The Newtonian Moment: Isaac Newton and the Making of Modern Culture Paperback – Dec 2 2004
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"A lavish, lively book, it educates us in the manifold, particular, and paradoxical ways of genius. In the presence of these extraordinary documents, the work of Newton's skilled hands and speeding, inspired intellect, it would be easy to do what so many writers did in the eighteenth century: to treat Newton himself as more than human, as someone who stood above the conflicts of his own time, one who simply saw farther and worked on a higher level than his contemporaries, and achieved what he did unaided by ordinary mortals. One of the great virtues of The Newtonian Moment is that it refuses to do this. The manuscripts, books, images, and machines gathered here make clear, over and over again, that Newton was intimately and directly a product of his time and place."--The New York Review of Books
"This book reflects the broad appeal that Newton's fame brought to science. Mordechi Feingold makes it clear that...Newton's ultimate ascendancy is not a story of irresistible victory but a colorful saga of national prejudice, simple jealousy, ingenious technology and intellectual debate. Feingold's lucid and cogent account proves that even where one of its chief heroes is concerned, science involves far more than a disinterested pursuit of certainty and truth."--Theodore K. Rabb, Los Angeles Times
"...lavishly illustrated and immensely entertaining... Feingold engages in his own revision of newton's autocratic image. He reveals a Newton surrounded by conflict, battling Robert Hooke, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and innumerable others... Feingold demonstrates that Newton's reputation owed much to those who could barely understand his great mathematical achievements... Feingold's work is full of insight into how Newton made the Enlightenment and what use the Enlightenment made of him."- American Scientist
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Feingold clearly explains the struggle to accept Newton's system. The scholastic tradition was reasoning from solid assumptions and from clear cause to obvious effect. This gave a feeling of certianity. Newton's method was to reason from unclear observation to a tentative cause. This gave uncertainty. Some loved it, others hated it.
Even worse, Newton was untroubled with his inability to provide a mechanism for Gravity. Leibniz was incensed; (pg 54) "if one claims that attraction is something that requires no mechanism, it exists simply by the decree of God, who produces this effect without implying any intelligible means", Leibniz thundered, "it is a senseless occult quality, that it is impossible it can ever be cleared up." This became a key weapon against Newton. Newton had faith that invisible forces could be deduced from visible observation.
One French scholar astutely wrote, contrasting Decarte and Newton, (pg 66) "Both founded their physics on geometry which their intellects had framed. But one of them flying high, so to take his place at the head of everything, to master first principles by means of a few clear, fundamental ideas in order to descend there after to the level of natural phenomena as their necessary consequences. The other, less bold or more modest, set about his business by relying on phenomena in order to rise to unknown principles, resolved to accept them to the extent that they followed from the order of things.
The former (Decarte) starts from when he clearly understands to find a cause of what he perceives, the latter (Newton) starts from what he perceives to discover it's cause, whether clear or obscure. The former's evident principles do not always lead him to phenomena as they are, the phenomena do not always lead the other to evident principles." Outstanding analysis.
Feingold covers the reaction in Italy. The obstacle there was the desire to defend Aristotle. The Catholic Church believed Aristotle's science was essential for it's doctrine. Newton therefore was profoundly resisted.
Feingold covers Voltaire's impact. Voltair's writing had tremendous effect in popularizing Newton. He became a true believer in Newton and attacked his fellow Frenchman, Decarte. He was vilified in France for this. Voltaire, who was viscously anti-christian, coverted to 'Newtonianism'. Voltaire wrote his friend that his letter on gravity had 'baptized' him. "I am your proselyte intake my profession of faith from your hands." Later he wrote, (pg 104) that Newton "Is here is the God to whom I sacrifice."
For Voltaire, Newton's books were gospel and the languages, mathematics and experiment, were irrefutable. d'Alembert also used religious words. To those who did not believe in calculus, he urged, "Go forth, and faith will come to you." The worship of science maybe the largest faith in our world. Voltaire believed he was an 'aposotle'.
Adam Smith and his writing were also based on the same method of drawing conclusions from observations. John Locke, Newton's friend, did the same for a theory of human understanding. One opposer was William Blake.
Montesquieu's 'Spirit of the Laws' influenced the founding fathers. (Pg 159) He used Newton's laws of physics to explain political and social action and reaction. Feingold details many such reactions to Newton's 'system of the world'. It changed the world socially, culturally, economically, politically, religiously and of course, scientifically. The romantic movement was a reaction against this 'enlightment'.
This book is a coffee table edition. High quality paper with interesting photos or drawings on most pages. These reproductions add to the enjoyment. Clearly written, but nevertheless detailed and documented. Erudite. Worth having just for the historical drawings and paintings along with the paragraph of commentary.