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Old 09-13-2017, 12:56 PM
Son of a Rich Son of a Rich is online now
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What's the point of the Newton/apple story?

It's always been presented as if he's the first person to ever notice things fall straight down.
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Old 09-13-2017, 01:13 PM
Procrustus Procrustus is offline
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It's always been presented as if he's the first person to ever notice things fall straight down.
Maybe the first to ask why.
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Old 09-13-2017, 01:16 PM
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Of course people had seen things fall forever, but know one really came up with an real explanation of why, much less one that would explain so much about the universe.
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Old 09-13-2017, 01:21 PM
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Yeah, the point isn't that he was the first to notice that things fall, it's that this particular fall triggered a curiosity about "why?", which lead to an understanding no one had presented before.
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Old 09-13-2017, 01:23 PM
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It's supposed to illustrate Newton's breakthrough, which is that the force that pulls the apple to the ground is the same force that governs the motion of planets.

People already knew (thanks to Kepler) that planets move around the Sun in elliptical orbits. People also knew that apples fell straight down from trees. Newton was the first to realize that the two were governed by the same forces and laws. See, if we assume that things travel in a straight line at constant speed unless acted upon by an external force - and we also assume that the Sun pulls Earth just like the Earth pulls the apple - that explains why the Earth's trajectory is constantly bent back towards the Sun, resulting in an elliptical orbit.
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Old 09-13-2017, 01:46 PM
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Guys thanks for the replies.
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Old 09-13-2017, 02:13 PM
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The point of the story (whether or not it actually happened) isn't that Newton noticed apples fall down; the point is that he asked himself "Why doesn't the Earth fall up toward the apple?" At that point, anyone with Newton's education knew the Earth was a giant ball of (mostly) rock, so it's not a question you could easily get away from by saying "Well, the Earth is special". And once he started thinking about that, it led to realizing that the falling apple (and minisculely rising Earth) followed the same laws as the Earth moving around the Sun. Which is a huge, huge, giant step forward in science-- even the planets follow understandable rules of physics, the same rules that apples and cricket balls follow, and humans can figure them out.

So, whether or not there's any truth to the story, it does mark a very big step forward in human understanding.
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Old 09-13-2017, 02:22 PM
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So, whether or not there's any truth to the story, it does mark a very big step forward in human understanding.
It's most likely true. There's nothing unbelievable about the story and Newton told it to a number of people at the time.
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Old 09-13-2017, 02:26 PM
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The "falling apple bonked him on the head and in the shock of the moment the universal theory of gravitation came to him in a flash" story sometimes shown in cartoons is apocryphal, however.
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Old 09-13-2017, 02:33 PM
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It is a universal fact of human existence that what we know best, that which forms part of our everyday mental landscape, is also that which we most take for granted, and question the least. And so some of the strongest jolts to our awareness, the deepest reorientations in our thought, often come from being confronted with the obvious.
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Old 09-13-2017, 02:55 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Maybe the first to ask why.
Nope.

Aristotle had a good reason, too: Solid and wet things naturally fall down, the same way fire and air naturally rise. That's what their nature is, so that's what they obey, possibly after using up some "impulse" granted to them by a good throw.

This Aristotlean worldview is, apparently, the naïve intuition of most people, given how many of them think space ships stop when their engines go out, or have serious problems with the notion of inertia in general. "Impulse", the fictional finite quality which fuels motion, is exactly what you observe on a planet with air and gravity and friction, and it takes some imagination to see that straight-line motion (or, depending on reference frame*, a complete dead stop) is natural and "falling" and "slowing down" are things you only do when there's some external conditions forcing your to change your motion.

*(The idea of a frame of reference long predates Newton. What Newton didn't have, and didn't need because he was long removed from Maxwell and Lorentz and Michelson and Morley, was the notion of a speed of light independent of the velocity of the observer and, therefore, a four-dimensional spacetime where all space-time planes have hyperbolic geometry which makes velocity addition more complex than v = v1 + v2. Of course, if you take the low-speed limit of Einstein's equations, they agree fully with the simple equations; that's one way you know Einstein's work is correct: All new theories must successfully explain all phenomena which the old theory successfully explained.)
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Old 09-13-2017, 04:17 PM
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The point varies slightly depending on which of the early sources you turn to.

William Stukeley's account is:

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after dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some appletrees, only he, & myself. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. "why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground," thought he to him self: occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood: "why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths centre? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple."
That there is a power like that we here call gravity which extends its self thro' the universe & thus by degrees, he began to apply this property of gravitation to the motion of the earth, & of the heavenly bodys: to consider thir distances, their magnitudes, thir periodical revolutions: to find out, that this property, conjointly with a progressive motion impressed on them in the beginning, perfectly solv'd thir circular courses; kept the planets from falling upon one another, or dropping all together into one center. & thus he unfolded the Universe. this was the birth of those amazing discoverys, whereby he built philosophy on a solid foundation, to the astonishment of all Europe.
By contrast here's Voltaire's fullest version - which can't have been heard by him from Newton directly:

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[A]s he was walking one day in his garden, and saw some fruits fall from a tree, he fell into a profound meditation on that gravity, the cause of which had so long been sought, but in vain, by all the philosophers, whilst the vulgar think there is nothing mysterious in it. He said to himself, that from what height soever in our hemisphere, those bodies might descend, their fall would certainly be in the progression discovered by Galileo; and the spaces they run through would be as the square of the times. Why may not this power which causes heavy bodies to descend, and is the same without any sensible diminution at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth, or on the summits of the highest mountains, why, said Sir Isaac, may not this power extend as high as the moon? And in case its influence reaches so far, is it not very probable that this power retains it in its orbit, and determines its motion? But in case the moon obeys this principle (whatever it be) may we not conclude very naturally that the rest of the planets are equally subject to it? In case this power exists (which besides is proved) it must increase in an inverse ratio of the squares of the distances. All, therefore, that remains is, to examine how far a heavy body, which should fall upon the earth from a moderate height, would go; and how far in the same time, a body which should fall from the orbit of the moon, would descend. To find this, nothing is wanted but the measure of the earth, and the distance of the moon from it.
So while Stukeley doesn't mention the moon specifically, for Voltaire the point is that gravity must extend as far as it. The latter's also the point of John Conduitt's less detailed version, even though he probably also heard the story directly from Newton. (There are a couple of other early versions, including an earlier mention by Voltaire, but they don't elaborate.)

Last edited by bonzer; 09-13-2017 at 04:18 PM.
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Old 09-13-2017, 04:29 PM
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The thing is there's nothing obvious about gravity being a universal force. People could see that things up in the sky like the moon, the sun, and the stars weren't falling to the ground. So it was natural to assume that they were not subject to whatever force made things fall here on Earth.
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Old 09-13-2017, 06:25 PM
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Which is a huge, huge, giant step forward in science-- even the planets follow understandable rules of physics, the same rules that apples and cricket balls follow, and humans can figure them out.
Yes.

This is a strong candidate for the most significant insight in all of human history.
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Old 09-13-2017, 08:50 PM
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The key connection didn't involve the Sun at all, but the Moon: The Earth attracts both the apple and the Moon, and in both cases, the Earth's mass is the same. The acceleration of the Moon is less, but Newton (correctly) figured that that might be because the Moon is further away, and he noticed that, comparing the apple and the Moon, there was a simple law for how the acceleration might decrease with distance, that would account for both. And then he took that simple law and, after taking a little time off to invent calculus, showed that that simple law (together with his laws of motion) would lead to all of Kepler's laws.
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Old 09-14-2017, 12:39 AM
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Especially when friction was a part of everyday life, the concept of "a body in motion stays in motion" was a major breakthrough. Consider that in a world where wheel bearings and long smooth straightaways were pretty rare, people thought friction and rapidly slowing momentum was the natural order. IIRC Aristotle had to make up a special reason why something like an arrow could actually fly far and fast without the same obvious slowdown we see with something slid along the ground. ("the air rushing by the tail feathers helped send the arrow on its way, since they were bird feathers")

Newton's breakthrough was to first deduce that momentum was the rule and friction the intruder. Then the next breakthrough - that whatever gravity was, it worked equally the same on the heavens and the earth and pulled apple and moon the same. With no explanation before that, people generally assumed there was one set of rules for heavenly bodies and a different set for near the ground. (Note though he had the proof, attributed to Galileo' experiment, that gravity was a constant acceleration no matter what the weight... also counterintuitive to the world view with friction.)

Newton's final big breakthrough was to invent calculus and so prove that for any large sphere (he knew the earth and visible celestial bodies were relatively spherical) that ascribing a power of gravity to each piece of mass, the net attraction was the same as if there were a massive attraction from a pinpoint at the center of a sphere... i.e. gravity appeared pretty much the same despite the fact that some gravity was pulling on you from all 360 degrees of the compass, from the crust and the center of the earth.

So, from watching an apple fall, he could eventually deduce that the same force must also attract the moon. (Fun fact - his calculations for the moon's orbit were too good. He fudged the numbers apparently to get the correct result to validate his theory.)

Last edited by md2000; 09-14-2017 at 12:41 AM.
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:06 AM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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Where do old pianos go
long time passing
Where do old pianos go
long time ago
Where do old pianos go
Donated to charity
When will somebody play
And love the sounds they make


-- AHunter3, who owns a piano acquired for free via Freecycle, and makes music on it sometimes, even if not good enough that I should quit my day job etc.
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:18 AM
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Where do old pianos go
psst... I think you posted to the wrong thread.
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:42 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is online now
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What's brown and if it fell out of a tree, would have killed Isaac Newton?

SPOILER:
A piano
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Old 09-14-2017, 06:26 AM
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^^^ umm, wrong thread, sorry
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Old 09-14-2017, 06:37 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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What's brown and if it fell out of a tree, would have killed Isaac Newton?
O.J. Simpson?
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Old 09-14-2017, 06:42 AM
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It's supposed to illustrate Newton's breakthrough, which is that the force that pulls the apple to the ground is the same force that governs the motion of planets.
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Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
Which is a huge, huge, giant step forward in science-- even the planets follow understandable rules of physics, the same rules that apples and cricket balls follow, and humans can figure them out.
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[This is a strong candidate for the most significant insight in all of human history.
Impressive. I wonder what other candidates would be for "most significant insight in all of human history"? Einstein's general theory, I suppose. If we add a "by a single person" qualifier then Darwin won't qualify: there were too many others thinking along the same line. (For that matter, is it certain nobody else had Newton's insight? Kepler, Descartes and Huygens were all thinking about gravitation.)

The way I heard the apple story is that Newton got tired of questions and invented the story just as a brusque way to avoid conversation. But I wonder if it's true! Even very big creative insights can come in a sudden flash from the subconscious. Perhaps this insight was triggered by am apple falling.
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Old 09-14-2017, 07:46 AM
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Impressive. I wonder what other candidates would be for "most significant insight in all of human history"?
Eureka!
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Old 09-14-2017, 08:24 AM
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Just to add - It was Kepler IIRC who showed the motion of the bodies in the solar system obeyed the equal area law. Newton showed that simply assuming the same gravity that worked on apples if applied on the connection between the moon and the earth (and hence any celestial bodies) with proper momentums could explain orbits that fit Kepler's rules.

Before that, they knew the moon went around the earth, for example, but not what made that happen. He simply showed that the math worked out, that the same force pulling on apples must be pulling on the moon. (plus the inverse square law...)
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Old 09-14-2017, 08:27 AM
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I wonder what other candidates would be for "most significant insight in all of human history"?
I think Quercus summarized why Newton's insights into gravitation are the most significant: their implications went far beyond the phenomenon of gravity.

From that moment forward, humans could confidently expect that simple laws, discoverable on Earth, would explain what happens throughout the universe.

Last edited by Xema; 09-14-2017 at 08:31 AM.
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Old 09-14-2017, 08:47 AM
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Before that, they knew the moon went around the earth, for example, but not what made that happen.
From Richard Feynman (highly paraphrased, from memory):

From ancient times, people observed the planets moving against the background of the fixed stars and wondered how to explain this. One theory was that angels were pushing them - because if something's moving, something has to be pushing it, right?

Then Kepler studied careful observations and showed that the planets move in elliptical orbits around the Sun. Newton concluded that objects will move in a straight line without any need to be pushed, and that the motion of planets is precisely explained by a force of gravity (the same as operates on Earth) between them and the sun, bending their path from a straight line into an ellipse.

But in all the time since, we haven't found the mechanism of gravity. We know exactly what it does, but not how it does it. So it turns out we still believe in angels - the only change is that we now believe they are pushing at 90 degrees to what was formerly believed.
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Old 09-14-2017, 09:16 AM
Mean Mr. Mustard Mean Mr. Mustard is offline
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But who was the first person to notice that the apple don't fall far from the tree?


mmm
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Old 09-14-2017, 10:21 AM
manson1972 manson1972 is offline
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I think his insight on the tastiness of a fig paste surrounded by a cookie far outweighs his insight on how gravity works.
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Old 09-14-2017, 10:51 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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I think his insight on the tastiness of a fig paste surrounded by a cookie far outweighs his insight on how gravity works.
Also, his invention of that clicky-balls toy.
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Old 09-14-2017, 11:04 AM
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Actually, gravity is a myth. The Earth just sucks.
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Old 09-14-2017, 11:06 AM
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I thought when the apple hit him on the head, it knocked him out and then he had his dream about the flux capacitor. But as he did not know how to build a car or how to generate 1.21 gigawatts, he decided to formulate the theory of gravity instead.
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Old 09-14-2017, 11:14 AM
DPRK DPRK is offline
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Also, his invention of that clicky-balls toy.
Okay as far as the obscure trivia goes, but, as all schoolchildren learn, Isaac Newton is most renowned for the invention of the milled-edge coin and the cat flap.
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Old 09-14-2017, 11:56 AM
leahcim leahcim is offline
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But in all the time since, we haven't found the mechanism of gravity. We know exactly what it does, but not how it does it. So it turns out we still believe in angels - the only change is that we now believe they are pushing at 90 degrees to what was formerly believed.
[/indent]
Probably the most important insight of the whole situation is that "moving in a circle at constant speed" is really "accelerating towards the centre of the circle". It is non-obvious without calculus, but once you realize that fact, theories of the form "the sun is pulling on the planets somehow" become much more obvious.
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Old 09-14-2017, 12:15 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Okay as far as the obscure trivia goes, but, as all schoolchildren learn, Isaac Newton is most renowned for the invention of the milled-edge coin and the cat flap.
If Isaac Newton invented the cat flap, Newsaac Iston must have invented the flat cap.

And Musak.
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:02 PM
septimus septimus is offline
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Probably the most important insight of the whole situation is that "moving in a circle at constant speed" is really "accelerating towards the centre of the circle". It is non-obvious without calculus, but once you realize that fact, theories of the form "the sun is pulling on the planets somehow" become much more obvious.
Doesn't this follow from the Second Law ?
F = ma

Some earlier mathematical physicists, if only Galileo himself, were aware of this relationship, no? Maybe?

But I agree. While Newton had perhaps a dozen discoveries any of which would make him immortal, it was the combination of Motion, and Gravitation, and Fluxions that dictate the highest superlative for his work.

Last edited by septimus; 09-14-2017 at 01:04 PM. Reason: added 'highest'
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:28 PM
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Great cites, bonzer. This small article is from The Renaissance Mathematicus, a history of science blog by Thony Christie.

Quote:
Westfall tells us that the story is in fact from Newton and he told to on at least four different occasions to four different people.
The article establishes a chronology of Newton's work on the topic. At 24 he could not get the math to work and concluded that gravity might interact with the vortex that Descartes had hypothesized. Many years later he came back to the problem with better data and got the math to work.

In a different article at the same website (which I'm too lazy to dig up) Mr. Christie speculates that Newton may have told the story partly to emphasize his priority. By the time he got the math properly aligned, there were others working on the problem.
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Old 09-14-2017, 03:19 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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I thought when the apple hit him on the head, it knocked him out and then he had his dream about the flux capacitor. But as he did not know how to build a car or how to generate 1.21 gigawatts, he decided to formulate the theory of gravity instead.
Jigawatts...

The other really big breakthrough was figuring out the force of gravity varied with the inverse-square law. Using that made the calculations for Kepler's ellipses work. The logic for inverse square is pretty simple once the "aha" moment happens. Before that, the acceleration due to gravity at the surface of the earth did not correspond with the acceleration obviously working on keeping the moon in orbit... hence the perceived difference between earth real and celestial real...
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Old 09-14-2017, 04:05 PM
vtxrider vtxrider is offline
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So are you suggesting that he did know how to produce 1.21 gigawatts?
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Old 09-14-2017, 04:30 PM
k9bfriender k9bfriender is offline
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So are you suggesting that he did know how to produce 1.21 gigawatts?
Amber balls in a feather pillow.
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Old 09-14-2017, 04:33 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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O.J. Simpson?
Not likely -- Isaac Newton would never had made eyes at Nicole Brown Simpson (or any other female, for that matter).
  #41  
Old 09-14-2017, 04:41 PM
74westy 74westy is offline
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Jigawatts...

The other really big breakthrough was figuring out the force of gravity varied with the inverse-square law. Using that made the calculations for Kepler's ellipses work.
I think it was suspected at the time that gravity followed an inverse square law. Before Newton, no one had been able to do the math to show that an inverse square law would imply that planetary orbits were elliptical. They, of course, couldn't do the math because Newton hadn't invented it yet.

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Originally Posted by Abraham De Moivre
In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge. After they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the curve would be that would be described by the planets supposing the force of attraction towards the sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sir Isaac replied immediately that it would be an ellipse. The Doctor, struck with joy and amazement, asked him how he knew it. Why, saith he, I have calculated it. Whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sir Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it and then to send it him…
  #42  
Old 09-14-2017, 05:46 PM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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Okay as far as the obscure trivia goes, but, as all schoolchildren learn, Isaac Newton is most renowned for the invention of .. the cat flap.
Almost certainly a myth. To quote the letter published in The Independent on May 7th 2003 by Nigel Palmer, a professor of German at Oxford:

Quote:
Sir: You are guilty in your leading article ("Shortsighted", 3 May) of a serious historical error when you attribute the invention of the cat flap to Newton, and quite correct when you go on to say that next "they'll say that isn't true either".
The German schoolmaster Hugo van Trimberg, whose poem "Der Renner" was completed in 1300, includes a diatribe against inappropriate small talk at the dinner table, citing as an example the abbot who when talking to important guests discusses the installation of a "cat window" in the abbey gate. My students complained about the unfamiliar vocabulary when I set the passage for translation in an examination.
The version attributed to Newton is obviously a variant on the general absent-minded professor trope, fairly or otherwise.

Last edited by bonzer; 09-14-2017 at 05:46 PM. Reason: Minor
  #43  
Old 09-14-2017, 07:34 PM
Elemenopy Elemenopy is offline
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What's brown and if it fell out of a tree, would have killed Isaac Newton?
An Apple IIE?

Funny, I thought this thread was going to be about the old Apple Newton tablets....fun times.
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