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Newton's tree


I used to think that Newton was lying in the long, warm grass of an orchard when a large apple dropped from a leafy branch into his hand, and the young mathematician (he was 24) figured out the laws of gravity while eating the apple.

I know better now. This crab apple is more likely to be Newton's tree. He was wandering outdoors, as far from home as he could get, when a tree like this began pouring apples on his head. That is what this tree does. Stand for any time underneath it in September and you will be hit. Apples are thudding all around you. The tree is pelting you with fruit. The apples are not edible except when cooked into chutney or boiled into jelly so there was no chance that Newton ate any and dozed off in the grass - not while the ground was shaking with the drumbeat of apples. ( I know this wonderful tree!)

Hungry for knowledge, Newton became fascinated with the the tremendous, almost explosive energy of the falling fruit. He may have wondered how the tree ever held on to them, but clearly the really interesting idea was the force which brought them crashing to the ground. Looking at the round apples littering the grass he saw that force with his inner eye, aided by the calculations he scribbled in his work book. Then, gazing skyward, where the planets kept their rounds, he wondered if they were mastered by the same force which pulled the apples toward Earth. . .

Isaac Newton was an amazing thinker -

Left to grow up with his grandmother when he was two, described as “idle and inattentive” in school, Newton began to show a passion for poetry and ideas when he was 17. He entered Cambridge, studying Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and ancient history, and was said to be uninterested in mathematics until he was 20, when he picked up a book on astrology at a fair, and tried to make sense of its math.

It was not until Cambridge was closed down due to the plague, and he was forced to return home, that he made the discoveries of his “miraculous year”.

In 1666, at the age of 24, Newton laid the foundations for calculus, an indispensable tool for modern engineering and building, which will allow him to calculate planetary motion and gravitational force. A reclusive man, Newton described calculus in 1671, but did not publish his discovery, and Gottfried Liebniz, working and publishing nine years later, has shared credit as its inventor.

Not yet 25, Newton established a theory of light crucial to modern astronomers, and laid the groundwork for the fundamental laws of of gravity.

Newton’s genius in mathematics was matched, said Einstein, by his genius in mechanics. Believing that God designed the universe to have a mathematical structure, Newton explained the movements of the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, planetary orbits, and the trajectory of projectiles in one unified set of laws. In the most influential scientific book ever written, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (the Principia), he described terrestrial and celestial mechanics and the three Laws of Motion.

His insights thrilled him, but he saw that he had obtained them by standing on the shoulders of previous thinkers, and he saw that the universe was far more mysterious than he had ever dreamt.

The beautiful and practical ideas behind the growth of science in Britain are described in Share the Inheritance, AMAZON UK and AMAZON USA for the USA and CANADA.

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