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Newton's apple

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Author Topic: Newton's apple  (Read 57 times)
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« on: August 22, 2007, 01:26:09 pm »

When Newton saw an apple fall, he found

In that slight startle from his contemplation --
'Tis said (for I'll not answer above ground
For any sage's creed or calculation) --
A mode of proving that the earth turn'd round
In a most natural whirl, called "gravitation;"
And this is the sole mortal who could grapple,
Since Adam, with a fall or with an apple."


A reputed descendant of Newton's apple tree, found in the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge.
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 01:27:56 pm »

A popular story claims that Newton was inspired to formulate his theory of universal gravitation by the fall of an apple from a tree. Cartoons have gone further to suggest the apple actually hit Newton's head, and that its impact somehow made him aware of the force of gravity. John Conduitt, Newton's assistant at the Royal Mint and husband of Newton's niece, described the event when he wrote about Newton's life:

In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.

The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon's orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it "universal gravitation".

A contemporary writer, William Stukeley, recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726, in which Newton recalled "when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself. Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the earth's centre." In similar terms, Voltaire wrote in his Essay on Epic Poetry (1727), "Sir Isaac Newton walking in his gardens, had the first thought of his system of gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree." These accounts are probably exaggerations of Newton's own tale about sitting by a window in his home (Woolsthorpe Manor) and watching an apple fall from a tree.

Various trees are claimed to be "the" apple tree which Newton describes. The King's School, Grantham, claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster's garden some years later, the staff of the [now] National Trust-owned Woolsthorpe Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. A descendant of the original tree can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale can supply grafts from their tree (ref 1948-729), which appears identical to Flower of Kent, a coarse-fleshed cooking variety.

In 1983, an educational television program named after this theory premiered on PBS.

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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 01:28:52 pm »

Writings by Newton

   Method of Fluxions (1671)
   Of Natures Obvious Laws & Processes in Vegetation (167175) unpublished work on alchemy[30]
   De Motu Corporum in Gyrum (1684)
   Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
   Opticks (1704)
   Reports as Master of the Mint (170125)
   Arithmetica Universalis (1707)
   Short Chronicle, The System of the World, Optical Lectures, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, Amended and De mundi systemate were published posthumously in 1728.
   An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture (1754)
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« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2007, 01:29:49 pm »


French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange often said that Newton was the greatest genius who ever lived, and once added that he was also "the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish." English poet Alexander Pope was moved by Newton's accomplishments to write the famous epitaph:

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;

God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.

Newton himself was rather more modest of his own achievements, famously writing in a letter to Robert Hooke in February 1676

"If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants"

Historians generally think the above quote was an attack on Hooke (who was short and hunchbacked). The two were in a dispute over optical discoveries at the time. So this was an insult rather than (or in addition to) a statement of modesty. The latter interpretation also fits with many of his other disputes over his discoveries - such as the question of who discovered calculus as discussed above. and then in a memoir later

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
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