Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings

By H. S. Thayer; Isaac Newton | Go to book overview

IV. Questions on Natural Philosophy

1. THE NEW THEORY ABOUT
LIGHT AND COLORS 8

Communicated to the Royal Society, February 6, 1671/2a

Sir,

To perform my late promise to you, I shall without further ceremony acquaint you that in the beginning of the year 1666 (at which time I applied myself to the grinding of optic glasses of other figures than spherical) I procured me a triangular glass prism, to try therewith the celebrated phenomena of colors. And in order thereto having darkened my chamber and made a small hole in my window shuts, to let in a convenient quantity of the sun's light, I placed my prism at his entrance, that it might be thereby refracted to the opposite wall. It was at first a pleasing divertisement to view the vivid and intense colors produced thereby; but after a while applying myself to consider them more circumspectly, I became surprised to see them in an oblong form; which, according to the received laws of refraction, I expected should have been circular.

They were terminated at the sides with straight lines, but at the ends the decay of light was so gradual that it was difficult to determine justly what was their figure; yet they seemed semicircular.

Comparing the length of this colored spectrum with its breadth, I found it about five times greater, a disproportion so extravagant that it excited me to a more than ordinary curiosity of examining from whence it might proceed. I could scarce think that the various thickness of the glass, or the termination with shadow or darkness, could have any influence on light to produce

____________________
a
[ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 80, Feb. 19, 1672, pp. 3075-87. Also given, with some revisions and minor deletions, in Opera Omnia IV, pp. 295-308.]

-68-

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Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • What Isaac Newton Started ix
  • Selections from Newton 1
  • I. The Method of Natural Philosophy 3
  • II. Fundamental Principles of Natural Philosophy 9
  • III. God and Natural Philosophy 41
  • IV. Questions on Natural Philosophy 68
  • V. Questions from the Optics 135
  • Notes 181
  • Selected Bibliography 205
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