Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer

By Michael White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Changing View of Matter and Energy

If God created the world, where was he before the Creation? . . . Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end. Mahapurana ( India, ninth century)

What is matter, and how does it move? These are questions that have occupied the thoughts of physicists from ancient times to the present day, and they were fundamental queries for Isaac Newton.

Our modern view is based upon the rather exotic world of quantum theory, but for most everyday purposes the way in which we manipulate matter and energy relies upon rules and systems discovered between Newton's lifetime and the present century. For many historians of science, Newton's ideas about how matter behaves and how energies and forces operate can be seen as a watershed in the development of physics. Indeed, some perceive his work as making possible the Industrial Revolution. Newton provided a focus: he was an individual scientist who drew together the many threads that led from ancient times to his fathering of modern empirical science (a study based upon mathematical analysis as well as experimental evidence). Behind Newton lay some 2,000 years of changing ideas about the nature of the universe; his great achievement was to clarify and to bring together the individual breakthroughs of men like Galileo, Descartes and Kepler and to produce a general overview -- a set of laws and rules that has given modern physics a definite structure.

The ancient Greeks were the first to record their ideas about the nature of matter, and we know of several different schools of reasoing. The two most important for our purposes are the teachings of

-29-

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Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - Truth Revealed 1
  • 1: Desertion 6
  • 2 - The Changing View Of Matter and Energy 29
  • 3 - Academia 43
  • 4 - Astronomy and Mathematics Before Newton 66
  • 5 - A Toe in the Water 82
  • 6 - The Search for The Philosophers' Stone 104
  • 7 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice 131
  • 9 - To the Principia 190
  • 10 - Breakdown 222
  • 11 - Metamorphosis 255
  • 12 - Old Men's Battles 294
  • 13 - A Question of Priority 325
  • 14 - Joining the Ancients 343
  • References 363
  • Index 387
  • Picture Credits 403
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