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What is Newton's genius?

  1. Apr 19, 2012 #1
    Hi all, I have a question concerning the history of science.

    You can hear everywhere that Newton is - together with Einstein - one of the greatest scientific geniuses, one of the greatest physicists, etc. pp. But what exactly is the reason for calling him a genius?

    After having read a lot on Newton, I now think that
    1. The inverse-square law was found by others before Newton, and he himself learned it from Hooke (1679 letter). So you can't credit him for this idea.
    2. His calculus was rather useless, because he didn't use it in the "Principia" and published it after Leibniz, whose notation became much more influential. It is unknown if and to what extent Newton used his Calculus to work out his theory, but the former assumption that he first wrote his work in "fluxional form" is said to have been "laid to rest by D.T. Whiteside" (I haven't read what Whiteside says about it, though).
    3. There seem to be many errors and miscalculations in the Principia, for example concering the use of hydrodynamics in shipbuilding.
    4. The idea of impetus was developed before Newton, for example by Jean Buridan.
    5. Without the inverse-square law of gravitation, there isn't much original or ingenious about the Principia. I don't see any idea that could be called as original as Einstein's idea of time dilation.
    6. He couldn't solve the three-body-problem.
    7. The famous equation F = ma was invented by Euler and cannot be found anywhere in Newton's work.
    8. Much of what is called "Newtonian science" was achieved on the continent during the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Sure, the Principia involves many calculations which were surely very difficult to do. But who says somebody else in his time couldn't have done it? The argument that no one did it before seems weak to me because it first took the idea of inverse-square gravity, which is Hooke's idea and not Newton's. So he now seems to me rather as a sort of "mathematical labourer" instead of being a great scientific genius.

    I would like to hear what you think about it, and if I am wrong at any of these observations.

    Thank you very much,
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 19, 2012 #2
  4. Apr 19, 2012 #3
    1. True.

    2. He did co-discover it, though.

    3. True, but a necessary consequence of not having a well-developed system of algebra at the time.

    4. True.

    5. He was actually one of the first to think of the heavens and the Earth as following the same laws, which was rather radical at the time. Not as original as Einstein, but perhaps as crazy in their days' standards.

    6. I don't think anyone can.

    7. Correct.

    8. Correct.

    So, basically, what I'm saying here is he had the courage to speak against the belief that the heavens and the Earth were fully separate realms.
  5. Apr 19, 2012 #4

    D H

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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Because he was.

    Your list is one piece of baloney atop another.

    Thread closed.
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