March 1, 2024


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We have been misreading a key law of physics for the past 300 years

We have been misreading a key law of physics for the past 300 years

when Isaac Newton He wrote down his famous laws of motion on parchment in 1687, and only hoped we would discuss them three centuries later.

Newton explained that writing in Latin Three universal principles A description of how the motion of objects in our universe is controlled, which has been translated, copied, discussed, and debated at length.

But according to the philosopher of language and mathematics, we may have been interpreting Newton's precise formulation of his first law of motion a little wrong all along.

Virginia Tech philosopher Daniel Hook required “To set the record straight” after discovering what he had done Describe as a “clumsy mistranslation” in the original 1729 English translation of Newton's Latin principles.

Based on this translation, countless academics and teachers have interpreted Newton's first law Disruption To mean that the body will continue to move in a straight line or will remain at rest unless An external force intervenes.

It's a description that works well until you realize that external forces are constantly at work, something Newton must have taken into account in his formulation.

Revisiting the archives, Hooke realized that this common paraphrase implied a misinterpretation that had remained under the radar until 1999, when two scholars discovered the translation of one overlooked Latin word: quatenus, which means “to some extent,” and nothing more.

To the hook, this Makes all the difference. Instead of describing how an object would retain its momentum if no forces acted on it, Hooke says the new reading shows that Newton meant that every change in an object's momentum — every jolt, dip, yaw, and boom — was due to external forces.

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“By putting that forgotten word [insofar] return to its place, [those scholars] He restored one of the fundamental principles of physics to its original splendor.” Hooke He explains In a blog post he describes his findings, which were published academically in a journal Research paper 2022.

However, this critical correction never caught on. Even now it may struggle to gain momentum under the weight of centuries of repetition.

“Some find my reading too wild and unorthodox to be taken seriously,” Hook comments. “Others think this is so obviously true that it is hardly worth arguing about.”

Laypeople might agree that this sounds like semantics. And hook He confesses Reinterpretation has not and will not change physics. But a closer examination of Newton's own writings makes clear what the leading mathematician of the time was thinking.

“A great deal of ink has been spilled on the question of what the law of inertia is truly to,” He explains Hooke, who as a student had been confused about what Newton meant.

If we take the prevailing translation, which is that bodies move in straight lines until forced otherwise by a force, it raises the question: why would Newton write a law about bodies devoid of external forces when there is no such thing in our universe; When gravity and friction are always present?

“The main purpose of the first law is to deduce the existence of force,” said George Smith, a philosopher at Tufts University and an expert on Newton’s writings. Tell Journalist Stephanie Pappas American Scientific.

In fact, Newton gave three concrete examples to illustrate his first law of motion: According to HookBeing a rotating top – as we know, it slows down in a taut vortex due to air friction.

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“By giving this example,” Hook He writes“Newton clearly shows us how the first law, as he understands it, applies to accelerating bodies subject to forces—that is, it applies to bodies in the real world.”

Hooke says this revised interpretation brings home one of Newton's most fundamental ideas which was quite revolutionary at the time. That is, planets, stars, and other celestial bodies are all subject to the same physical laws as objects on Earth.

“Every change of speed and every tilt of direction,” Hook said He thinks – From swarms of atoms to swirling galaxies – “governed by Newton’s first law.”

Making us all feel once again connected to the furthest reaches of space.

The paper was published in Philosophy of science.

A previous version of this article was published in September 2023.