HPS Speaker - Bill Harper. "Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method"


Location: 120 DeBartolo Hall

Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method

Newton employs theory-mediated measurements to turn data into far more informative evidence than can be achieved by hypothetico-deductive confirmation alone. This is exemplified in the classic inferences from phenomena that open his argument for universal gravity in book 3 of his Principia. Newton’s Rule 4, for doing natural philosophy characterizes a concept of theory acceptance that illuminates scientific method in gravity research today.
Mercury’s perihelion problem affords a very informative example. First, we can see Newton’s method at work in the classical response to Mercury’s perihelion problem. Second, contrary to a famous skeptical quotation from Kuhn, Newton’s method endorses the radical transition from his theory to Einstein’s. Third, Newton’s method is strikingly realized in the response to a challenge to general relativity from a later problem posed by Mercury’s perihelion.
Newton’s Rule 3 is at work in his appeal to agreeing measurements supporting the equality of accelerations required by gravity interpreted as acceleration fields towards planets. These agreeing measurements, as extended by their far more powerful successors in later research, afford empirical successes that strongly underwrite the weak equivalence principle and the gravitational weak equivalence principle in gravitation theory today.