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Newton's Apple Story Goes Online 114

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the ouch-an-idea dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Although many historians are skeptical of the story, Rev. William Stukeley, a physician, cleric, and prominent antiquarian, wrote that he was once enjoying afternoon tea with Sir Isaac Newton amid the Woolsthorpe apple trees when the mathematician reminisced that he was just in the same situation as when the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. The original version of the story of Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple first appeared in Stukeley's 1752 biography, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life. Now BBC reports that UK's Royal Society has converted the fragile manuscript into an electronic book, which anybody with internet access will now be able to read and decide for themselves. 'The story of Newton and the apple, which had gradually become debunked over the years. It is now clear, it is based on a conversation between Newton and Stukeley,' says Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of the history of art at Oxford University's Trinity College. 'We needn't believe that the apple hit his head, but sitting in the orchard and seeing the apple fall triggered that work. It was a chance event that got him engaged with something he might have otherwise have shelved.'"
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Newton's Apple Story Goes Online

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  • by Jazz-Masta (240659) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:05PM (#30812528)

    It took me a couple minutes to realize the story was not about the Apple Newton, leading into the rumored Apple Tablet...

    I didn't realize technology had such a hold on my perception of current and past events, as well as common sense.

    • by JustOK (667959) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:17PM (#30812674) Journal

      You clearly didn't recognize the gravity of your situation.

    • Fortunately (Score:4, Funny)

      by snarkh (118018) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:53PM (#30813122)

      Newton's apple was better received than Apple's Newton.

    • by Thelasko (1196535)
      It took me a couple of minutes to realize the story was not about the Television [wikipedia.org] Show. [youtube.com]
    • by PPH (736903)
      Now that you mention it: The Newton's character recognition results do look a lot like the writer was hit in the head by a falling object.
    • It took me a couple minutes to realize the story was not about the Apple Newton, leading into the rumored Apple Tablet...

      I didn't realize technology had such a hold on my perception of current and past events, as well as common sense.

      Me too. And add another one... I also couldn't tell if it meant the background development of the TV show "Newton's Apple" [wikipedia.org]

    • Gravity is just the scientific way of saying the planet sucks. Newton was trying to avoid the plague at the time, which is why he was in his country home, if I'm not mistaken. /The first sentence was sarcasm //The second is just a random fact ///No, I did not look it up.

      • Nope, gravity is the scientific way of saying that everything sucks. cf. vacuum, the scientific way of saying that even when you don't have anything at all, it still sucks.

    • To be fair though, I'd think a story about the Apple Newton would be more likely than a story that happened hundreds of years ago.

    • by lfourrier (209630)
      I first (mis)read that the Newton App Store was going online
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:22PM (#30812752)

    A lot of times, the truth isn't relevant. We have made many heroes in society, and we didn't do it for them: We did it for ourselves. A lot of people we call heroes don't deserve it. Many of them didn't do anything at all. For example, United Airlines Flight 93: We have o objective proof of any kind that the passengers staged any kind of revolt, save a vague phone call. But we deified them into heroes after the tragedy as a symbol of hope. It doesn't matter whether the story is true or not. We needed something to symbolize strength and found it there.

    It doesn't matter if the Apple hit Newton on the head or not. What matters is that it is a colorful story that explains the spirit of scientific discovery. It's the same with Einstein -- how many different ways has popular culture misattributed his discovery of the theory of relativity, or attributed a quote to Einstein that was really by somebody else (or made up). The story of Einstein endures as much because of his scientific achievement as because of popular culture stories that give people hope. Specifically, the hope that if they are smart and study hard, they can achieve great things. Today's sociological research rejects the contention that intelligence has any real bearing on success -- success is a combination of factors, of which intelligence can sometimes help a person.

    We use stories and heroes in scientific literature the same as in any other: To convey our values. As far as I'm concerned, the Apple hit Newton on the head--even if it didn't.

    • by jandoedel (1149947) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:29PM (#30812844)
      No. Truth actually matters a lot for scientists...
      • Well Einstein’s relativity already fucked it up pretty good. In a relative universe, there is little absolute truth.
        But only in duet with Heisenberg was it finally a FUBAR of epic proportions. Now truth is only whatever you look at. And since everyone is standing at a different relative point in spacetime, everyone sees everything differently. ;)

        Without us constantly ignoring that all we know is interpreted by our brain, after being processed by our senses, after mostly coming out of a second or even

        • P.S.: No, I was not completely serious! ^^

        • by epine (68316)

          This might not be a popular observation in some circles, but there is a certain brand of religious sentiment rooted in separation disorder and potential collapse of the boundaries of self. In this tent, god functions as an auxiliary shoring pole. Somehow, despite insuperable odds against this, some of us manage to function without one.

          Without us constantly ignoring that all we know ... defined through its relativity, is [not] in any way related to any "truth", we would go completely and utterly crazy...

          Ha

    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:35PM (#30812910) Homepage Journal
      Actually we do have evidence that the passengers of flight 93 tried to break into the cockpit, namely the flight recorders record the hijackers discussing the revolt.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        Actually we do have evidence that the passengers of flight 93 tried to break into the cockpit, namely the flight recorders record the hijackers discussing the revolt.

        We don't know who may have been trying to break into the cockpit, only that there were signs of a struggle on the other side of the door. For all we know, the passengers could have been fighting amongst themselves. There's no way for anyone to know what really happened on the other side of that door. But every one of them, whether they did something or not, was declared a hero and there are plaques all over the country listing their names.

        This was my only point: It doesn't matter what they did, what matters

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by antifoidulus (807088)
          Could you please at least consult wikipedia before saying stuff like this? Directly from the wiki:

          Another hijacker responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off."

          The hijackers were in fact aware that the passengers were revolting and trying to get into the cockpit. Read the damned article if you don't believe me.

          So yeah, you don't really have a point.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          You've got the story all wrong. While it's true that the hijackers, not the passengers, downed that flight, there's plenty of evidence (from the flight recorder and elsewhere) that they did it because the passengers were trying to retake the plane.

          And it's a good thing that people have their example, because passengers resisting the terrorists for fear of their lives is what has stopped every attempted terrorist after them. Sure, their bombs probably wouldn't work, but lucky for us, the passengers made su

          • by Tacvek (948259)

            Exactly. Only two changes post 9/11 have significantly increased airplane security. One is that passengers are now aware that they should resist hijackers (or other possible terrorists, like somebody licking their shoelaces on fire), and the reinforced cockpit doors. We change pretty much every else back to pre-9/11 standards and we save a ton of money, and reduce aggravation by a very significant amount, with virtually no decrease in actual security.

          • And it's a good thing that people have their example, because passengers resisting the terrorists for fear of their lives is what has stopped every attempted terrorist after them. Sure, their bombs probably wouldn't work, but lucky for us, the passengers made sure they didn't have much time to work on them. That alone is far more helpful than all the crazy scanners and useless rules we've added since then.

            Exactly! Apart from basic baggage scanning to make sure there are no bombs, we really just need to m

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      girlintraining [slashdot.org], you are my hero. Actually, you're not, but that's irrelevant, the point is that I could have predicted 99% of the posts in this thread, but your post was refreshingly different, it gives me hope that living in denial is not such a bad thing as long as believing in fairy tales has some positive effect on society.

    • "Unglücklich das Land, das keinen Helden hat", entgegnet Galilei im Theaterstück, "Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat."

      (Unlucky is the land that has no heroes....unlucky is the land that needs heroes". Sadly, the fact that the US has such a need of heroes points to something wrong in the US psyche. I have sometimes felt that the US need for heroes derives, in fact, from a fear caused by the lack of social security and medical security in the US. Social democracies like Sweden do

      • I would also add that sociological research says no such thing, and I challenge you to produce a list of reputable papers that suggest that IQ is not correlated with income or social class, other than popsci books.

        How about the American Psychological Association...

        "The validity of IQ as a predictor of job performance is above zero for all work studied to date, but varies with the type of job and across different studies, ranging from 0.2 to 0.6." Source [wikipedia.org] ... "The American Psychological Association's report Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns states that other individual characteristics such as interpersonal skills, aspects of personality etc. are probably of equal or greater importance."

    • A lot of times, the truth isn't relevant.

      Yes, like when you don't care about something. This is a story that talks about whether something actually happened. The truth matters in such a case.

      It doesn't matter if the Apple hit Newton on the head or not. What matters is that it is a colorful story that explains the spirit of scientific discovery.

      There are lots of wonderful, "colorful" stories in history. We don't need to make them up to have examples of "the spirit of scientific discovery."

      It's the same with Einstein -- how many different ways has popular culture misattributed his discovery of the theory of relativity, or attributed a quote to Einstein that was really by somebody else (or made up).

      Lots. But if I want to know what Einstein actually thought about something, I want to know whether he actually said it. That's a matter of history.

      The story of Einstein endures as much because of his scientific achievement as because of popular culture stories that give people hope. Specifically, the hope that if they are smart and study hard, they can achieve great things.

      Yeah... um, Einstein's story would be inspirational even if we

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mdwh2 (535323)

      I can understand "It doesn't really matter if an apple hit him on the head or not, so let's stop trying to decide if it really happened".

      But I'm not so sure about "It doesn't really matter if an apple hit him on the head or not, so let's claim it to be true". The argument about stories sounds worryingly close to the "They're just stories, honest" arguments made when religious people make claims about things being true, when we have no evidence for them.

      Specifically, the hope that if they are smart and study

    • "A lot of times, the truth isn't relevant."

      I've suspected you were Melinda Gates for some time now, but this is the first time I have been unable to uncover any direct evidience. Is it true that a computer fell on Bill's head and inspired him to discover the GUI and pay someone to write Windows?

      • Is it true that a computer fell on Bill's head and inspired him to discover the GUI and pay someone to write Windows?

        That makes more sense than all the other theories about how he came up with the idea.

    • "We have o objective proof of any kind that the passengers staged any kind of revolt, save a vague phone call. "

      This statement has been comprehensively debunked in the thread below, and you would be wise to retract it.

    • by idji (984038)
      I think you believe the Bible too, all of it - including the first page. Or this is your consolation why the "others" believe the Bible.
  • not news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trb (8509) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:25PM (#30812786)
    If you web search for the text, you will find it quoted in various web pages and books (not all recent).

    for example, search for this text:

    "amidst other discourse he told me he was just in the same situation"

    • by bcrowell (177657)

      If you web search for the text, you will find it quoted in various web pages and books (not all recent).

      You're right, e.g., this page [sussex.ac.uk] seems to have the whole text of the book. However, (a) it is kind of cool to see it so directly, as written by one of Newton's contemporaries, and (b) very few people probably know about it. I'm a physics teacher, and I've been telling people for years that the story was probably true because Newton's niece remembered him telling it to her. I'd never heard that Stukeley als

      • by trb (8509)
        I agree that it's interesting to read the manuscript, I enjoyed looking at it. I agree that it's interesting to think about the Newton's apple story. But I think the way the BBC describes the project is simply misleading. They write:

        "The UK's Royal Society converted the fragile manuscript into an electronic book, which anybody with internet access will now be able to read."

        Saying "will now be able to read" implies that we were not able to read it before. That's just not true. Yes, we can see the imag

  • by Zerth (26112)

    All those s/f things make my eyes bleed. I'm glad that dropped out of modern handwriting, but the new s isn't much better.

    Die, handwriting cursive script. Block letters or fancy computer fonts for everyone.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Die, handwriting cursive script. Block letters or fancy computer fonts for everyone.

      You are a soulless, brainless quasi-robotic drone, lacking any cultural sensitivity or artistic taste, and blessed with the attention span of a battered goldfish, and the wedding tackle of a hamster.

      Oh, and I disagree about the handwriting.

  • Imagine a beowulf cluster of falling apples....

    Oh, this isnt about the Mac, is it?

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Monday January 18, 2010 @04:55PM (#30813162)
    I'm partial to Granny Smith, Pink Ladies, and Honeycrisp myself. I bet Newton's apple was a generic unnamed variety.
  • back to Eden (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    regardless of the story's veracity as fact, it is symbolically sound:

    The fruit from the tree of knowledge, under the power of gravity, fell and struck Newton in the centre of his intellect.

  • by nilbog (732352) on Monday January 18, 2010 @05:15PM (#30813398) Homepage Journal

    Man the rumors on this new force thing are really ramping up leading up to Apple's expected event at the end of the month. I've heard some people claim that it is a whole new force while others are just complaining "aww... it's just another form of the same old electromagnetism we've seen."

    Whatever it is, Apple doesn't disappoint very often. I've heard speculation that they'll be calling it "iGravity" or something similar. Now this headline is saying that it will go online somehow. I can't wait!

    • by mdwh2 (535323)

      They invented calculus, dont you know.

      Well actually they were beaten to it by some German company a few hundred years earlier. But Apple's version "works better", it just does, honest!

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday January 18, 2010 @05:48PM (#30813794)

    ... gravity wsn't discovered by a Hawaiian scientist. It would have been a coconut and he would have been killed when it hit his head. No theory of gravity.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by radtea (464814)

      It would have been a coconut and he would have been killed when it hit his head. No theory of gravity.

      Although it is true that falling coconuts kill more people every year than sharks, it is not clear why you think Newton was hit on the head by an apple.

      The text makes it obvious he was seeing an apple fall (probably more than one if he really sat in an orchard for any length of time. It's fairly rare that we have an opportunity to observe a freely falling object from a distance, and orchards are excellent

      • by PPH (736903)

        Although it is true that falling coconuts kill more people every year than sharks,

        And we haven't even addressed those diabolical coconuts with lasers....

  • There is a more important mystery here than whether Newton actually saw an apple fall. Please see this illustration in Stukeley's memoir [onlineculture.co.uk].

    The caption explains what I am seeing: "Newton’s face is shown in profile, in the style of a medallion and supported by a multi-breasted female figure."

    The caption does not explain why I am seeing it.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.

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