Newton and the Apple
He is known as the ‘Father’ of physics, and during the late 17th century, Issac Newton practically invented science. The discoveries we attribute to him include the laws of motion, the visible spectrum, the speed of sound, the law of cooling, and calculus.
It does make one wonder if anybody in history ever had a thought before Newton.
Probably his most famous discovery, however, is the law of gravity. The story that has always been taught, is that Newton, only a modest mathematician and professor of physics, was sitting under the shade of an apple tree one sunny day, when an apple dropped from a branch and landed on his head.
According to the story, Newton’s first instinct was to formulate the entire set of universal laws governing the motion of gravitating bodies.
A theory that was deemed so sound that it went unchallenged and unmodified for over 200 years!
Newton never spoke about the apple, and in fact it was a John Conduitt who first told the story some 60 years after it supposedly happened. Even then, he was decisively vague about whether Newton actually saw an apple, or whether the apple is a metaphor that he used to illustrate the idea of gravity for people less intelligent than he was.
“Whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but that this power must extend much further.”
We are taught to think that complex discoveries happen this way, with a sudden light bulb appearing over our head. Creating the illusion it could happen to any of us.
In reality, Newton spent the best part of his life formulating and perfecting his theories.
Months and years of tedious, grinding, silent, lonely work, until he had a nervous breakdown and finally died years later, insane from Mercury poisoning.