Sir Isaac Newton was born into a time of revolution and created one in his own lifetime.
Just what was it about Newton and his works that transformed not only the factual aspects of science but the very nature of man’s relationship with the subject?
Newton’s two great works, ‘Principia’ (1687) and ‘Optics’ (1704), would become the very foundation stones on which to build, what we understand as modern science.
These works, turned on its head, how we thought about the universe and from that shift in understanding, opened the door to a series of revolutions, industrial, agricultural but fundementally scientific.
So what was this shift in thinking?
- Aristotle’s world was a flat one, which stood at the centre of everything. Whilst on Earth there was a cycle of decay, the universe stood unchanged, God watching over us. The church liked this interpretation of the universe, it fitted the Bible well and was encouraged as the model for the Middle Ages
- With the Renaissance and Copernicus, came a different view of the universe, one in which the Earth was spherical and moved around the sun. Mathematics was the new magical law, few people could understand it and it flew in the face of the Bible and the church
Newton’s work belonged to the latter view but extended it. He saw that the numbers were not ‘magic’ but could be used to explain the mechanics of the universe, this was God the engineer.
- It was mathematics that stripped away human meanderings and reasonings and replaced them with a predictable and reasoned logic.
- To observe and measure was the new mantra, although Newton still continued to view the universe as a mystical place in which God held court.
- The result of this new thinking was pivotal to the direction that Britain followed in the next hundred years.
The consequences of Newton’s work and the Scientific Revolution created by it, enabled it to be applied in a myriad of practical ways ensuring that it was in Britain that the Industrial Revolution took place, whilst the rest of Western Europe watched on.