Chapter

Mechanics and Astronomy

E. Brian Davies

in Science in the Looking Glass

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780199219186
Published online September 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191711695 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199219186.003.0006
 Mechanics and Astronomy

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This chapter considers two related topics. The first is the development of astronomy in the 16th and 17th centuries, culminating in Newton's publication of his laws of motion in 1687; the second concerns the subsequent history of these laws. Observations confirmed the predictions of Newton's theory, and after about 1750 nobody had any doubt that his theory of gravitation provided a true description of the world. However, in the first decades of the 20th century, it was discovered that this certainty was a chimera. Einstein dethroned Newton, and physics moved into a period of flux which has continued ever since. The fact that such a well-established theory could eventually be superseded poses a severe challenge to any theory of scientific knowledge. The chapter recounts the story of the period, selecting the aspects which are most relevant to this matter.

Keywords: astronomy; Newton; laws of universal gravitation; Einstein; gravity; molecular; Laplace; determinism

Chapter.  13907 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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