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How did Isaac Newton change the way that people view the world?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. You'd be hard pressed to find a name more synonymous with science itself than Isaac Newton. His astounding breadth and depth of work permanently altered a great many things about how people view the world.

     Newton, a physicist and philosopher, discussed in his works several concepts that later became the basis of classical physics. His important theories included laws of motion governing how objects move through space, as well as the foundations of calculus. Newton also discussed the concept of absolute time, which was the same everywhere and for everyone.

     The laws of motion were certainly among his greatest achievements. Newton laid down the law, literally, for inertia, action, and reaction and acceleration. They were outlined in his landmark book on mathematics: "Principia." In essence, he explained such things as why stuff moves, what causes it to move and how its mass impacts the force it imparts. Furthermore, he displayed that changes in the motion of objects could be predicted.

     Just as weighty were Newton's thoughts on gravity. He was the first to describe the invisible force of gravity, in which all things attract all other things. He knew there was a force of attraction that kept, for example, the planets orbiting around the sun. The only thing he did not know was why that was so. (It wasn't until Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity that we had a concrete reason for why they orbited as they did: the great mass of the sun warping space-time and pulling the planets into orbit around it.)

     Newton also changed how we view light. He found that ordinary "white" light could be broken into component colors by shining the light through a prism. The prism refracted the light, producing all the colors of the rainbow -- the familiar Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet (or, of course, "Roy G Biv") we all know so well today.

     And then there is a viewpoint Newton changed, quite literally. The telescopes of Newton's day weren't terribly good. Their glass lenses had a major problem for any would-be stargazer: They tended to cause fuzziness at the edges of very bright objects, making the focus look like a bad contact lens prescription. Newton figured out that mirrors would work far better than lenses, so he built his own telescope, fixing the fuzziness and, into the bargain, outperforming telescopes 12 times its size [source: PBS].

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