ISAAC NEWTON : ONE BEAUTIFUL MIND
ISAAC NEWTON : ONE BEAUTIFUL MIND
Who among the world’s gifted mathematicians has bestowed greatest impact to the world ? In my own view it is Sir Isaac Newton absolutely. I consider Sir Isaac Newton as the greatest mathematician who ever walked the earth. He is regarded as the most original and influential theorist in the history of Science. In addition to his invention of the differential calculus, and a new theory of light and color , Newton transformed the structure of physical science with his three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. Differential calculus is now regarded as the foundational mathematics of all engineering fields.
EARLY LIFE AND CHILDHOOD
Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas day of 1642 in Woolsthorpe Lincolnshire. He is the posthumous son of an illiterate yeoman also named Isaac.When he was barely three years old, Newton’s mother Hanna placed him under the care of his grandmother in order to remarry and raise a second family. Newton was denied maternal attention until his mother returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653 after the death of his second husband. Newton’s childhood was unhappy and throughout his life he was on the brink of emotional collapse, occasionally falling into violent and revengeful against his friends and foes alike.
With his mother’s return to Woolsthorpe in 1653, Newton was taken from school to fulfill his birthright as a farmer. He failed in this calling and he returned to King’s School at Grantham to prepare for entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. The turning point in Newton’s life came in June 1661, whn he left Woolsthorpe for Cambridge University. Here at Cambridge, Newton entered a new world,one he could eventually call his very own,
During his undergraduate years, Newton was deeply engrossed in private studies, independently mastering the works of Rene Descartes, Pierre Gassendi , Thomas Hobbes and other major figures of the scientific revolution. By 1664, Newton had begun to master Descartes “Geometrie” and other forms of Mathematics far in advance of Euclid’s “Element.”
In 1665, Newton took his bachelor’s degree at Cambridge University. Then the university was closed for the next two years due to plague. This incident prompted Newton to return to Woolsthorpe in midyear. There in the succeeding years he made a series of original contributions to Science and Mahematics. In Mathematics, Newton formulated his “methods of fluxions” (infinitesimal calculus), laid the foundations for his theory of light and color, and he achieved a significant insight into the problems of planetary motion, an insight which eventually led to the publication of his “PRINCIPIA” in 1687.
In April 1667, Newton returned to Cambridge and against stiff odds was elected a minor fellow at Trinity. In the next year he became a senior fellow upon taking his Master of Arts degree and in 1669 he succeeded Isaac Barrow as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, before he had reached his 27th birthday. The duties of the appointment offered Newton the opportunity to organize the results of his earlier optical researches and in 1672 just after his election to the Royal Society , he communicated his first public paper, a brilliant but controversial study on the nature of color.
In 1678, Newton suffered a serious emotional breakdown and his mother died the next year. Newton’s raction was to cut off communication with others and engross himself in alchemical researches.
In November of 1679, Robert Hooke initiated a correspondence through letters with Newton that dealt with the questions of planetary motion. Hooke’s letters provided a conceptual link between central attraction and a force falling off with th square of the distance. In early 1680, Newton worked out the implication of the linkage. Meanwhile in the coffee houses of London, Hooke, Edmund Halley and Christopher Wren struggled unsuccessfully with the problems of planetary motion. In August, 1864 Halley paid a visit to Newton in Cambridge hoping for the answer to his riddle : what type of curve does a planet describe in its orbit around the sun assuming an inverse square law of attraction? Newton’s early response was an “ellipse.” When asked how he knew, Newton replied that he had already calculated it.
Newton alone possessed the mathematical ability to answer the riddles o the universe. In 1684, Newton produced his De Motu which contains calculations regarding the planetary motion. From that seed, after almost two years of intense labor, the “Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica” was born.
After the publication of the “Principia “ , Newton became more involved in public affairs. In 1689 he was elected to represent Cambridge in Parliament. In 1693, Newton suffered a severe nervous disorder similar to his breakdown of 1677 - 1678. In 1696, after his recovery, Newton sought a new position in London. With the help of Charles Montague, a fellow at Trinity , Newton was appointed warden and then Master of the Mint.
During his London years Newton enjoyed power and worldly success. His appointment at the Mint provided a comfortable social and economic status, and he was active and able administrator. In 1703 , Newton was elected president of the Royal Society and was annually reelected until his death in 1727. In 1704, he published his second major work, the “OPTICKS.” He was knighted in 1705.
The origin of Newton’s interest in Mathematics can be traced back to his undergraduate days at Cambridge. Here Newton became acquainted with a number of comtemporary works, including the edition of Descartes Geometrie, John Wallis “Arithmetica Infinitorum” and other works by prominent mathematicians.Between 1664 and his return to Cambridge after the plague , Newton made fundamental contributions to Analytic Geometry, Algebra and Calculus. He discovered the binomial theorem, new methods of expansion of infinite series, and his direct and inverse method of fluxions. Fluxional calculus is a method for treating or changing quantities.
Newton’s creative years in Mathematics extended from 1664 up to 1696. The essential elements of Newton’s thoughts were presented in three tracts , the first appeared in a privately circulated treatise “De Analysi” which went unpublished until 1711. In 1671 Newton developed a more complete account of his method of infinitesimals which appeared nine years after his death as “Methodus Fluxionum et Serierum Infinitarum.
Newton’s optical research began during his undergraduate years at Cambridge. In 1665 to 1666 Newton performed a number of experiments on the composition of light. Guided by the writings of Kepler and Descartes, Newton’s main discovery was that visible (white) light is heterogenous – that is white light is composed of colors that can b considered primary. Through a brilliant series of experiments Newton demonstrated that prisms separate rather than modify white light. Contrary to the theories of Aristotle and other ancients, Newton contended that white light is secondary and heterogenous while the separate colors are primary and homogenous.
The “OPTICKS” of 1704 which first appeared in English is Newton’s most comprehensive work on light and color. Based from Newton’s own words,the purpose of the “Opticks” was not to explain the properties of lights by hypotheses but to prove them by reasonings and experimentation. The “Opticks” was divided into three books.It consists of definitions, axioms, propositions, and theorems to proof by experiment. It is a very good blend of mathematical reasoning and careful observation. The “Opticks” became the model or experimental Physics in the 18th century.
Newton also wrote on Judaeo-Christian prophecy. He wrote a book on this subject, which represented a lifelong study. Its message was that Christianity went astray in the 4th century AD, when the first Council of Nicaean propounded erroneous doctrines in the nature of Christ. Newton possessed a deep religious conviction, venerated the Bible and accepted the account of Creation, In late edition of his scientific works , he expressed a strong sense of God’s providential role in nature.
Though gifted with very great intellectual prowess, Newton never became too proud to refuse the existence of God unlike other great thinkers and brilliant theorists who deny the truth about God. He remained a firm believer of the Bible and of God till the end of his life. That is why I admire him, he is truly one great soul and one beautiful mind.