Scientific advances often promote the continuation of an existing model, bringing a more in-depth understanding of the theory or new evidence to support the current paradigm. Sometimes, however, advances are incompatible with the existing model, producing major changes within a discipline to better account for unexpected observations. This paper will explore how both Galileo and Newton dramatically changed Aristotle’s concept of motion and how these changes allowed Newton to explain the orbit of the moon.
According to Thomas Kuhn, science advances through three stages: the pre-paradigm phase, normal science, and revolutionary science. In the first phase, there is no generally accepted view to interpret experimental results; various incompatible theories compete to become the accepted framework. Once one theory has widespread consensus, the normal phase begins, where scientific understanding progresses in conjunction with the commonly accepted model. As this stage continues, various anomalies are discovered and used to refine the overarching model. Occasionally, an observation is incompatible with the current understanding and a new paradigm will emerge, offering an innovative perspective to the discipline. This new model can better explain both the new and old observations, allowing a new phase of normal science to begin (Kuhn). A striking example of this revolutionary shift occurred in physics, when Galileo Galilei dismantled the traditional understanding set by Aristotle. A few years later, Sir Isaac Newton applied this new model to the entire universe and developed his three universal laws of motion, providing an explanation for planetary movement.
Aristotle built the foundation of physics in the fourth century BCE, using observations and philosophy to develop governing rules for the physical world. His conclusions, which often produced accurate predictions, were generally regarded as true until the beginning of the Renaissance. For instance, he believed all things eventually return to their natural place and come to rest (stop moving). In the case of soil, it will fall to the ground, which is considered its natural place; in the case of fire, it will rise toward the sky, moving toward its natural place. In Physics, he suggests the rate of this movement increases as the weight of the object increases. According to Aristotle, “We see that bodies which have a greater impulse either of weight or of lightness, if they are alike in other respects, move faster over an equal space, and in the ratio which their magnitudes bear to each other” (75). In other words, a heavier rock will fall to the earth faster than a lighter rock, if they are similar in all other properties.
Another important theory for Aristotle was the nature of the planets and stars, including their composition and movements. At the time, people thought the world was comprised of four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. To explain the heavenly spheres and bodies, he developed a fifth element called aether. This heavenly substance gave the celestial orbs properties not found on earth, allowing them to remain suspended in the sky and rotate around the earth; the laws of physics in space were assumed to be completely unique from the laws of physics found in everyday life on earth. In What the Middle Ages Inherited from Aristotle, Edward Grant describes this model: “In this scheme, Aristotle assumed that each physical orb had its own immaterial mover, which, although completely immobile, was eternally able to cause its assigned orb to move effortlessly around the earth with uniform, circular motion. These ‘immovable,’ or ‘unmoved,’ movers were unique in the world because they were capable of causing motion without themselves being in motion” (67). Aristotle’s views of the universe placed the earth at the center of a solar system with perfect spheres moving around it in perfect circles, an understanding that continued to influence astronomy for many centuries.
As time progressed, many aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy began to contradict observations of the physical world, especially as instrumentation afforded measurements with greater accuracy. Many examples can be found in the works of Galileo, who faced opposition from the Catholic Church. At the time, science and philosophy were intimately intertwined and married to the church, which supported the Aristotelian view of the universe. When Galileo developed an efficient telescope, he was able to see that the celestial objects were not perfect spheres as originally thought and that planetary movement is better explained if the planets revolve around the sun (as opposed to the planets and sun revolving around the earth). Although Galileo was unable determine why the stars did not shift in this model (the instrumentation of his time was unable to measure this shift), he continued to publicize this view, even making fun of the pope in his writings. Eventually, the church condemned his views as heretical, which many see as the point where science and philosophy broke apart (Brom).
In addition to his observations of the solar system, Galileo also disagreed with many of Aristotle’s views on motion. For instance, he found if a ball is sent down a greased ramp, it would roll much farther than a ball sent down a ramp without grease. Through these experiments, “Galileo realized there is no real difference between an object moving at a steady rate and one that is not moving at all – both objects are unaffected by forces” (Hart-Davis et al. 87). In other words, as the friction of the ramp was removed, it became clear the natural state of the ball was not to be at rest as Aristotle thought, but rather to continue at a constant speed (a concept known as inertia). He also noticed various balls differing only in their mass would reach the end of the ramp at the same time. From this, he found the acceleration of an object was independent of mass – another objection to Aristotle’s views. Furthermore, Galileo examined how objects move through the air: they follow a curve, continuously falling toward the earth as they move from their origin. In one thought experiment, a cannonball is fired horizontally, while another cannonball is dropped at the same instant from an identical height. Surprisingly, each cannonball will hit the earth at the same time, because even as the ball from the cannon is moving along a horizontal vector (path), it never stops moving downward at the same acceleration as the dropped cannonball.
In the summer of 1665, the great plague was devastating many portions of the western world. At Cambridge University, the situation became so dire that students were dismissed from their studies to return home. Isaac Newton, who had recently received a degree, returned to his family’s farm in the county of Lincolnshire, but instead of taking a break from his academic endeavors, he began to study the fundamental questions of his time (Krull and Kulikov).
Galileo’s experiments had brought numerous insights into how objects fall toward the earth, but his calculations were relatively limited. For instance, he was able to calculate the average speed of an object by dividing the total distance by the total time, but he was unable to calculate the exact speed of the object at a particular instance (which continuously changed due to the acceleration of gravity). Newton developed a new branch of mathematics to calculate the way things change over time. This framework, known as calculus, allowed him to calculate the instantaneous velocity of a moving object. For the first time in history, “it was possible to calculate quantities that are constantly changing, like the speed of a falling apple at any particular moment” (Newton’s Dark Secrets).
Newton also developed an explanation for the orbit of the moon during this summer. With the invention of the telescope, people began to see the moon as ordinary matter as opposed to a perfect sphere, but they still assumed it had different physical properties because nobody could explain why it didn’t fall to the earth. As Newton considered Galileo’s cannon experiment, where the cannonball curved down to the earth in a flat field, he began to consider what would happen if the cannonball was launched at a much faster velocity. If the speed of the ball was great enough, it would go beyond the field, and the round shape of the earth would become a factor; as Edward Dolnick explained in a recent interview, “as it falls, that bullet curves down toward the earth in just the same way as the earth is curving away from it.” Newton realized the moon was not immune to physical laws found on earth, but rather it is endlessly falling around the earth, allowing it to remain in orbit! After this discovery, Newton would to use calculus to provide a mathematical proof for the elliptical motion of the planets, further dismantling the model initiated by Aristotle and bringing the birth of modern physics.
The model of gravity proposed by Newton has allowed engineers to bring satellites into orbit, continuously falling around the earth’s curve, much like the moon. In addition, calculus has provided insight into nearly every branch of science, from chemistry to economics (Gregersen 15). As scientific understanding continues to advance, the world we inhabit will also undergo important transformations in technology directly related to these scientific developments. In modern times, quantum mechanics has indicated the Newtonian view may provide an inaccurate picture of the molecular world, suggesting a new revolution on the horizon. Regardless, Newton’s three laws of motion as presented in Principia continue to define the modern view of the macroscopic world and illustrate the importance of scientific progression in understanding natural wonders.
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Dolnick, Edward. “Is There an Edge to the Heavens?” Interview. Audio blog post. Http://www.radiolab.org. WNYC Radio, 20 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 Mar. 2012. <http://www.radiolab.org/2012/feb/20/edge-heavens/>.
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Definitive Visual Guide. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2009. 87. Print.
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Newton’s Dark Secrets. Dir. Chris Oxley. Perf. F. Murray Abraham. NOVA, 2005. DVD.
Both had intermittent attractions to Christianity, especially Catholicism, because, as Grenier put it, it reflected the principle that there is “no truth for man that is not incarnated.”
Robert Royal, Master and Pupil July/August 2003 Crisis Magazine
There is the hint of a possible substitute father in the life of Camus…perhaps this is why Camus was more a reluctant than a militant atheist. In short, the presence of a positive and effective father, or father-figure, seems to be a strong antidote to atheism.
Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism 1999
While it is probably not good to group people into categories, I’ve noticed these trends seem to hold true, allowing you to make someone feel more comfortable when you cater to their conversation style.
Don’t enjoy small talk, but love to discuss passions
Prefers talking to silence, good at social pleasantries
Not necessarily shy, but need a reason to initiate a conversation
Interacts for the sake of interacting
Prefers interacting with small groups or individuals
Not stressed about being in public for extended times
Has a small group of close friends
Better at forming relationships quickly
I think a plan is just a list of things that don’t happen.
Peter Gollwitzer has conducted a number of studies on how people process and initiate their goals. Part of his studies ask if “sharing one’s behavioral intentions with others reduces the enactment of these intentions, given that such public intending may produce a sense of identity completeness.” Typically, I compile a list of about four major goals at the beginning of each semester and refine them for two weeks through conversations with anyone who is willing to listen. This fall, I took a different approach based on Gollwitzer’s research: I compiled my list of goals and discussed them with only one person.
I’m going to try this method again in the spring. I prefer it because there is more freedom (if my passions change, my goals can change) and ownership (I’m not going to do a goal simply to fulfill a commitment).
Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.
Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.
As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.
If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth — beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals — would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?
George Bernard Shaw
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole originally debuted as a play, winning the Pulitzer Prize and later being adapted into a movie. The plot centers on a young couple, Becca and Howie, who suffer the loss of their only child (named Danny). Intertwined in the story is Izzy, Becca’s younger sister, who is about to have her own child out of wedlock. In addition, there is Nat, the mother of Becca and Izzy, and finally Jason, the teenager who accidently killed Danny while driving. The plot follows each character as they create their own reality in an attempt to reconstruct life amidst the grief. As each character develops, they begin to understand their relationship to one another and how Danny’s death has defined their isolation.
The diversity of the responses can especially be seen between the husband and wife. Howie finds comfort in the memory of his son, evidenced by numerous keepsakes, watching old family movies, and not clearing Danny’s room. He isolates himself from the rest of the family by preserving the past, and eventually begins a relationship with another woman who is struggling with a similar loss. On the other hand, Becca is searching for an escape from the constant memory as she puts Danny’s artwork in storage, erases family videos, gives away the family dog, and pleads with Howie to sell the house. She experiences pain as she remains suspended in a past life she cannot escape through a career, so she grasps for rebirth in the future. First, she goes against her husband’s wishes and reaches out to Jason, who desperately seeks some form of forgiveness. Later, she acknowledges the advice her mother offers based on her own experience of losing a son to heroin:
Becca: Does it ever go away?
Nat: No, I don’t think it does. Not for me, it hasn’t – has gone on for eleven years. But it changes though.
Nat: I don’t know… the weight of it, I guess. At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and… carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you… you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and – there it is. Oh right, that. Which could be awful – not all the time. It’s kind of…
Nat: not that you’d like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And uh… it doesn’t go away. Which is…
Becca: Which is what?
Nat: Fine, actually.
The random, senseless pain stemming from Danny’s death is shown to be universal in this dialog. The empathy Becca discovers in this scene – realizing the two deaths are dramatically unique, yet surprisingly similar – provides one of the most relieving moments in the drama. While no answer is ultimately given to the aching humanity displayed throughout the play, Becca begins to see how her suffering is intimately related to others, and decides to uncover meaning through this realization.
Pragmatism is a philosophy based on action (Prag in Greek is “to do”) developed largely in America. It is critical of the preceding Idealist and Realist philosophies, which saw people primarily as knowers, and secondly as actors, a thought which followed their skepticism of universal truth.
The metaphysical view of pragmatism resembles biological evolution: there is no conclusion, goal, or absolute, but rather there is always process and change. People in this branch of philosophy are very skeptical, and doubt humanities ability to achieve absolute truth (from divine revelation or science). Science is suspect because it is limited by observation (which can be relative) and logic can only produce possibilities, not absolutes. They accept no revelations from any god, but even if faith is not a source of knowledge, it can still play a role. For instance, religion allows our subjective values to overtake our limited “objective” truths (which cannot absolutely prove anything), thus fulfilling our desires more efficiently.
The values derived from this tradition naturalist (similar to realism), but there is a stronger emphasis on community over individualism. This has lead to the development of social values and the defense of democracy. In this view, “truth” is incomplete, limited, and practical – it is what works for us, allowing us to fulfill our subjective desires; truth is both subjective and relative (my truth may change over time). Because of this, we cannot be dogmatic, and have an obligation to respect other people’s opinions. In relation to values and goals, we must evaluate our truth based on a social unit (as opposed to an individual perspective), creating a truth, which works for the society (this allows us to strongly criticize individuals who develop a truth which disrupts society). Social democracy is not simply a political system, but rather become the method for a society to determine truth and morality.
Process Theology is a religious response to pragmatism. In previous traditions, people assumed god was “the best” – they described this as an absolute state, which could never change. In process theology, the best is not stationary, but rather dynamic; an engaged, changing god is seen as “better” and even more loving. If god is allowed to change, there is no absolute certainty of the future, so faith must be placed in his character instead.
One tenet of process theology is the assertion that substance doesn’t exist, but rather everything is process. When processes interact in some type of relationship, they are said to have consciousness, so everything is alive from a metaphysical standpoint. It is a type of realism, where energy becomes the entity. This is not to say an atom or blade of grass has a conscience mind, but it is to say it is related to other things. Based on the assertion everything is related and interconnected, value can be found in everything, not just humanity.
This focus on connection bleeds into human relationships as well. If all people are connected, even as they maintain some sense of autonomy, they can fins happiness (or fulfill desires) by sharing experiences with other people. In other words, a human must cultivate successful relationships to truly become whole. This philosophy can also be applied to the individual as a unit, where there is a connection between thinking and emotions. Thinking can become a way of experiencing the world and aesthetic wisdom and logical thoughts can be seen as parallel forces rather than opposing views.
Process theology views any god figure as free by definition – he must be personable (and therefore able to change) if we are to have a relationship with him. Furthermore, god does not determine every process (one might say god is not all-powerful), so climate change and social issues become very relevant for people within this tradition because they can play an active role in improve the human condition. In essence, our actions have a much greater purpose: they can both change the future and influence god.