10 April 2007

Gravity without the Apple

I heard the story this way. Isaac Newton, as a young man, was very interested in optics. He got into an argument with Robert Hooke, an older man who had a reputation in the field to defend and wasn't happy with this bright whipper-snapper.

One day, at a coffee shop, (Ye Olde Starbucks), Hooke encountered a friend of his named Halley. An astronomer, as you've probably guessed.

Said Halley, "I've just discovered a comet. Also, I see in some old records from 86 years ago that there was another one like it then. It might be the same comet.

"If I could prove they were the same, I could name this returning rock after myself and attain immortality. There's a problem, though.

"To prove the point, I'd have to know of a general mathematical principle or law that explains why objects moving around the sun follow the path they do. Do you know of such a law?"

Hooke didn't. But he knew a bright young man who should be given some problem to work on that would take his mind off optics for a few years.

So Hooke introduced his rival to his friend, Newton did the work that helped Halley establish the two comets were the same one, and creating calculus and the laws of motion in the process, and the world lived happily ever after.

Okay, that story is a tad over-simplified. But It's fun, and truer than the one about the apple.

1 comment:

Dante said...

*sniffles* Why not Coffeebean?
If you've never been I highly
suggest you fasten your boots and
wings on as soon as possible and
rush in for whatever it is that
agrees with your appetite ^.^

Plus, if you take away the apple
from the beginning of explaining
gravity it's the same as taking away
our good and kind snake from the
garden of eden to explain why indeed
we are not fit to live in subtle
simplicity.

-Dante.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.