Opticks

Isaac Newton

ISBN: 9780486602059

Release: 01/1970

Opticks by Isaac Newton

Opticks differs in many respects from the Principia. It was first published in English rather than in the Latin used by European philosophers, contributing to the development of a vernacular science literature. The book is a model of popular science exposition: although Newton's English is somewhat dated—he shows a fondness for lengthy sentences with much embedded qualifications—the book can still be easily understood by a modern reader. In contrast, few readers of Newton's time found the Principia accessible or even comprehensible. His formal but flexible style shows colloquialisms and metaphorical word choice. Unlike the Principia, Opticks is not developed using the geometric convention of propositions proved by deduction from either previous propositions, lemmas or first principles (or axioms). Instead, axioms define the meaning of technical terms or fundamental properties of matter and light, and the stated propositions are demonstrated by means of specific, carefully described experiments. The first sentence of the book declares My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments. In an Experimentum crucis or "critical experiment" (Book I, Part II, Theorem ii), Newton showed that the color of light corresponded to its "degree of refrangibility" (angle of refraction), and that this angle cannot be changed by additional reflection or refraction or by passing the light through a coloured filter. The work is a vade mecum of the experimenter's art, displaying in many examples how to use observation to propose factual generalisations about the physical world and then exclude competing explanations by specific experimental tests. However, unlike the Principia, which vowed Non fingo hypotheses or "I make no hypotheses" outside the deductive method, the Opticks develops conjectures about light that go beyond the experimental evidence: for example, that the physical behaviour of light was due its "corpuscular" nature as small particles, or that perceived colours were harmonically proportioned like the tones of a diatonic musical scale.

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