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Profitable Wonders: Newton brought Aristotle down to earth

Regulars | By James Le Fanu | December 2017


The profoundness of human emotions is the sense of aw in the presence of, for want of a better word, genius  -both at the work itself (the Mass in B Minor, the Sistine Chapel, The Tempest, etc), and the higher intelligence, so far beyond our comprehension, that created it.  There is, however, one very rare, perhaps unique, instance when we ordinary mortals can glimpse pure genius at work, captured in just eight words. The story is familiar enough. From the time of Aristotle onwards, the regularity and order of the physical world – the undeviating sun, the movement of the planets across the heavens – was divinely ordained to be so. The imaginative leap that displaced the inscrutability of God’s will, with an all explanatory physical law readily comprehensible to a class of ten-year olds, is described by Isaac Newton’s close friend, the physician and clergyman, Dr William Stukeley.  ‘After dinner...

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