Wednesday, December 12, 2018

How the apple inspired Newton

A physics blogger writes:
As someone whose job it is to help people understand and appreciate physics, I absolutely hate the way most people talk about Isaac Newton and how he developed his theory of gravity. It's not the apple bit that I have a problem with; that's an important part of the story, and even historically accurate!

I always assumed that Isaac Newton's big insight upon seeing the apple fall was that the Moon was falling from the same gravity.

This article says that there is evidence that Newton really was inspired by an apple, but his big insight was that the Earth was pulling on the apple in the same way that the apple was pulling on the Earth. The Earth also falls toward the apple, ever so slightly.
We can thank this little touch of plague for virtually all of Newton's scientific legacy: in that single impromptu gap year, he had his epiphany about gravity, discovered that white light is made up of all the colors in the spectrum, and basically invented calculus.
The problem with that story is that Newton got involved in nasty priority fights over ideas that he failed to publish until many years later. So he could be exaggerating how much he figured out in that year.

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