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

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Unformatted text preview: 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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Mechanics Notes - Galileo, Newton and the Beginnings of...

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