Mechanics Notes - Galileo Newton and the Beginnings of...

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Galileo, Newton  and  the Beginnings of Physics 1.   The Birth of Physics The history of physics is made  up  of the efforts of a large cadre of men   and  women  who make small but indispensable contributions, and  a small  number  of individuals  whose work has changed  the course of physics, whose  names are household  words, at least in those households  who have an interest in  these matters.  The latter category includes  such names as Copernicus, Kepler,  Galileo, Lagrange, Newton, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Rutherford,  Curie, Heisenberg, and  Fermi. In the case of nearly all of those whose collective work makes up  what we  now  call "physics", the development  of that science would  not have been  significantly altered  had  they never existed.  Work very similar to the work that  each of them  did  would  almost certainly have been done by someone else,  perhaps  somewhat, but not very much, later.  This statement  is probably correct  even in the case of most of the well-known  names listed  in the previous   paragraph. Scientists do not work in a vacuum.   Their work builds on the work of  others, and  thus could  not have been done before the work of their predecessors.  Furthermore, in many  ways the pursuit of science resembles a horse race.  Many  people are working  towards  the same goal, and  if the winner  had  not entered  the  race, the second  place horse (or scientist) would  have crossed  the finish line just a  few seconds  later. One striking exception  to the generality stated  above is the group  of  hypotheses, experiments  and  conclusions Galileo carried  out in the early years of  the seventeenth  century, which taken  together can be truly called the birth of  physics.  This work, which unlike his more commonly  known  theory of the orbit  of the earth  around  the sun, was not based  on the work of predecessors, and  did   not require any technology, theory or mathematics that had  not been in existence  for a thousand  years. In other words, what  Galileo did  could  have been done by anyone in the  millennium  that preceded  him.  What's more, there was probably no other path   to the development  of physics, and  thus to all of modern  science, that did  not  start with the work that Galileo did.  From the perspective of the world  today,  his work may seem obvious and  even trivial.  But in its time, it was as  revolutionary, deep, unprecedented  and  critical as any scientific contribution   made  in the years that followed.
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