VU Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Friday, Feb. 19, at 3:20 PM in NSC 224. Join us for refreshments in NSC 231 at 3:05 PM.

"Views of Motion From Aristotle to Newton: How Understanding Emerged from Centuries of Confusion"

Dr. Robert Manweiler, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Valparaiso University 

When we think of "laws of motion and gravity", Newton's great work immediately comes to mind. Alexander Pope, the Enlightenment poet captured the grandness of the accomplishment in these words: "Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night; God said, Let Newton be! And allwas Light". But of course Newton himself "stood on the shoulders of 'other' giants", as he himself had said.

In this talk we consider the ideas of several of Newton's "giants" concerning motion and gravity. We then better see why the road from Aristotle to his work was so treacherous. Progress was very slow, at times moving backwards. The correct formulation as finally grasped by Newton was difficult to reach in part due to the complex intertwining of fundamental notions among several disciplines -- astronomy, cosmology, terrestrial physics, mathematics, and even a bit of theology. But Newton's insight would not have occurred without this long effort. No one could have merely "leaped" to the correct laws. This journey well illustrates how science often progresses as we seek to understand the world about us.