Newton’s Inspiration from an Apple

030123Recently thieves stole a rare first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica from the Russian National Library.  This prompted me to think about the legend of Newton and the apple.

Although Principia was published in 1687, it was an event 20 years prior to this which inspired Newton’s ground breaking laws of gravitation.

Cambridge University, where Newton studied had closed for the summer of 1665 to prevent the spread of Plague which had broken out in London.  Newton, who’d just received a bachelor’s degree, returned to his home village in Lincolnshire, England, for two years.  According to a physician friend of Newton, a man by the name of Dr. William Stuckeley, the famous apple incident occurred at that time.

Stuckeley reports that when the notion of gravity came to Newton’s mind, it was indeed occasioned by the fall of an apple.  Newton’s question was, “Why should the apple always descend perpendicularly?  Surely the earth draws it with a power that must be at the earth’s centre.”  So it was, that Newton recognised the all pervasive force that we call gravity.  He understood that gravity extends throughout the Universe, and is proportional to the quantity of matter.

Characteristically, Newton moved quickly from the apple incident to see the big picture, calculating the law of the force which could hold the moon in its orbit.

So next time, stay alert.  Maybe some common event will catalyze a new idea in your mind too!