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THE NATURE OF SCIENCE COLIN F. GAULD School of Education, University of New South Wales, 9 Michael Crescent, Kiama Downs, NSW, 2533, Australia Email:
Abstract. Books I and III of Newtons Principia develop Newtons dynamical theory and show how it explains a number of celestial phenomena. Book II has received little attention from historians or educators because it does not play a major role in Newtons argument. However, it is in Book II that we see most clearly Newton both as a theoretician and an experimenter. In this part of the Principia Newton dealt with terrestrial rather than with celestial phenomena and described a number of experiments he carried out to establish the success of his theory in explaining the properties of fluid resistance. It demonstrates most clearly the activities of a scientist working at the forefront of knowledge and working with phenomena which he did not fully understand. In this paper the first of Newtons set of experiments into fluid resistance are described and the theory which underlies his explanation is outlined. A number of issues arising from this portion of the Principia together with implications for teaching about the nature of science are discussed. Keywords. Newton, fluid resistance, pendulum, nature of science, history of science

INTRODUCTION The Principia represented a new way of thinking about physical phenomena and in it Newton presented a number of analyses of a variety of phenomena terrestrial motion, fluid motion and resistance, sound, light, and celestial motion. These were marshalled to provide one large argument for his new approach. The ultimate test of this approach (presented in Book I) was its ability to explain the motion of a variety of celestial objects such as planets, satellites and comets (presented in Book III). In presenting an outline of Newtons argument in the Principia many authors proceed from the theory in Book I to the successful explanations of celestial phenomena in Book III largely ignoring the contents of Book II (see, for example, Chandrasekhar 1995, 343-344; Densmore 1992). However, one of Newtons objectives was to demonstrate that the alternative system proposed by Descartes for explaining this motion his vortex model was inadequate (Aiton, 1972; Koyr 1965, pp.79-138; Newton 1729/1960, Book II, Section IX; Book III, final General Scholium; Westfall 1980, p.454)1. As part of this programme it was necessary to show the effect of fluids such as air on the motion of objects since it was not possible in Newtons day to carry out substantial experiments on motion in a vacuum. Book II of the Principia is primarily concerned with an investigation into the nature and properties of the resistance to motion produced by fluids although other things are dealt with in that book as well. While in Book I Newton presented the theoretical basis for his approach and in Book III he applied his results to the understanding of celestial phenomena it is in Book II that we see clearly Newton as an experimenter. In two places (in the General Scholium following Proposition 31 and in the discussion of Proposition 40) he reported the results of many experiments in which he used his theory to explain motion through fluids. Truesdell (1968b) has pointed out that in Book II Newton was dealing with previously unexplored territory and that the material in this part of the Principia is almost entirely original (p.145) something which was not generally the case with Books I and III. Because of this it contains a bewildering alternation of mathematical proof, brilliant hypothesis, pure guessing, bluff, and plain error (p.149). However, Truesdell also argued that the brilliantly ingenious but, in the end, largely unsatisfactory Book II laid out the areas and defined the problems for many of the mechanical researches of the next century (1968a, p.91). In this paper Newtons approach to studying fluid resistance using pendulum motion is outlined and his results are discussed. The simplicity of his experiments make them ideal 1

candidates for replication by present day students and his theory provides a clear example of the way Newton thought about physical phenomena. The relationship between theory and experiment in Newtons thinking is also clearly illustrated. The first twenty-nine propositions in Book II provide an analysis of one and two dimensional motion under the influence of resistances with different dependences on the velocity of the moving object. In Proposition 30 Newton presented the theory which would enable him to use the decay in the swing of a pendulum to find out the general properties of fluid resistance. NEWTONS THEORY OF HIS FLUID RESISTANCE EXPERIMENTS Stage 1 Newtons expectation In Section I of Book II (Propositions 1 to 4) of his Principia Newton dealt with the properties of resistance which varies directly with the velocity. In the Scholium at the end of that section Newton wrote
However, that the resistance of bodies is in the ratio of the velocity, is more a mathematical hypothesis than a physical one. In mediums void of all tenacity, the resistances made to bodies are as the square of the velocities. (Newton 1729/1960, p.244)

In other words Newton did not believe that resistance was really proportional to velocity but, in the ideal case, to the square of the velocity. He argued that the moving body collided with the stationary medium (or particles of the medium), exerted a force on it and started it moving. If one considers the medium to be a collection of individual particles the velocity, v, imparted to one of these particles is proportional to the velocity, V, of the moving body. If the collision is perfectly elastic the particle acquires almost twice the velocity of the moving body; if the collision is perfectly inelastic the velocity of the particle is almost equal to that of the moving body (see Newtons discussion of Propositions 33 and 35). Thus a more rapidly moving body produces a proportionally larger velocity in the particles of the medium than a more slowly moving body. The time taken to transfer a given total amount of motion (momentum) is inversely proportional to the velocity. Thus the resistance, which is proportional to the amount of motion lost by the moving body per unit time is proportional to change in motion per unit time, that is to mv/(1/V) or V2 where m is the mass of the medium set in motion. -- FIGURE 1 -Reference to Figure 1 shows that in one second the body moves a distance V so that the momentum transfer per second is equal to mv where m is the amount of medium contained in the volume traversed by the moving body in one second. Thus, from Newtons third law, the resistance to the motion of the moving body is R = mv (dAV)V dAV2 where d is the density of the medium and A is the cross-sectional area perpendicular to the direction of motion. Newton showed in Book II that he expected the major contribution to resistance to be proportional to the square of the velocity, the area of the moving body perpendicular to the direction of motion and the density of the medium (Scholium following Proposition 14; Proposition 33; Proposition 35, Cases 1-3, Corollaries 1-5). This of course is only in mediums void of all tenacity. In the Scholium at the end of Section III of Book II Newton wrote 2

The resistance of spherical bodies in fluids arises partly from the tenacity, partly from the attrition, and partly from the density of the medium. And that part of the resistance which arises from the density of the fluid is, as I said, as the square of the velocity; the other part, which arises from the tenacity of the fluid, is uniform. (Newton 1729/1960, p.280)

Newton treated uniform resistance in a similar fashion to the effect of gravity on an ascending body and he suggested that one might also go on to the motion of bodies which are resisted in part uniformly, in part in the ratio of the velocity, and in part in the duplicate ratio of the same velocity. He provided examples of how this might be done in his discussion of Propositions 11 to 14. Stage 2 Newtons construction In discussing Proposition 30 Newton began his analysis of the problem of resistance to the motion of a cycloidal pendulum by using the same framework he used when dealing with the velocity of the pendulum bob in the case where there is no resistance (Book I, Proposition 52). In Figure 2 the diameter, BA, of a semi-circle represents the position of the bob as it moves from its beginning point, B, to its end point, A (see also Figure 6(a)). The centre of this path is C and D and d are points somewhere on the path of the pendulum bob separated by a small time interval, t. Newton showed, in Propositions 38 and 52 of Book I that the vertical line DE is proportional to the velocity of the bob at the point D and de is proportional to the velocity of the bob at point d (see Gauld 2004). In Proposition 51 of Book I Newton had already shown that

CD Force on pendulum bob along its path = L Weight of the bob

-- FIGURE 2 -Because of the resistance the end point of the first swing of the bob is the point a which falls short of A by the distance Aa. At the point D the velocity, instead of being represented by DE is represented by the smaller length DF and, if from this point on, the bob continued unresisted it would reach the point M at the left side of its path. If resistance exists between D and d the velocity at d is represented by the line dj so that the line fj represents the decrease in velocity between the points D and d due to the resistance from the medium through which the bob is travelling. The point N represents the position the bob would now reach if resistance were zero after the point d and O is the centre of the motion of the bob when resisted for the whole of its movement from B to a. The line DK is constructed so that

DK Force of resistance at D = L Weight of the bob

Stage 3 Newtons analysis Figure 3 shows more detail of the region of Figure 1 between C and D. CF and Cg are radial lines from the centre, C, and g is the point where the arc Nj extended intersects the line DF. The radius CF cuts the arc jg at h. Fm is parallel to CD and so is equal to Dd. Comparing Figures 2 and 3, CN = Cg, MN = Fh, CM = CF and fm = df - DF. -- FIGURE 3 --

It can be seen that, if the distance Dd is small, the three triangles, Fmf, Fhg and FDC are similar. Because Fmf and FDC are similar fm fm CD = = Fm Dd DF Fg is proportional to the decrease in velocity due to the resistance and fm is proportional to the increase in velocity due to gravity so that, from Newtons first law

Decrease in velocity due to resistance Force on bob due to resistance = Increase in velocity due to force of gravity Force on bob due to gravity
That is

Fg DK = fm CD


Fg fm DK CD . = . fm Dd CD DF
Fg DK = Dd DF

so that Because triangles Fhg and FDC are similar

Fh DF = fg CF
so that

Fh fg DF DK . = . fg Dd CF DF
Fh DK = Dd CF MN DK = Dd CM



When the whole motion is resisted MN.CM = Dd.DK. The area of the shaded region DdkK is equal to Dd.DK so that Dd.DK is the area of the whole region BCaVK. The area of the shaded region MNRS, where CM = MR, is equal to MN.CM so that MN.CM is equal to the area whole trapezoidal region AaUW. The area of AaUW is equal to Aa.(CB + Ca) = Aa. aB = Aa.OB = area of BCaVK. Stage 4 Newtons application Case 1: R = constant In the situation where R is a constant the region BCaVK is a rectangle with a length equal to Ba and a height equal to DK so its area is Ba.DK. Thus Aa. aB = DK.aB 4

So that

OV = DK = Aa.

where OV represents the resistance at the centre of the swing. Thus Case 2: R velocity Newton argued that if the resistance were small the velocity between B and a could be represented by the line DF in Figure 4 where BFa is a semicircle with diameter Ba. He had shown in the Corollary to Proposition 25 that, for a constant resistance, the fastest velocity occurred at O, the centre of the line Ba. If the resistance were proportional to the velocity then the height of the curve BKkVa would be a constant fraction of the height of the semicircle BFa. In other words AKkVa is a semi-ellipse with an area equal to OV.OB = OV. Ba. -- FIGURE 4 -Thus So that OV. Ba = Aa. aB
OV = 2 Aa ! "
7 11

( 1 2 )Aa Resistance at O = L Weight of the bob



In other words Case 3: R velocity2

( 711) Aa Resistance at O = L Weight of the bob


If the resistance were proportional to the square of the velocity and the curve AFa is a semicircle then the curve AKkVa is a parabola with an area 2 3 Ba.OV. Thus in this case OV = Aa and

( 3 4 ) Aa Resistance at O = L Weight of the bob


Newton acknowledged that the curve BFa might not be a semicircle and so in cases 2 and 3 the curves might not be exactly an ellipse and a parabola. However, he considered his conclusions [1], [2] and [3] to be close enough for his practical purposes using the word nearly for approximately true. NEWTONS EXPERIMENTS INTO FLUID RESISTANCE In order to use his theory to determine the properties of fluid resistance as they are affected by the velocity and size of the body which is moving and the density of the fluid Newton set up a long pendulum and varied the properties of the bodies which made up the bob. He described the care with which he designed the support towards the end of the Scholium and explained the need for a support such as a knife edge which did not inhibit the pendulum swing. He was able to vary the velocity at the lowest point by altering the distance the bob was pulled back from its lowest point (Gauld 2004). His procedure was to pull back the bob a known distance and count the number of 5

swings (from one side to the other) for the amplitude to reduce by one eighth or one quarter. He then repeated the experiment by doubling the initial amplitude until he had a set of results in which the initial amplitudes formed a geometric series. Newton determined the size of Aa for the first swing by subtracting the size of the final ascent from the size of the initial descent and dividing by the number of swings. Using his expression [1], [2] or [3] enabled him to use his value of Aa to find the resistance at the lowest point in that swing. Newton argued that the error in treating the circular pendulum as a cycloidal pendulum was negligible. For a cycloidal pendulum the velocity at the lowest point of the swing is proportional to the distance along the arc BC while for a circular pendulum it is proportional to the length of the chord BC (Gauld 1998; 1999). The path of the bob of a circular pendulum has a constant curvature while that of a cycloidal pendulum of the same length begins at the bottom with the same curvature as the circular pendulum but this curvature decreases as the angle of the string increases. The oscillating string length decreases as the string moves against the cycloidal cheeks. Thus, if the length of the arc from which the bob starts its downward journey is the same for the two pendulums the starting point for the cycloidal pendulum is higher and the velocity of the cycloidal pendulum is larger when the bob reaches the lowest point. For a circular pendulum the starting height is given by


(chord ) 2 2L

For a cycloidal pendulum the starting height is given by

(arc) 2 h= 2L
Since the starting height is proportional to the square of the velocity at the bottom the ratio of the velocity for the circular pendulum to that of the cycloidal pendulum is equal to (chord/arc). Newton claimed that the ratio of the periods for these pendulums is (arc/chord). However, if one compares these ratios one finds they are only approximately equal2. For example, for a starting angle of 300 the ratios differ by about 0.5% (Kidd & Fogg 2002). Newton did not justify his claim but an argument he might have used is the following. The pendulum bobs both start at rest and they travel the same distance along almost identical paths. (The height above the lowest point at the beginning for the circular pendulum is 17.21 inch while that for the cycloidal pendulum is 17.62 inch a difference of only 0.41 inch.) Newton may have then simply concluded that the time taken is inversely proportional to the final velocity. Newtons conclusion from his discussion of Proposition 30 was that the decrease in amplitude after one swing of the pendulum due to resistance was proportional to the resistance x length of the pendulum (equations [1], [2] and [3]). In the General Scholium he restated this in a form which referred only to the properties of the motion of the bob and not to the pendulum. In this form the decrease in amplitude is proportional to the resistance x (period)2. Assuming that the resistance at the bottom was proportional to V2 this means that the decrease in amplitude was proportional to V2 x T2. However, Newton had already stated that V(cycloid)/V(circle) = (arc/chord) and that T(cycloid)/T(circle) = (chord/arc) so his conclusion was that the decreases in the amplitude for a circular pendulum and a cycloidal pendulum with the same length and the same amplitude were nearly equal. Thus he believed that his use of circular rather than cycloidal pendulums did not introduce substantial errors into his experiments. -- TABLE 1 -Newtons data for the 43 experiments he reported in the Scholium following his discussion of Proposition 31 are given in Table 1 and a graphical summary is presented in Figure 5. His unit of 6

distance was the English inch (to be distinguished from the Paris inch) 12 of which make up an English foot which is equal to 0.305 metre. His unit of weight (or mass) was the troy ounce which is equal to 28.35 grams. He carried out three main series of experiments to demonstrate respectively the dependence of the resistance on (a) the velocity of the bob, (b) the diameter of the bob and (c) the density of the fluid. -- FIGURE 5 -DEPENDENCE ON THE VELOCITY OF THE BOB (Cases 1-12) Newton used cases 1-6, in which he measured the number of swings required for the pendulum amplitude to decrease by one eighth, to investigate the dependence of the resistance on velocity. The pendulum length, L, was 126 inches and the pendulum bob had a diameter of 6.875 inches and a mass of 57.318 ounces. Newton placed a mark on the wire supporting the bob at a point 121 inches (L) from the support. Behind this mark he placed a ruler which was used to locate the position of the mark as the pendulum oscillated. The values in the second and third columns of Table 1 are the distances moved by this mark when descending and ascending. It can be seen from the geometry of the situation that the ratio Aa/L for the mark is equal to Aa/L for the bob. The measure of the velocity is the distance travelled in the first descent. For a given cycloidal pendulum the arc length travelled during the first half of the first swing is proportional to the velocity at the bottom of the path (Gauld 2004). Some of the values for the number of oscillations in column 5 of Table 1 contain fractions. In an early working paper upon which this Scholium is based (Cohen 1971, p.103) Newton explained how he arrived at such values. For example, in case 6 where the number of oscillations is 9 2 3 the bob would be above its target of 56 inches after 9 swings but below the target after 10 swings. Newton noted the amounts by which the knot was above or below the target and used these values to estimate the number of swings when the target was reached. Newtons expectation that the resistance would be proportional to the square of the velocity was confirmed for larger velocities by dividing the values for Aa (which are the basic measures of resistance according to equations [1], [2] and [3]) by the square of the arc travelled (which is the basic measure of velocity at the bottom of the swing) in the first descent for cases 1-6. In his more refined analysis he assumed that this resistance was made up of three components proportional, respectively, to V, V3/2 and V2. He gave no reason for this and it appears to be a purely formal assignment. His previous theoretical discussion had only dealt with resistances proportional to V0, V and V2. Using cases 2, 4 and 6 and an expectation that Aa = AV + BV3/2 + CV2 Newton determined the values of A, B and C which enabled him to calculate the relative sizes of these three components for different velocities. In order to determine the resistance from the above equation Newton used equations [2] and [3] to arrive at

Resistance = Weight


AV + 710 BV 2 + 3 4 CV 2 Length

The factor 7/10 in the second term is the mean of 7/11 and 3/4 found in equations [2] and [3]. Newton presented the data for cases 7-12 in which the amplitude was reduced by one quarter of the initial descent stating that these results would provide more accurate information than cases 1-6 but he took their analysis no further. He wrote: I leave the calculation to such as are disposed to make it! It is interesting that the values of Aa for the cases 1-6 are consistently larger than those for the corresponding cases 7-12. One reason for the difference is that, as the pendulum oscillates, its velocity decreases, the resistance decreases and the value of Aa decreases with each swing. Thus, dividing the difference between the first descent and the last ascent by the number of swings 7

gives the average decrease per swing and not the decrease for the first swing. Because the smaller decreases for the later swings in cases 7-12 are omitted in cases 1-6 the average values of Aa for cases 1-6 are larger than for the corresponding values for cases 7-12. If one assumes a particular dependence on V (or on the amplitude) for the value of Aa in each swing it is possible to derive a more accurate estimate of Aa for the first swing (using, for example, the Goal Seek tool in MS Excel). The values for Aa using this method are much closer for the two sets of results. DEPENDENCE ON THE DIAMETER OF THE BOB (Cases 1-26, 27) In cases 13-19 Newton used a bob with a smaller diameter (2 inches) and weight (26.25 ounces) than for cases 1-12 while maintaining the same length for the pendulum. For these cases he counted the number of swings to bring about a reduction in the amplitude of one eighth. For cases 20-26 the experiments were repeated for a reduction in amplitude of one quarter but these results were not analysed in the Principia. Newton analysed cases 15, 17 and 19 using the same form of relationship for Aa as for cases 2, 4 and 6 and found that the ratio of the velocity squared components of resistance derived from the values of C for cases 2, 4 and 6 and cases 15, 17 and 19 (for which corresponding velocities were the same) was 7.33/1 while the ratio of the squares of the diameters was 11.8/1. He argued that if one took into account the resistance of the thread, which he estimated to be greater than a third part of the whole resistance of the lesser pendulum, the first ratio becomes (7.33 0.33)/(1.00 0.33) or 10.5/1 a value which is closer to the ratio of squares of the diameters. Newton realised that the effect of the thread would be relatively less for globes with larger diameters and he carried out an experiment (case 27) with a globe of diameter 18.75 inches and mass 208 ounces. The pendulum length was 122.5 inches. The results of this experiment were compared to those from case 6 and, since the pendulum lengths were different, this necessitated the transformation of pendulum parameters for case 27 to those of case 6 before a conclusion could be reached. He found the ratio of resistances to be 7/1 and the ratio of the square of the diameters to be 7.4/1. DEPENDENCE ON THE DENSITY OF THE FLUID (Cases 28-43) Newton carried out a series of experiments in which the bob of a pendulum moved through air (cases 28-31A) and then through water (cases 30W-36). From cases 28 and 31A in air Newton determined the values of A and C in the expression Aa = AV + CV2. He realised that he could not simply use the arc length as a measure of the velocity at the bottom in water because the velocity was much less in water than in air for the same pendulum parameters. However, he argued as he did when comparing the behaviour of circular and cycloidal pendulums. He reasoned that if the velocity of the pendulum in water were to be increased so it was the same as that for the pendulum in air the time the bob spent travelling to the bottom of its path would be decreased in the same ratio. Thus, since Aa is proportional to resistance x (time)2 and if the resistance were proportional to V2, Aa would be unchanged and no error would be introduced by assuming that the measure of the velocity of the pendulum bob travelling through water was the length of the arc. If this conclusion were true then, for cases 31A and 31W, R(water)/R(air) = Aa(water)/Aa(air) = N(air)/N(water) = 535/1.2. Using his values of A and C found previously Newton then argued that R(air[V2])/R(air) = 48.16/61.71 where R(air[V2]) is the component of the resistance due to the air which is proportional to V2 from which he concluded that R(water)/R(air [V2]) = 571/1. Taking into account the fact that the thread was totally immersed in air but not totally immersed in water, Newton, without any further details, arrived at his conclusion that R(water)/R(air[V2]) was about 850 to 1, that is as, the density of the water to the density of the air, nearly. Newton carried out further experiments for which he does not provide all the details. He realised that, in some cases, his vessel was too small for the size of the bob and he wrote 8

I intended to have repeated these experiments with larger vessels, and in melted metals, and other liquors both hot and cold; but I had not the leisure to try all: and besides, from what is already described, it appears sufficiently that the resistance of bodies moving swiftly is nearly proportional to the densities of the fluids in which they move.

The last experiment he described in this Scholium was one to determine the resistance due to the aether. The aether was conceptualised as a fluid which not only filled empty space but also pervaded the interior of solid objects. He suspended a wooden box on the end of a thread 11 feet long then drew it aside about 6 feet, allowed it to oscillate and noted the position of the bob after one, two and three swings. The box was then filled with metal. When full the weight of the box was 78 times the combined weight of the empty box, the air in it and the thread around it. When allowed to oscillate, the filled box took 77 swings to reach the first mark. Newton was interested to see if this difference was due to the effect of the aether on surfaces inside the box as well as on the outside surface. Using the relationship [1], [2] or [3], namely,
kAa k ( Initial descent ! Final ascent ) / N R = = L L W

Newton concluded that the whole resistance of the box when full, had not a greater proportion to the resistance of the box, when empty, than 78 to 77. Separating these resistances into two components that due to the outer surfaces and that due to the inner surfaces - he concluded that the resistance of the empty box in its internal parts will be above 5000 times less than the resistance on the external superficies [surfaces] that is, the resistance of the aether, if any, was very small. Newton pointed out that this experiment is related by memory, the paper being lost in which I had described it; so that I have been obliged to omit some fractional parts, which are slipt out of my memory; and I have no leisure to try it again. DISCUSSION In many respects Newtons treatment of the problem of fluid resistance is significantly different from the way this problem would be tackled today especially in educational settings. A number of features of Newtons work in this area are discussed in what follows. The geometrisation of nature The theory presented above illustrates the approach to understanding physical phenomena which Newton adopted an approach described by Koyr as the geometrisation of nature (Koyr 1965, pp.6-7; Westfall 1990). Physical relationships could be mapped by and analysed through geometrical relationships. Today the emphasis in science teaching is on algebraic rather than geometrical models. One feature of Newtons treatment of Proposition 30 is the close relationship between the geometrical diagram and the physical situation. The base line, BA in Figure 2, represents the path of the pendulum bob and the velocity of the bob is represented by vertical lines starting from the particular position of the bob on that line. The resistance at D is represented by the line DK. In each case there was a direct relationship between a dynamical or kinematic variable and a line on the diagram and the connection between diagram and situation is not difficult to grasp. The resistance is directly related to the decrease in the amplitude of the pendulum as it moves through the fluid. -- FIGURE 6 -9

However, this is not always so in the Principia and, in some cases, while Newton provided a geometrical solution to a problem sometimes the link between the diagram and the situation was not easy to conceptualise. His treatment of Problem 4 (Proposition 29) illustrates this point well. This problem is Supposing that a body oscillating in a cycloid is resisted in a duplicate ratio of the velocity: to find the resistance in each place so, in part, in this problem Newton attempted to solve the same problem he dealt with in Proposition 30. Newton looked for a mathematical analogue for the physical system he was studying and for many of the Propositions in Book II this was based on the hyperbola. In Figure 6(a) a pendulum bob would move from B to A if there were no resistance while, as a result of resistance, it moved from B to a. C is the lowest point and D is any point on this path. Newton set up the hyperbola in Figure 6(b) in order to find a way of determining the resistance experienced by the bob as it moved. He stipulated the following in order to begin his analysis:



(this defined the positions of S, P and Q)

(this defined the position of M)

(this defined the position of R)

where CZ is equal to the length of the pendulum. Following his analysis of the situation Newton concluded that

OR ) AreaIEF ! AreaIGH Resistance at D OQ = Force of gravity AreaPINM (

Although this formally solved Newtons problem it can easily be seen that little of this analysis allows for an intuitive understanding of the problem itself and Newton acknowledged this when he admitted However, by reason of the difficulty of the calculation by which the resistance and the velocity are found by this Proposition, we have thought fit to subjoin the Proposition following. In Proposition 30 he provided the elegant and generalised analysis of the problem of fluid resistance as it applied to a cycloidal pendulum and which is outlined above although the approximations made in this solution rendered it less rigorous than the Euclidean model which Newton attempted to emulate in the Principia. Plausible approximations without rigorous justification In a number of places Newton appears to lack the mathematical tools to proceed in his analysis and makes approximations on the basis of their apparent plausibility. For example, while his theory is based on his analysis of the motion of a cycloidal pendulum, in his experiments he used a simple circular pendulum. He made a case (outlined previously in this paper) that nevertheless his theory could be applied to his experiment even though this case lacked the rigour of other parts of his 10

analysis. Similarly, he claimed that, in Figure 4, the curve Bfja was a semicircle or at least nearly a semicircle a plausible assumption for which he provided some justification. When his pendulum bobs moved through water, Newton realised that the velocity at the lowest point would be significantly less that that given by the relationship between arc (or chord) length and velocity used for a pendulum in air. However, he argued (without detailed analysis but with reference to features of his theory presented earlier in this paper) that if this same relationship were assumed no significant error would be introduced into his conclusions. These examples are indications that Newton, working with a theory that did not fully perform the function which he intended it to, nevertheless proceeded on the basis of what might reasonably be assumed even where he was not able to establish the validity of those assumptions. The use of raw data When carrying out his experiments Newton took great care to ensure that his measurements were as accurate as possible. In these experiments he used long pendulums and refined his experimental technique as he progressed in his investigations. Table 1 contains information about 36 cases for which Newton provided sufficient detail for us to know most of the relevant parameters and so check his calculations. For cases 37-43 and the other cases he reported in the General Scholium following Proposition 31 the detail is insufficient for this to be done and we have to take Newtons word for his conclusions. In his discussion of the implications of his data Newton analysed only 10 of those cases listed in Table 1 and no mention is made of possible errors in the data. From cases 16 he used cases 2, 4 and 6 to determine the coefficients A, B and C in the relation Aa = AV + BV3/2 + CV2 and ignored cases 1, 3 and 5. Cases 7-12 were left to the reader to analyse. Although Newton developed his theory in Book II to deal with resistances which were constant, proportional to V, or proportional to V2 he gives no reason for introducing here a component proportional to V3/2. In many cases (for example, cases 1, 3 and 5 or 7, 9 and 11), if one applies the same analysis to the data which Newton ignored, negative values are obtained for A or B. It is possible that Newton was aware of this and so omitted these results from his report. On the other hand, the cases he did include were those with larger values of V for which the V2 component would be expected to dominate. Nowadays all the data would be used and errors estimated to find curves of best fit so that no available information is ignored. The presence of negative values for A or B would most likely be attributed to experimental error. Reconciliation between results and expectations In all of the experiments described above there are major discrepancies between the results which Newton obtained from his experiments and his expectations. The dependence of resistance on the square of the velocity breaks down for small values of V, and the proportional dependence of resistance on the square of the diameter of the bob or the density of the fluid was far from exact. In all these situations Newton sought a reason for the difference between his experiments and his expectations and the reconciliation is not always convincing. For example, he introduced a rough estimate of the resistance of the thread (with no account of how he obtained this) to reconcile experimental results in cases 1-6 and 13-19 with the ratio of diameters which was 11.3/1. The ratio of resistances before modification was 7.33/1 while after modification was 10.5/1. In comparing resistances in water and air his experiments indicated that the ratio was 570/1. He rightly pointed out that the thread was immersed in air which exerted a resistance on the thread but the thread was not immersed in the water so all the irrelevant variables were not controlled 11

adequately. He stated without support that if the thread were fully immersed in water the ratio would be 850/1, which is nearly the ratio of the densities of water and air. (At 200C the ratio is about 830/1). However, if the information he gave about the resistance of the thread when discussing cases 13-19 in the experiment using a 2 inch bob is used, the ratio seems to be only 656/1. It is not clear how he arrived at the ratio of 850/1. In the third edition of the Principia Newton used three different values for the water to air density ration 850 here, 860 in the Scholium after Proposition 40 when he investigated the resistance to falling bodies, and 870 in the Scholium after Proposition 50 in which he investigated the speed of sound in air. Westfall (1973) pointed out that, in the various drafts of the first edition of the Principia in which he described his investigations into the speed of sound, Newton temporarily adopted 900 and 950 before settling on 870 for this ratio, apparently to find the one which best suited his data. These might be examples of what Truesdell calls fudge factors (1968b, p.149). Westfall (1973) indicated a number of other places in the Principia where Newton appears to have massaged his results to bring about a closer fit between theoretical predictions and experimental results. Truesdell (1968b, p.91) points out that in Book II of the Principia Newton, using the new physics, was dealing with phenomena which had never before been treated in this way. Unlike Book I in which he was following in the footsteps of other natural philosophers, in Book II he was treading new ground. Truesdell indicates that most of what Newton wrote in Book II was false (Truesdell 1968a, p.91) but that nevertheless what Newton achieved there was noteworthy and must be judged, not according to what we know now but by what was known in the 17th century. Newtons attempts to reconcile his results with his expectations is typical of someone breaking new ground and this is just the position of Newton when investigating the complex phenomena discussed in Book II of the Principia. We see here something of an individual scientist at work doing all he can to show the value of his position rather than the completed, fully institutionalised, objective science of textbooks. Difference between terrestrial and celestial physics Terrestrial phenomena are complex with the outcomes being the result of many influences while celestial phenomena, dealt with in Book III are more simple and less prone to unpredictable influences such as friction, resistance, turbulence and so on. The fit between Newtons theory of central forces presented in Book I and the astronomical data presented in Book III is much closer than for the phenomena discussed in Book II. As far as possible, Newton attempted to control carefully irrelevant variables but, as he did not fully understanding the phenomena he was dealing with, he was not always aware of the nature of these irrelevant variables. Part of Newtons purpose in writing Book II was to refute Descartes theory of planetary motion in which the planets were carried around the Sun by fluid vortices (Newton 1729/1960, Book II, Section IX; Book III, Final General Scholium; Westfall 1980, p.454). Newton discussed circular motion in fluids in Propositions 51, 52 and 53 of Book II. At the beginning of the following Scholium he concluded:
Hence it is manifest that the planets are not carried round in corporeal vortices; for, according to the Copernican hypothesis, the planets going round the sun revolve in ellipses, having sun in their common focus; and the radii drawn from the sun describe areas proportional to the times. But now the parts of a vortex can never revolve with such a motion. (Newton 1729/1960, p. 395)

CONCLUSION The material presented above gives insight into Newtons geometrical procedure and experimental technique. There is much that students can learn from what Newton did. For example, his experiments can be replicated and the results analysed using his theory; alternative estimates of Aa which take into account the reduction in size of this difference for each successive swing can be 12

derived; curve-fitting techniques can be used to analyse his own results (presented in Table 1) and to translate what he did into more modern terms; the assumptions he made to enable his data to fit his expectations can be explored; and more recent understanding of the nature of viscous drag (proportional to V) can be introduced into his analyses. All of this involves coming to an understanding of his mode of thought in other words placing oneself in Newtons shoes and beginning to appreciate the differences between what Newton did and what we would do with his problem today. The experiments are simple enough not to require sophisticated instrumentation and to be accessible to students in many contexts. They also show the genius of Newton when one begins to appreciate the thinking of a man at the forefront of the development of mechanics. NOTE

Aiton (1972) pointed out that, in spite of Newtons efforts, the vortex theory flourished on the continent well into the 1700s. Many European scientists had trouble with Newtons theory because it seemed to be based on the existence of occult forces at a distance where there was no physical contact between the interacting objects. All the objections to the Cartesian vortices had been know for a long time. On the other hand, as a cause, the attraction was just as unacceptable as it had been for over a century (Aiton, 1972, p.247).

I am indebted to Alan Emmerson and Michael Fowler for helpful communications about the period of a circular pendulum for large amplitudes. REFERENCES Aiton, E.J.:1972, The Vortex Theory of Planetary Motion, Science History Publications, New York. Chandrasekhar, S.: 1995, Newtons Principia for the Common Reader, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Cohen, I.B. 1971, Introduction to Newtons Principia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Densmore, D.: 1995. Newtons Principia: The Central Argument. Green Lion Press, Santa Fe, NM. Gauld, C.F.: 1998, Colliding Pendulums, Conservation of Momentum and Newton's Third Law, Australian Science Teachers Journal, 44(3), 37-38. Gauld, C.F. 1999, Using Colliding Pendulums to Teach Newton's Third Law, The Physics Teacher, 37, 25-28. Gauld, C.F.: 2004, The Treatment of Cycloidal Pendulum Motion in Newton's Principia, Science and Education.13, 663-673. Kidd, R.B. & Fogg, S.L:. 2002, A Simple Formula for the Large-angle Pendulum Period, The Physics Teacher, 40, 81-83. Koyr, A.: 1965, Newtonian Studies. Chapman & Hall, London. Newton, I.: 1729/1960, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, (translated from the third edition by Andrew Motte and revised by Florian Cajori), University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Truesdell, C.: 1968a, A Program toward Rediscovering the Rational Mechanics of the Age of Reason, In C. Truesdell, Essays in the History of Mechanics, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 85-137. Truesdell, C.: 1968b, Reactions of late Baroque Mechanics to Success, Conjecture, Error, and Failure in Newtons Principia, In C. Truesdell, Essays in the History of Mechanics, SpringerVerlag, Berlin, 138-183. Westfall, R.S.: 1973, Newton and the Fudge Factor, Science, 179, 751-758. Westfall, R.S:. 1980, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge


Westfall, R.S.: 1990, Making a World of Precision: Newton and the Construction of Quantitative Physics, In F. Durham & R.D. Pennington (eds) Some Truer Methods: Reflections on the Heritage of Newton. Columbia University Press, New York, 59-87.


TABLE 1: Newtons pendulum data Case

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30A 31A 30W 31W 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

First descent
2 4 8 16 32 64 2 4 8 16 32 64 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 32 64 32 16 8 16 8 4 2 1 0.5 0.25 16 8 4 2 1 0.5 0.25

Last ascent
1.75 3.5 7 14 28 56 1.5 3 6 12 24 48 0.875 1.75 3.5 7 14 28 56 0.75 1.5 3 6 12 24 48 28 48 24 12 6 12 6 3 1.5 0.75 0.325 0.1635 12 6 3 1.5 0.75 0.325 0.1625

0.25 .5 1 2 4 8 0.5 1 2 4 8 16 0.125 0.25 0.5 1 2 4 8 0.25 0.5 1 2 4 8 16 4 16 8 4 2 4 2 1 0.5 0.25 0.125 0.0625 4 2 1 0.5 0.25 0.125 0.0625

Number of swings
164 121 69 35.5 18.5 9 374 272 162.5 83.3 41.7 22.7 226 228 193 140 90.5 53 30 510 518 420 318 204 121 70 10 85.5 287 535 0.483 1.2 3 7 11.3 12.7 13.3 3.325 6.5 12.1 21.2 34 53 62.2

0.00154 0.00413 0.01449 0.05634 0.21622 0.88889 0.00134 0.00368 0.01223 0.04800 0.19200 0.70588 0.00055 0.00110 0.00259 0.00714 0.02210 0.07547 0.26667 0.00049 0.00097 0.00238 0.00629 0.01961 0.06612 0.22857 0.40000 0.18713 0.02787 0.00374 8.27586 1.66667 0.33333 0.07143 0.02222 0.01382 0.00656 1.20301 0.30769 0.08276 0.02358 0.00735 0.00330 0.00100

Diameter of wooden bob = 6.875 London inches Mass of bob = 57.318 troy ounces Pendulum length = 126 inches

as for cases 1-6

Diameter of lead bob = 2 inches Mass of bob = 26.25 troy ounces Pendulum length = 126 inches

as for cases 13-19

* see note below in air as for cases 30W-36 # see note below in water Diameter of lead bob = 3.625 inches Mass of bob = 166.125 troy ounces Length of pendulum = 134.375 inches Diameter of bob = 1 inch

* diameter = 18.75 inches; mass = 208 troy ounces; pendulum length = 122.5 inches; Newton says that this case took 5 swings but his analysis indicates that this should be 10. # Newtons Table gives 535 swings for case 30A but his analysis indicates that this should be for case 31A.




W e R S f U j F g E




f m j h F g



e E j F


aA' as a function of Initial Arc Length

1.00 0.80

Cases1-6 Cases 7-12 Cases 13-19 Cases 20-26 31A, 29, 28 Cases 30W-36 20.00 40.00 60.00

0.60 0.40 0.20 0.00 0.00

Initial Arc Length






CAPTIONS TO FIGURES Figure 1. Motion of a cylinder through a resisting medium. Figure 2. Diagram for Newtons analysis of the motion of a cycloidal pendulum through a resisting medium (Principia, Book II, Proposition 30) Figure 3. Detail of Figure 2. Figure 4. Simplified version of Figure 2. Figure 5. Graphical summary of Newtons results for cycloidal pendulums moving through resisting mediums (Cases 1-36) Figure 6. Newtons diagrams for his solution to Problem VI (Principia, Book II, Proposition 29).