David Wolfe, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of New Mexico and Director, Oppenheimer Institute for Science and International Co-operation
Isaac Newton has a good claim to being the most famous man of the last 500 years. Whilst no individual can claim to be the originator of what has come to be called the Scientific Revolution, surely Isaac Newton is more responsible than any other single person. If we look at the technology on which our modern world is based, from the existence of electricity to transport to telecommunications and much else, all are based on the science which developed from the 18th century onwards. The Enlightenment itself, and the concept of the individual, all developed as a result of his thinking. Even the reaction to these ideas, from Romanticism to Fascism, came about because of the rise of intellectual enquiry. Yet Newton does not fit the picture of ‘the scientist’ that we hold today. He spent more of his life thinking about alchemy and religion than he did about mathematics or physics. Moreover, he was one of history’s greatest misanthropes. Left by his mother at three years of age, he appears never to have recovered from that trauma. This course will investigate Newton’s life and work in relation to his achievements and also to his arguments with such people as Robert Hooke, John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and Gottfried Leibniz, the co-discoverer of the calculus. An astounding genius, Newton was a deeply flawed human being.
1. Newton’s life, and an introduction to light.
2. Robert Hooke, the pleasure of being correct and the agony of making a mistake. Download podcast: https://vula.uct.ac.za/access/content/group/6e2ca09f-6e0c-4496-86ff-53c4...
3. John Flamsteed, Astronomer Royal.
4. Leibniz and the invention of the calculus. Download podcast: https://vula.uct.ac.za/access/content/group/6e2ca09f-6e0c-4496-86ff-53c4...
5. The end of a life and lasting fame. Download podcast: https://vula.uct.ac.za/access/content/group/6e2ca09f-6e0c-4496-86ff-53c4...
(Only podcasts of lecture 2, 4 & 5 available.)
References for Isaac Newton and His Enemies
1. On the Shoulders of Giants, a Shandean Postscript, by Robert K. Merton, University of Chicago Press, 1993 This is a delightful, extremely learned, very funny, full of amusing stories and very easy to read!
2. Never at Rest, a biography of Isaac Newton by Richard S Westfall, Cambridge University Press, 1980 This is the most scholarly, detailed biography of Newton and by far the best available. However, it is some 800 pages long, so it is not for a simple afternoon.
3. A Portrait of Isaac Newton by Frank E Manuel, Harvard University Press, 1988 A psychological study of Newton, with strong emphasis on psychoanalysis. Very interesting, quite controversial in the scholarly community.
4. Philosophers at War; the quarrel between Newton and Leibniz A Rupert Hall, Cambridge University Press, 1980 Prof Hall is a real Newton expert. This book deals with only one of Newton’s enemies but does so in great and interesting detail.
5. Science and English Poetry,a historical perspective, 1590 – 1950 Douglas Bush, Oxford University Press, 1950 All of these books are full of interesting information and none is very difficult or overly technical. There are some significant details in Westfall’s book but they can easily be skipped over if burdensome (not too likely). All of these books appear to be available through Amazon and, therefore, likely through your local bookseller as well.
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