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Newton’s life in Versailles

How vanilla was Newton’s life? A few examples are given in the book Cosmos by the famous astrophysicist Carl Sagan: In 1663, at the age of 20, Newton went to the Stourbridge Fair, where he bought a book on astrology and was curious about what was written in it. As he read, he came across a trigonometric illustration that he didn’t quite understand, so he bought another book on trigonometry. Soon, he realized that he needed to understand some more geometric principles, so he simply got Euclid’s “Geometry originally” and read it with a hunger. A little over two years later, he invented calculus.

In 1666, at the age of 23, Newton was still an undergraduate student at Cambridge University when a plague stranded him in his home town of Woolthorpe, isolated from the outside world for almost a year. During this time, he devoted all his energy to research. He invented calculus, and explored the fundamental nature of light, laying the foundation for the theory of gravity. When Newton was later asked how he had made these amazing discoveries, his answer was surprisingly simple.

“Just thinking about it.”

Because his academic achievements were so awesome and of such significance that it was difficult to measure them, they caused Isaac Barrow, Newton’s Cambridge mentor, to voluntarily give way and resign from his position as professor of mathematics in favor of Newton.

Later, when Newton was in his 40s, this is how his servant described him.

I never knew him to have any recreational pastimes; he did not ride horses, take walks, bowl or play any sports. He felt that time not spent in research was a waste. He never left his room …… except to go out and give a lecture, and not many listened to him, and even fewer could understand. Because there was no audience, he often had to read aloud to the air.

By the way, the author of the book “The Universe” Carl Sagan in 1980 to make the text version of the popular science documentary “The Universe”, the difference is that the book made more detailed than the documentary, and especially worth mentioning is that the book’s language is very poetic. For example, there is a paragraph in the book: Why are people around the world so obsessed with astronomy? The book tells the story of space in a kind of prose language, and there is an indescribable beauty in reading it. This is a quality not found in many other popular science books.

About Newton’s life experience, we recommend two books, one is called “Newton Biography”, the author James Gleick is an internationally renowned science writer, is one of the more classic books about Newton’s life, he showed a lot of Newton’s personal letters, unpublished works and precious historical pictures in this book.

It is a wonderful book that depicts the complexity of Newton’s character, the contradictory impulses and subtleties of his personality as a scientific genius, and gives us an insight into his life as both a “great man” and an “eccentric”.

Another book is called “Newton’s Wig” (the popular English tradition of wearing wigs began around the twelfth century, when the upper classes considered wearing wigs as a fashion, a formal dress for formal occasions or salon parties). In this book, it is said that Newton was not always open, he also had the wrong path, for example, he was the founder of modern science and rational science, but spent much more time on alchemical experiments and the study of theology than on natural science. As a result, his alchemical and theological endeavors ended up being a bust.

Let us return to the question of why we study Newton’s laws when they seem to be overturned and as if they are obsolete today.

In the book “Discovering the Universe – 10,000 Possibilities for Solving the Universe from Einstein’s Equations”, there is a short story: In 2000, the UK launched a campaign to vote for the “Greatest Briton of the Millennium”. The presenter did his best to convince people to pay special attention to classical culture and science, for example by reminding them not to rank Princess Diana ahead of Shakespeare or Beckham ahead of Darwin. One mainstream newspaper considered Newton, but the editor did not choose him, giving the reason that “Einstein had proved some of Newton’s theories ‘completely wrong'”.

The author followed this short story with a particularly long paragraph.

“This observation reflects some of the popular misconceptions about the modern scientific process at the time. The birth of Einstein’s theory of gravity, with more and more details being experimentally verified, did not mean that Newton’s theory became a pile of scrap paper. Einstein’s theory will eventually be replaced, but we will not discard it. Einstein’s ideas extend Newton’s theory so that we can understand what happens when gravity becomes strong and objects move close to the speed of light, an extreme situation that Newton’s theory cannot handle. However, Einstein’s theory is very similar to Newton’s theory in the case where the gravitational force is weak and the object is moving well below the speed of light, so we can consider Newton’s theory as a limited approximation of Einstein’s theory.”

We can say that Einstein’s theory goes beyond Newton’s theory in terms of the range of applications and the situations described, but Newton’s theory can still describe our low mass and low speed daily life very effectively, which is why engineering students, learn still Newton’s laws, and I can guarantee with great confidence that even in another thousand years, they will still be learning Newton’s laws.

The same idea can be used to understand the relationship between Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics extends our understanding of mechanics to a very small range of scales and time intervals, and can be used to understand the motion of particles and photons with very small masses, but by allowing the scale of matter to expand, quantum mechanics will also get closer and closer to Newtonian mechanics.

In the development of physics, new theories always include the reasonable aspects of old theories, and on this basis expand the application of the old theories and add situations that can be described precisely. The new theories do not completely overturn the old ones and throw the latter into the dustbin of history.

When I read the above paragraph, I was touched to see the author trying so hard to do justice to Newton and Newton’s theory, knowing that this is a book dedicated to Einstein’s equations and that he could have passed over Newton’s theory, which would have had no effect on the integrity of the content. But the author still wants to do justice to the respect for science and scientists, and to say more, which is very touching.

If you want to read Newton’s classic work “Principles”, then I recommend the Shanghai Translation Publishing House out of a “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (Introduction Annotated Edition)”, can help you better understand. For children, I recommend an introductory book called “Newton”, which is part of the comic book series “Illustrated General Knowledge Series” published by Sanlian Bookstore.

It ends with a quote Newton wrote shortly before he died: “I do not know what the world thinks of me; but I am like a child playing on the seashore, overjoyed to find some pretty pebbles and shells from time to time, but oblivious to the vast sea of truth.”

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