(Studies in the Scientific Revolution)

Assignment 11: Due Thursday, 11/15/07

Exam Review: Rough notes on N’s light theory and queries: Ass11NewtonLightNotes.pdf [283k]

Snel’s or Descartes’ Law of Refraction: SciRev/Ass11SnelLawLeastTime.pdf [284k]

Newton drew this for a French ed. of Opticks.  It says, “Light doesn’t vary color when refracted.”

Nec variat lux fracta colorem.  More literally: Light doesn’t change when broken into color.

I colorized it to for clarity.

Some of the light from the window (focused by that big lens) is intercepted by the prism, and some of it continues on.

The red beam then passes through the screen and into another prism where is not broken up anymore.

Light doesn’t change when broken into color.

Read one or the other these chapters from The Cambridge Newton:


-pp. 370-381: Figala-CambridgeNewton-Ch12Alchemy.pdf [5.7 MB] 


-pp. 409-423: Mandlebrote-CambridgeNewton_Christianity.pdf [6.7 MB] 



Read Newton’s thoughts on absolute space and a couple of his letters to Bentley. pp. 202-207 and 211-216: NewtonChapter_Munitz.pdf [4.1 MB]


Read Newton’s General Scholium added to the 2nd ed. of Principia, 1713: Newton-SCHOLIUM_GENERALE.htm 2pp


Read these very short selections from his book Opticks, from 1704: Newton_OpticksExcerpts.pdf [1.7 MB]


Read and look at the images in this Assignment page.   (Depending on your browser, you may need to copy the images onto your hard drive and then open them so that they appear large enough to read comfortably.)


Read the following selections from the Queries from Opticks: pp. 339-354, 362-376, 388-389, 398-406 (Queries 1-24, 28, 29, parts of 30, and parts of 31).  Newton_QueriesExcerptsm120.pdf [2.3 MB]

Write an essay on some aspect inspired by the above readings.  [Some of you are getting lazy and seem to be reading Wiki articles instead of the more difficult material that I have assigned.  Wiki is fine if you need an introduction to the topic, and I am all for you reading the Wiki material on your own, but it should be in addition to my materials, not instead of.]   We are almost done. 


Souped up suggestion: Write a dialogue between Newton and another person on the topic of light (or some other Newtonian topic).  The other person could be someone you have studied or read in the optional readings.  You could have Newton discuss it with Goethe, or Descartes, or Aristotle, or Feynman, or Boyle, or Locke, or Leibniz, or Hooke, or Bacon, or Einstein.. etc.  Write it like a script.  You could have side comments and a chorus or a musical interlude or whatever you think will make it interesting and informative. I have provided a bunch of sources below.  Souped-up assignments should use something from these sources in addition to the regularly assigned readings.

Citations and optional “souped-up” materials (last week’s optional articles are also appropriate for this week)


Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Theory of Colours. Cambridge, Mass.,: M.I.T. Press, 1970.  Goethe’s color theory (1st ed. 1810): Read paragraphs 1-20, 47-52, 135, 695-705, 722-728, 758-793(choose a couple of colors, no need to read about all of them), 833-847 (read over a few that interest you).  I included more in this PDF if you feel like reading it as well.  [ca. 10 pages]: Goethe_ColorTheoryExcerpts100.pdf  [2.7 MB]  This color theory is about 100 years after Newton, and promotes a much different theory.  Just goes to show that Newton didn’t dominate the world as much as it sometimes seems. 


Newton, Isaac. "A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; Containing His New Theory About Light and Colors: Sent by the Author to the Publisher from Cambridge, Febr. 6. 1671/72; in Order to Be Communicated to the R. Society." Philosophical Transactions 6 (1671): pp. 3075-3087.  Newton's first significant musings on light.  It’s very readable.  Newton's NewTheoryOfLightColors.pdf [2.4 MB]



Descartes, Rene. The World, or Treatise on Light. Michael S. Mahoney. Excerpts extracted for SciRev. ed.:, Written 1629-33, published later in 17th c. Previously assigned in this class. Descartes_CH13-4OnLight.pdf [330 KB] 


Hooke’s objections to Newton’s theory (1671/2) [ca. 9 pages.] Hooke_1671-2CritiqueOfNewtonLight.pdf [1 MB]

This is probably from Sprat, Thomas. The History of the Royal Society of London, for the Improving of Natural Knowledge. 3d ed. London,: Printed for S. Chapman, 1722.  …but I am not totally sure where it came from.


Feingold, Mordechai. The Newtonian Moment : Isaac Newton and the Making of Modern Culture. New York: New York Public Library, 2004. This is a chapter about how women were involved with the Newtonian revolution. Feingold_NewtonianWomen.pdf  [3.4 MB]


Hessen, B. The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's 'Principia'. New York: Howard Fertig, 1971.

Hessen-Engles-Marx-Newton-Energy2.pdf [694 KB]

Hessen-Engles-Marx-Newton-Energy2.pdf [2.4 MB]

These are Marxist analyses of Newton and SciRev and Industrial Rev. topics.  Those with an interest in political theory may find one or both of these interesting. 


Scott, Wilson L. "The Significance Of "Hard Bodies" In the History of Scientific Thought." Isis 50, no. 3 (1959): 199-210.  This is an excellent article on Newtonian atomism and conservation theory in the making. [434 KB]


Disalle, Robert. "Newton's Philosophical Analysis of Space and Time." In The Cambridge Companion to Newton, ed. I. Bernard Cohen and George E. Smith, pp. 33-56. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. This article has some thoughts on Newton’s famous “bucket” argument. Disalle_CambridgeNewton_Space-time100.pdf [2.8 MB]


Debus, Allen G. Man and Nature in the Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

From Newton’s Opticks, 1st ed. 1704.  Read this.


These are diagrams from Opticks which I have colorized for clarity.

Notice that he is suggesting that the rainbow is divided into 7 colors

just as the string of a monochord is divided into 7 intervals. 

He even gives the Pythagorean-style intervals.


Interesting trivia… (extracted from a paper I once wrote…)


Leibniz, after having read Newton’s Opticks, wrote, “Sir Isaac Newton says, that space is an organ, which God makes use of to perceive things by.”  [Clarke, Leibniz, Newton and Alexander, The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence: Together with Extracts From Newton's Principia and Opticks. Philosophical Classics (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1956), p. 11.]


What Newton wrote (in the Latin edition that Leibniz was reading) was this, “Universal Space is the Sensorium of the Incorporeal, Living, and Intelligent Being;…”  Newton corrected this passage by making it clearer that he was making an analogy. 


Newton means this: Perception occurs by exposing  “sensing substance” [“substantia sentiens”] to the  “sensible species of things” [“sensibiles rerum species”], which are gathered and brought to the brain where this “sensing substance” is located.  This description needs almost no modification to be a Galenic/Avicennic description of sensory perception based on spiritus animalis.  I find it quite interesting that Newton is still operating on this theory of perception.


Newton goes on in the corrected passage to suggest that God, being omnipresent, perceives the entire universe merely by being present throughout all space.  It is not so much that the all of space is God’s sensorium, but that God is everywhere and acts [tanquam] as if it were the spiritus animalis in human perception. Unlike humans, who need spiritus or “sensing substance” to connect their souls to the world, God needs no intermediary for perception.   He is Himself, as it were, the intermediary, the spiritus.



The word Newton used, sensorium, was used in his Latin edition of Optics, but is not a standard word in Latin, it is actually more common in 18th-century English.


From Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language; 4th ed. (1773)


Sensorium, Sensory n.s. [Latin]-- 

1) The part where the senses transmit their perceptions to the mind; seat of sense;

2) Organ of sensation


Selected Examples given by Johnson:


Bacon:  “Spiritual species, both visible and audible, will work upon the sensories, though they move not any other body.”


Newton:  “As found in a bell or musical string, or other sounding body, is nothing but a trembling motion, and the air nothing but that motion propagated from the object, in the sensorium ‘tis a sense of that motion under the form of sound.”


Newton from Query 28:  “Is not the Sensory  of Animals that place to which the sensitive Substance is present, and into which  the sensible Species of Things are carried through the Nerves and Brain, that there they may be perceived by their immediate presence to that Substance?”


Back to

SciRev Syllabus.


McGuireRatt: section from Lucretius.

Dobbs: 315-324 ???



Westfall Christianity: 356-370 pp. 14 maybe…