Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most celebrated scientists in modern history. He had a huge impact on various disciplines of science, including physics, math, and more. In the opinion of many, he was the most important and influential person of the Scientific Revolution, which lasted from about 1550 to 1700. So what did he do that made such an impact on the world?
Until about the 1300s, the field of science did not go through many changes. The Catholic Church had control of what was reported so it preserve the beliefs that was already incorporated into its teachings and doctrines. This system of beliefs was based on the findings and teachings from ancient Romans and Greeks. If something disagreed with the church’s system of beliefs, the church would stifle it by either intimidation, threat of arrest, and sometimes even death to those who propagated those findings. As a result, most of the inquisitive people simply read the approved publications to learn about the sciences.
During the Renaissance period, people began questioning the approved publications and discoveries. Scientists rebelled by doing their own studies and, not surprisingly, their findings did not match up with the findings that the church had already approved. This led to the era of the Scientific Revolution, of which Isaac Newton was a major part.
Newton’s Contribution to Science
Isaac Newton did not just go around causing a stir which pitted nation against nation. In fact, he is credited with publishing one of the most – if not the most – influential book in the world of physics, entitled the Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In this book, Newton proposed his Three Laws of Motion.
Objects tend to remain in their present state of rest or uniform motion along a straight line unless something compels the object to change it direction or current state by the force impressed upon it.
When a force is impressed upon on object, that object changes its motion proportional to the amount of force used upon it. The object then moves along a straight line in the direction which the force pushed it.
For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.
These three laws of motion proposed by Isaac Newton are still taught today as some of the main cornerstones upon which the field of physics is based. From the laws of motion, Newton went on to discuss the idea of gravitational pull, how it relates to the solar system, and much more. He talked about comets and how they move through orbit and how the sun’s gravity affects the entire solar system. Newton described how the moon’s gravitational pull at various times throughout its cycle affects the ocean tides and how the sun’s gravity caused the Earth to flatten near the poles while it bulges near the equator. These are all ideas that are still prominent and taught in physics classes today.
Newton’s Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica was first published in 1687. It was so popular, it sold out of its first printing very quickly. However, the second printing was not released until 1713, making it even more sought-after.
Isaac Newton: Scientific Rebel with a Cause
Newton was potentially the most influential person in the evolution of science as we know it today. He combined the laws of Johannes Kepler and Galileo to formulate a better understanding of the universe. He published a book entitled Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica which outlined his system of the planets and the universe, which became the cornerstone of the Scientific Revolution.
Inspiring the American RevolutionNewton’s discoveries and findings did not only have an influence on the future of science. It might sound crazy, but some of his ideas actually helped influence the American Revolution about 100 years after he published them. Until Newton, scientists and philosophers believed that the universe ran on a mathematical set of laws. But Newton formulated natural laws that ran the universe. Once he began discussing natural laws for the universe, others during his time extended that to say that there were probably natural laws for how people behaved.
Newton passed these ideas to John Locke, who was a good friend of his. Locke took this idea of natural laws and advocated for individual freedoms and rights that everybody has. These rights, Locke said, included life, liberty, and health. Many of the founding fathers of the United States studied philosophers like Newton and Locke, which helped lead to the American Revolution and the events thereafter.
Newton's 3 Laws of Motion
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Legend has it that a young Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree contemplating the graviattional influences of the moon one day when an apple fell and boinked him on the head-- leading Newton to the world's greatest Eureka moment.-- that the same force that held the moon in place also caused the apple to fall.
But sadly, the story is probably a fake. Historians point out that Newton had a high opinion of himself and was not above such things as bragging and self promotion. The apple story begins to get fuzzy when you consider the fact that the first time Newton even mentions the incident was in 1686 in the Principa Mathematica, twenty years after the event supposedly happened. The story became official record when it was included in William Stukeley's 1752 biography of Newton.
Newton was not without his critics, however. Many in the scientific community objected to Newton’s idea of gravity. They said that since he had no logical evidence or proof, then gravity was little more than a supernatural idea. Critics were especially vocal in France where Rene Descartes was the scientific guru that everybody looked up to. The Germans at the time were not too keen on some of Newton’s ideas, either, because they looked up to Gottfried Leibniz. Of course Newton's ideas were so cutting edge that many smart people of that time couldn't figure him out. When the Principia Mathematica came to print in 1686 many of the leading scholars couldn't understand what the whole point of calculus. I'm sure most high school students can sympathize. Many questioned Newton about the practicality of a book of abtract formulas and equations that didn't seem to have much to do with anything to do with "the real world".
The English also felt that Newton’s theories left no room for divine intervention as his laws proposed that the universe ran in a strict clockwork-like operation. In some cases, he was even accused of advocating for deism or, worse yet, atheism.
Newton addressed many of the criticisms from his critics when he published the second edition of the Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1713.
Newton’s Impact Today
Isaac Newton still has some ideas that are still floating around today. Few people know that he was also as interested in theology and the Bible as he was in science. In fact, he devoted a large portion of his time to trying to decipher the actual date of the end of the world based on the Bible’s teachings. In case you are wondering, he calculated it to be the year 2060 – so get your affairs in order.
With his wide variety of interests and studies, Newton practically impacted every field of study in some way or another – either directly or indirectly. From physics to mathematics to religion, his influence is still felt today as many of his theories and laws are accepted and taught in schools and in academia.