Thesis Statement: Through his early life experiences and with the knowledge left by his predecessors, Sir Isaac Newton was able to develop calculus, natural forces, and optics.
From birth to early childhood, Isaac Newton overcame many personal, social, and mental hardships. It is through these experiences that helped create the person society knows him as in this day and age. The beginning of these obstacles started at birth for Newton.
Isaac was born premature on Christmas Day 1642, in the manor house of Woolsthorpe, 7 miles south of Grantham in Lincolnshire. It is said that “Because Galileo, . . . had died that year, a significance attaches itself to 1642” (Westfall 1). Though his father had died before Isaac was born, he was given his father’s name. He was born into a farming family that had worked their way slowly up the “social ladder”. The Newton’s were one of the few families to prosper in Lincolnshire (Westfall 1). At the age of three Isaac’s life would take a drastic turn.
When Isaac was three his mother, Hannah Ayscough, remarried to the Reverend Barnabas Smith (Internet-newtonia). Isaac and the Reverend never got along and the Reverend would not have a child that was not his living with him. Isaac stayed with his grandparents when his mother went to live with the Reverend in North Witham. His maternal grandmother raised Isaac until he was ten. It is believed that his mother’s second marriage and her leaving caused many problems for Isaac as a child. While living with his grandparents he attended day school nearby in Skillington and Stoke. Isaac was surrounded by many cousins and other family members in the surrounding area though, “He formed no bond with any of his numerous relatives that can be traced later in his life” (Westfall 11). In 1653 his mother returned after her second husband died. With her she brought one half brother and two half sisters. Although it is not known, bitterness may have inflicted Isaac when his three new siblings arrived. Never the less, two years later at the age of twelve he was sent to Grantham to attend grammar school.
While attending grammar school Isaac lived with the apothecary Mr. Clark (Westfall 12). Mr. Clark had three stepchildren from the first marriage of his wife, Miss Storer, who were also living in his house. In school and at home Isaac was apparently different and did not get along with any other boys. He was often in fights and remembered only one nice boy from school, Chrichloe. All the other boys seemed to hate him. He was more comfortable in the company of girls. He made doll furniture for Mr. Clark’s daughter. From this Isaac’s first and last romantic experience developed. “Indeed, as the two grew older, something of a romance apparently developed between him and Miss Storer” (Westfall 13). From doll furniture Newton moved on to other little machines. He used all the money his mother sent him to buy tools and filled his room with the machines. He fell in love with Mr. Clark’s library and would read as often as possible. At times he would spend so much time on projects that he would fall behind in school. When he realized he was falling behind all Isaac had to do was pick up his textbook and would immediately be caught up. Through his machines Newton became proficient in drawing and his inventions steadily became more elaborate. At the age of seventeen in 1659, Newton left Mr. Clark and had another life changing experience.
When Newton was seventeen his mother took him out of school and brought him back to the family farm. Trying to teach him how to run the farm and manage the estate was a failure. Newton would always bribe a hired hand to do the work he was supposed to. When he was supposed to be in town selling produce he would go to his old room in Mr. Clark’s house and read or play with his machines. In all of his spare time he returned to inventing and building machines. Newton’s uncle and old schoolmaster saw that he was in the wrong trade and urged his mother to prepare him to attend the University (Westfall 17). In 1660 he returned to Grantham to finish grammar school and prepare for the university. In June of 1661 Newton entered Trinity College, Cambridge (Internet-groups). While at Cambridge Newton studied mathematics (Internet-newtonia). This is when Newton first started to delve into the many discoveries he would soon be making.
Throughout Isaac Newton’s childhood and early adulthood he came in contact with many obstacles. Whether it was his mother leaving or his inability to socialize with his peers, Newton overcame the hardships that faced him. He was able to leave the family estate and trade behind in order to receive a better education. His intelligence is what separated him from everyone else. The ability he showed as a child was just the beginning.
Newton made most of his most important discoveries – pure mathematics, theory of gravitation, and optics – before he even graduated college. Although he learned geometry through school, he spoke of himself as self-taught. One of his earliest mathematical discoveries was the binomial theorm. “The binomial theorm gives a formula, or rule, as Newton called it, for writing down the expansion of any power of (1+x).” (Anthony 53) An example of this is as follows:
(1+x)^n = 1 + nx + n(n-1) x^2 + n(n-1)(n-2) x^3 + … nx^(n-1) + x^n
This was an early attempt at understanding differentiation. “Newton made contributions to all branches of mathematics then studied, but is especially famous for his solutions to the contemporary problems in analytical geometry of drawing tangents to curves (differentiation) and defining areas bounded by curves (integration).” (Hall online) He discovered that they were inverse to each other. At the same time, he figured a way out to solve these problems with his method of fluxions and inverse method of fluxions. Fluxions are concerned with the rate at which the change occurs. The rate of change of a quantity indicates how the quantity is increasing or decreasing at a given time. The idea of “rate of change” is so important in the realm of engineering, where complicated changes in motion occur. The areas of surfaces, and volumes of solids almost always require these methods for their evaluations, as do also centers of gravity and moments of inertia. Even the modern study of aerodynamics and the science of hydrodynamics would be impossible without the principles of the calculus. One of the most valuable applications of the differential calculus may be found in problems involving maxima and minima. “Now it is known that the value of the differential coefficient at any point on the curve varies with the angle that the tangent at the point makes with the axis of x. In passing through a maximum or a minimum, the inclination of the tangent becomes zero, so that the pints of maxima and minima may be found by equating the differential coefficient to zero.” (Anthony 73)
By setting up these basic calculations, Newton paved the way to understanding the theory of gravitation. As far as the idea of universal gravitation is concerned, the essential work was done before Newton was twenty-four. In eighteen months, Newton wrote what is considered the greatest scientific work ever written. He called this book Philosophiae Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which is usually known by the last two words. “In the book Newton codified Galileo’s findings into the three laws of motion.” (Wilson online) The first law of motion was called “the principle of inertia.” “A body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion remains in motion at a constant velocity as long as outside forces are not involved.” (Wilson online) The second law of motion was titled “motion defined in terms of mass and acceleration.” This was the first clear distinction between the mass of a body and its weight. He showed that mass was just resistance to acceleration; in other words, mass is the amount of inertia a body has. He also showed that weight was the amount of gravitational force between a body and another body (the earth). The last of the famous laws was “action and reaction.” This law just states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That low governs the behavior of rockets. Using these three laws, Newton was able to figure out the way gravitational force between the earth and the moon could be calculated. Because you could use that calculation for any two bodies in the universe, the equation became the law of universal gravitation. With this, he also calculated the centripetal force needed to hold a stone in a sling, and the relation between the length of a pendulum and the time of its swing.
As you well know, Newton was a very well rounded and intelligent man. Not only did he do work with math and physics, but he also discovered the basics of optics.
This is a picture taken from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, 1997 Edition.
It shows Newton as he was experimenting with prisms and discovering the properties of white light.
“He investigated the refraction of light by a glass prism; developing over a few years a series of increasingly elaborate, refined, and exact experiments, Newton discovered measurable, mathematical patterns in the phenomenon of colour.” (Hall online) He found that white light was a mix of varied colored rays. During his time, the telescope was just being invented and improved upon. Soon, the inventers noticed a distortion in the distant objects they were viewing. When they used a bigger lens, the light seemed to get blurry. This blurred effect is known as chromatic aberration. The only reason the other intellects of the time could not figure out what was causing the problem was because they believed that white light from the sun was pure, when in all actuality, Newton proved wrong. Another contribution was the reflective telescope; he knew that the refractive telescope could only be so big, hence prohibiting extreme magnification. His optical studies stopped because of the Great Plague that hit in 1666. That is why he is mainly known for his mathematical discoveries and the laws of gravitation.
Newton once said, “If I have seen further than most men, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants” (www.english.upenn.edu/jlnch/Frank_Demo/People/newton.html). Just as Newton built upon the existing knowledge of Descartes, Boyle, and Galileo, we have built upon the knowledge, which he has bestowed upon us. It seems as if there is a genius every one or two centuries whom steps beyond the bounds of the time in which he lives in, and Newton was one of those men. The only problem with him was, he could think of the processes, and inventions, yet the world at that time did not possess the technology to build and use what he had envisioned. “Newton’s contributions to physical theories dominated scientific thought for two centuries and remain important today” (Serway 86). Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions of Calculus and his phenomenal three laws of motion have allowed we as a people to achieve things that he himself could never have imagined.
Undoubtedly the first and greatest of Newton’s inventions was his development of what we call, modern day calculus. “Before the advent of calculus, mathematics was concerned with static situations and could not deal with the constant change which is ever present in the word around us”(The New American Encyclopedia Vol. 3: 891). This ingenious mathematical method has provided us with the ability to create things which the great philosophers of the past could only dream of. This mathematical method allows us to make precise calculations by using specified equations with only a few known quantities. Have you ever tried to determine the volume of a solid after revolving a two dimensional object around an axis on the Cartesian plane? Without calculus it is not impossible, but it would be impractical to try and attack such a problem without the proper tools. Without calculus, it would be like trying to eat soup with a fork. “With calculus, Newton’s first great achievement, he provided himself with the mathematical tools necessary for the rest of his work”(www.tiac.net/users/bruen/newton.html). Mathematics, science, and technology go hand in hand. Without the proper mathematical methods, the advancement in science and technology is extremely limited. “Newton’s contributions provided the leap from the possible to the actual”(www.tiac.net/users/bruen/newton.html).
With Newton’s new mathematical tools, he was able to develop and prove his laws of motion and gravitation. “In 1666 the contemplation of the fall of an apple led Newton to his greatest discovery of all, that of the law of gravitation and motion”(www.reformation.org/newton.html).
Newton’s three laws of motion:
1) Bodies continue in a state of rest or uniform motion unless that condition is changed by applied force;
2) The rate of change of momentum is proportional to the acting force, and is in the direction that the force acts;
3) Whenever force is applied to a body there is an equal and opposite reaction;
(The New American Encyclopedia Vol. 6: 1930)
“All physical laws are stated mathematically as differential equations “(The New American Encyclopedia Vol. 3: 892). “As a consequence of his theories, Newton was able to explain the motion of the planets, the ebb and flow of the tides, and man special features of the motion of the Moon and the Earth”(Serway 86). And with these given laws of motion, we can verify and predict the way any given object will react to its environment. With these, we are able to accurately predict the path of projectiles, and this provides us with a safety barrier so that we can be warned prematurely of impending danger. So in essence, these laws have helped we as a people to sustain life, as we know it, by giving us the means to detect and respond to any problems that might arise.
Perhaps the best way to see what Sir Isaac Newton has given us is to look at what we as a people depend on most, the computer. Without the process of analytical geometry, better known as calculus, life wouldn’t be as easy as it is today. Meaning that the age of computers would have never come about and without them, manual labor would be used instead of automated labor, which would be a lot more costly, impractical, and inefficient. Let’s face it, it is just this simple, computers run the world as we know it! We rely on computers for everything, and without calculus, computers might still exist, but the programs which run them would be nonexistent, simply due to the fact that the majority of computers don’t run on the same input from day to day. They run based on varying input. For the programs that run computers to be effective and efficient, they must be able to handle multiple inputs, and give reliable outputs when prompted.
As it can clearly be seen, Sir Isaac Newton’s numerous contributions in the areas of science and mathematics have made it possible for we as a people to seemingly advance at an exponential rate. As Newton accredited his accomplishments to his predecessors, so must we attribute the success we have had today to the numerous accomplishments of Newton in the areas of Science and Mathematics. If we as a people today have achieved great things, it is because we have stood upon the shoulders of the giant, Sir Isaac Newton.
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20 October 1999 .