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How much credit does Newton deserve?

  1. May 20, 2016 #1
    I'm well aware that Newton was revolutionary, but how much of calculus and his model of gravity can be solely credited to him? I've read that calculus was invented in fragments all around the world and that Newton used Kepler's laws as an influence to his gravity equation.
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2016 #2
    Is there any way to measure this "credit"?
    What you say is true for anything and anybody. All the advances in science and technology were a based on previous and contemporary work of many people.
    Nothing popped-up from a vacuum. The myth of the solitary genius is just this: a myth.
  4. May 20, 2016 #3
    Yes definitely agree. But how much of calculus was actually a construct of Newton, various sources claim that he indeed collated the work of alot of Arabian mathematicians prior to him.
  5. May 20, 2016 #4
    A lot? How many medieval Arabian mathematicians' works made it to Europe?
    And Arabian mathematicians established they knowledge (and added to it, no doubt) on the works of the ancient Greeks which they translated.
    And the Greeks were inspired by Egyptian mathematics. Which they took on a higher level, no doubt.
    And the Egyptians.... etc.
  6. May 20, 2016 #5
    It goes all the way back to Archimedes, but Newton and Leibniz certainly gave calculus a huge boost. Not only by developing the math, but also by showing how useful it could be.

    Newton used Kepler's laws but took it all much further.

    It was all hugely influential. I'd say we owe the modern hi-tech world largely to Isaac. He also intuited some of Albert Einstein's results, which to me is beyond amazing.

    There is a book about the most influential people of history. Ike is #2, right after Mohammed.
  7. May 20, 2016 #6
    I see, thats interesting. I definitely feel we often seem to overlook the progression of science wholly, Geniuses like Alhazen and Leibniz are often forgotten while Newton is hailed supreme.
  8. May 20, 2016 #7
    Because, like Einstein, Newton saw something that no one else did throughout centuries of human thought. Sure, we saw pieces of the grand puzzle, and we even pieced together some laws to describe certain phenomena like the motion of the planets, but Newton's laws explained all of that. It's similar to Einstein. The Lorentz transform and length contraction predate Einstein's work on special relativity, but it was Einstein who saw the connections that no one else did. That's what made the two so brilliant.

    Sure, we could describe a ton phenomena and even make some predictions, but not like we could when Newton came along and broke mechanics down into three simple laws (or Einstein, with two simple postulates).
  9. May 20, 2016 #8


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    There's some fascinating history behind Isaac Newton's theory of gravity, which ultimately also documents his laws of motion. Here is a primer I'm taking from a different post I wrote for another thread (this post does not touch on the calculus part of the OP, just the gravity part):

    Below is Isaac Newton's vis viva equation (My goodness, this equation is forcefully alive! :eek:):

    [tex] v^2 = GM \left( \frac{2}{r} - \frac{1}{a} \right) [/tex]

    [itex] r [/itex] is the distance from the smaller, orbiting body to the larger body,
    [itex] a [/itex] is the semi-major axis of the ellipse traced out by the smaller, orbiting body.
    [itex] GM [/itex] is the standard gravitational parameter of the larger body (which is Newton's gravitational constant times the mass of the larger body).
    and [itex] v [/itex] is the velocity of the smaller body at the given position of its orbit (its speed for a given value of [itex] r [/itex]).​

    From a historical point of view, the relationship embodied in his vis viva equation changed the world forever after, at least indirectly if not more.

    You might not be familiar with this equation, and perhaps have never even heard of it. It's not the equation for which Newton is best known. But from a historical point of view Newton's vis viva relationship is paramount to a revolutionary change. The vis viva relationship is the first to show how a force could cause a moon/planet to orbit in a ellipse. But historically, it was involved in much more.

    It was on an August day in 1684 when Edmond Halley (eventually of Halley's comet fame), paid a call on a young Issac Newton. Halley and Newton had already met some years before. Newton had made a small name for himself by his studies with light and inventing the reflecting telescope. The purpose of Halley's visit this time was to inquire if Newton had made progress with the problem of how a gravitational force might cause an orbiting body to move in an ellipse around the heavier, more massive body.

    Both Newton and Halley knew that planets move in ellipses. This had been known for more than a half century by the work of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia nova. When traveling to visit Newton, Halley might have even suspected that the gravitational force obeys the inverse square law (although that's difficult to say for sure). Inverse square law or not, Halley himself failed to show how a force (of whatever sort) would cause a planet to move around the Sun in an ellipse. Hence the reason for calling on Newton.

    So when Halley arrived in Cambridge that day in 1648, he asked Newton about it. Newton said that he had already solved it, and that the result was laying around in his notes somewhere. Newton couldn't find the relationship in his notes, that day, but said he'd forward them on when he found them.

    In November of that year, Newton did forward the relationship and related material (either reproducing or re-deriving them) to Halley in De motu corporum in gyrum ("On the motion of bodies in an orbit"). Halley was impressed to say the least, and urged Newton to create a more detailed version, assuring him it would be published by the Royal Society.

    Isaac Newton followed Halley's advice and created the much more detailed Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This work, I'm sure you've heard of. It contains Newton's laws of motion, his universal law of gravity (including the vis viva equation, along with the inverse square law and the rest), and is the very basis of Newtonian physics that we still use today.

    The story doesn't simply end with the publication. The Royal Society was broke at the time, and did not have the money to publish Newton's masterpiece. Halley himself had to raise most of the publication expenses, much of them coming out of his own pocket. Apparently, the Royal Society even offered to compensate Halley in the form of unsold copies of fish books, "The History of the Fish."

    But it all started with Edmund Halley's short visit to Isaac Newton that one August day, looking for something along the lines of what we now call the vis viva equation.

    I won't derive the vis viva equation here, since there is already a good derivation on the Wiki site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vis-viva_equation.
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
  10. May 20, 2016 #9
    Newton said something like 'if I saw further it was by standing on the shoulders of giants' which is suggestive that he built on others work.
    I think Galileo had already discovered Newton's first law but Newton gets the credit because he took it and built it into a comprehensive theory. Kepler's laws can be derived from Newtons equations for gravitation and he was likely to have used them or atleast had them in mind when he was formulating his theory.
    That being said physics has always been a competitive field, his famous rivalry with Robert Hooke is evidence of this. Personally I think Newton was likely a genius who's ego grew with his fame so he began to downplay others involvement in the development of his theories.. but that's just my opinion.
  11. May 20, 2016 #10
    Do you have any sources to back this idea up?
  12. May 20, 2016 #11
    Nope, it just my opinion based upon my experience of human nature.
  13. May 20, 2016 #12
  14. Aug 21, 2016 #13
    whatever, the credit you gave to a scientist, it is always less than enough!
  15. Aug 21, 2016 #14

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    Or it was a dig at Robert Hooke, who was not a tall man.
  16. Aug 29, 2016 #15
    When you say Newton used Kepler's laws, you fail to acknowledge Newton modeled planetary motion using his law of universal gravitation, and as a consequence Kepler's laws were supported by a true mathematical model. They were not just empirical laws after the model was advanced by Newton. Newton stated he stood on the shoulders of giants, but that does not make his advances in calculus any less creditable.

    Newton clearly was a preeminent mathematician, contributing to the calculus of variations, specifically the Brachistochrone problem. Any source you have read that Newton was just a collator and nor an originator of the calculus certainly does Newton, (and the reader of that foolish criticism) a disservice.
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