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Modern science, exclusive of geometry, is a comparatively recent creation and can be said to have originated with Galileo and Newton. Galileo was the first scientist to recognize clearly that the only way to further our understanding of the physical world was to resort to experiment. However obvious Galileo’s contention may appear in the light of our present knowledge, it remains a fact that the Greeks, in spite of their proficiency in geometry, never seem to have realized the importance of experiment. To a certain extent this may be attributed to the crudeness of their instruments of measurement. Still, an excuse of this sort can scarcely be put forward when the elementary nature of Galileo’s experiments and observations is recalled, Watching a lamp oscillate in the cathedral of Pisa, dropping bodies from the leaning tower of Pisa, rolling balls down inclined planes, noticing the magnifying effect of water in a spherical glass vase, such was the nature of Galileo’s experiments and observations. As can be seen, they might just as well have been performed by the Greeks. At any rate, it was thanks to such experiments that Galileo discovered the fundamental law of dynamics, according to which the acceleration imparted to a body is proportional to the force acting upon it.
The next advance was due to Newton, the greatest scientist of all time if account be taken of his joint contributions to mathematics and physics. As a physicist, he was of course an ardent adherent of the empirical method, but his greatest title to fame lies in another direction. Prior to Newton, mathematics, chiefly in the form of geometry, had been studied as a fine art without any view to its physical applications other than in very trivial cases. But with Newton all the resources of mathematics were turned to advantage in the solution of physical problems. Thenceforth mathematics appeared as an instrument of discovery, the most powerful one known to man, multiplying the power of thought just as in the mechanical domain the lever multiplied our physical action. It is this application of mathematics to the solution of physical problems, this combination of two separate fields of investigation, which constitutes the essential characteristic of the Newtonian method. Thus problems of physics were metamorphosed into problems of mathematics.
But in Newton’s day the mathematical instrument was still in a very backward state of development. In this field again Newton showed the mark of genius by inventing the integral calculus. As a result of this remarkable discovery, problems, which would have baffled Archimedes, were solved with ease. We know that in Newton’s hands this new departure in scientific method led to the discovery of the law of gravitation. But here again the real significance of Newton’s achievement lay not so much in the exact quantitative formulation of the law of attraction, as in his having established the presence of law and order at least in one important realm of nature, namely, in the motions of heavenly bodies. Nature thus exhibited rationality and was not mere blind chaos and I uncertainty. To be sure, Newton’s investigations had been concerned with but a small group of natural phenomena, but it appeared unlikely that this mathematical law and order should turn out to be restricted to certain special phenomena; and the feeling was general that all the physical processes of nature would prove to be unfolding themselves according to rigorous mathematical laws.
When Einstein, in 1905, published his celebrated paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies, he remarked that the difficulties, which surrounded the equations of electrodynamics, together with the negative experiments of Michelson and others, would be obviated if we extended the validity of the Newtonian principle of the relativity of Galilean motion, which applied solely to mechanical phenomena, so as to include all manner of phenomena: electrodynamics, optical, etc. When extended in this way the Newtonian principle of relativity became Einstein’s special principle of relativity. Its significance lay in its assertion that absolute Galilean motion or absolute velocity must ever escape all experimental detection. Henceforth absolute velocity should be conceived of as physical meaningless, not only in the particular realm of mechanics, as in Newton’s day, but in the entire realm of physical phenomena. Einstein’s special principle, by adding increased emphasis to this relativity of velocity, making absolute velocity metaphysically meaningless, created a still more profound distinction between velocity and accelerated or rotational motion. This latter type of motion remained absolute and real as before. It is most important to understand this point and to realize that Einstein’s special principle is merely an extension of the validity of the classical Newtonian principle to all classes of phenomena.
Reading Comprehension Test-7
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