Newton’s ideas provided a framework for all future scientific investigation and profoundly altered mankind’s understanding of the physical world around him.
Throughout history notable individuals like Aristotle, Copernicus, and Galileo have helped further mankind’s understanding of his world. The scientific revolution is said to have begun in the 16th century when Nicholas Copernicus broke with centuries of dogma and placed the sun at the center of the solar system. Through his revolutionary work that built on the foundation laid by Copernicus, Isaac Newton created a system for future scientists to investigate the physical world and in doing so ushered in the age of modern science.
Newton and Scientific Paradigms
Prior to Isaac Newton and his seminal work, Aristotelian reasoning was the mainstay of intellectual thought in the modern world. Aristotelianism allowed for no universally accepted scientific paradigms explaining how nature operated. Instead, all theories were considered equal and were in competition with each other.
Newton changed that. He introduced reasoning that recognized scientific paradigms while bringing theories of mechanics to the world which influenced both industry and society. This allowed for paradigm-based research which eliminated the need for scientists to continually start over understanding a scientific problem. From paradigm-based research came normal science which allowed a researcher to focus on anomalies to the paradigm and then proceed to fine-tune a theory.
Newton’s Principia and Opticks
Newton wrote two of the most profoundly influential books in the history of science, the Principia, and the Opticks. The Principia contains Newton’s now-famous three laws of physics and provided a basic outline of the principles of celestial mechanics. He explained how the force that causes objects to fall to the ground was the same force that kept the moon in orbit around the Earth. His “inverse-square law” provided a way to measure this force.
Newton’s Principia brought to a conclusion a line of scientific inquiry that had been going on for centuries in the area of planetary motion. It also provided a new paradigm that replaced the Cartesian system of planets and the Aristotelian view that dominated mankind’s perception of the world up to that time. By writing the Principia, Newton provided a foundation for modern science. As Newtonianism spread, all of nature was now subject to mathematical laws.
Newton’s Science and the Industrial Revolution
The science developed by Isaac Newton was also a precursor to the Industrial Revolution. The information in Newton’s Principia concerning mechanics was spread to the general public in England by lecturers like Richard Bentley. The application of these scientific theories and rules of mechanics to craftwork industries, which until then had relied on rule-of-thumb formulas and trial-and-error methods, allowed England to become the world’s first industrialized nation.
This revolution changed the entire face of society. Wind and water power replaced human muscle and animal power. Cities grew as people migrated from rural areas. This in turn affected the entire organization of labor.
Newton’s Scientific Legacy
The impact of Newton’s work brought about a change and reorganization in the way science was taught in schools. Universities were developed that introduced teaching labs as a way to dispense Newtonian science to students. Competition developed among various institutes of learning which furthered the advance of science, as did the Ph.D. requirement necessary to teach at a university.
As the scientific community grew to become more independent and less reliant on patronage from kings and queens for approval, it became accepted practice to have a scientific theory judged through peer review which led to the proliferation of scientific journals.
These were just some of the changes brought about by Isaac Newton and why it is with him that the history of modern science begins.