declare to the Jesuits of the Roman Catholic Church of Italy that we lived on a heliocentric earth, and not geocentric.

“He (the Lord) laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever.” – Psalm 104:5

The church was never going to budge on this and the processo a Galileo Galilei‘ began, which was a trial by the Roman Catholic inquisition due to his heresy by claiming heliocentrism and was placed under house arrest until his death.

If Isaac Newton had gone against God, and his faith, would he have been taken seriously, or would he too have been condemned by the church? Modern Christians constantly claim persecution, but no other faith has ever gotten in the way of scientific advancement as much as them, despite a large number of scientists being of faith. Isaac was frequently accused of bringing the occult into science as his thoughts and declarations were so ahead of their time.

Despite criticism and praise from his peers and the church, in 1705, Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen Anne, and was the second ever scientist to receive the honour of being a sir, after Sir Francis Bacon. On 20 March 1727, Isaac had the luxury of a peaceful death where he passed away in his sleep aged 84.

“Gravity must be caused by an Agent acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this Agent be material or immaterial, I have left to the Consideration of my readers” – Isaac Newton