Item description for Contemporary Newtonian Research (Studies in the History of Modern Science) by Z. Bechler...
Contemporary Newtonian Research (Studies in the History of Modern Science) by Z. Bechler
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.56" Width: 6.5" Height: 0.78" Weight: 1.22 lbs.
Release Date Aug 31, 1982
ISBN 9027713030 ISBN13 9789027713032
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Good collection Jun 13, 2008
A theme I was particularly interested in was that of Newton as a mathematician. A romantic article by Whiteside establishes that Newton was "a mathematician from his toe-tips" (p. 116, Reidel ed.). Whiteside gives examples of endlessly debated passages thought to be elusive philosophical subtleties that are in fact seen to be straightforward mathematics to those who care to "look with a mathematician's eye" (p. 118), a sentiment largely shared by I. B. Cohen (esp. p. 26).
Cohen's study of the development of Newton's physics establishes again that Newton's success with the Principia rests almost entirely on his mathematical ability. With the achievements of his annus mirabilis Newton was the greatest mathematician of his day. Not so in physics, however, where he "took a Cartesian track ... which all too soon ended in a boggy vortical swirl" (Whiteside, p. 116).
In 1679 Hooke wrote to Newton for help with the mathematical aspects of his hypothesis "of compounding the celestiall motions of the planetts of a direct motion by the tangent & an attractive motion towards the centrall body" (p. 36). But "Newton was still mired in very confusing older notions" (p. 35) and wrote a reply with a rather basic error in it. To get Newton going Hooke had to explicitly suggest the inverse square law and plead that "I doubt not but that by your excellent method you will easily find out what that Curve [the orbit] must be" (p. 37). Only then "Newton quickly broke through to dynamical enlightenment ... following [Hooke's] signposted track" (Whiteside, p. 117).
The experimental aspect of Newton's work on mechanics did not go so well, and sometimes hampered rather than aided the development of his theory. The famous moon test, for example, first came out negatively (owing to a bad value for the radius of the earth), which "made Sir Isaac suspect that this Power was partly that of Cartesius's Vortices" (Whiston, p. 34). This was well into the 80s. And so was Newton's experiments measuring how a pendulum in vacuum slows down (p. 57), which it does almost as fast as in ordinary air. This proved the existence of the aether, according to Newton, but he failed in his attempts to explain gravity in terms of the aether---such an explanation must be "exceedingly subtle" (p. 58), he concluded, but remained hopeful that it could be found.