A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time

Sir Isaac Newton Character Analysis

Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica 1689, in which he outlined his theories about the celestial bodies, how they move in space and time, and the math to back it all up. He came up with the idea of gravity, a force that is stronger the bigger and closer an object is. He said the image of a falling apple prompted the idea and showed that gravity caused the planets’ elongated orbits. Given this new idea of gravity, which all objects produced, Newton wondered why all the stars didn’t fall in on each other; he did not realize that the universe must be expanding. Working from Galileo’s measurements, Newton produced his laws of motion and gravity. He was troubled by the idea of non-absolute space that his theories prompted, however, as they did not agree with his idea of an absolute God. Newton also believed in absolute time; neither space nor time are now considered as absolute. Though Einstein’s later general theory of relativity was shown to be more accurate at predicting the exact movements of the stars, Newton’s laws are simpler and still accurate enough for daily applications. Newton was also Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, as was Stephen Hawking much later.

Sir Isaac Newton Quotes in A Brief History of Time

The A Brief History of Time quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Isaac Newton or refer to Sir Isaac Newton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Search for a Unifying Theory of the Universe Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam edition of A Brief History of Time published in 1988.
Chapter 1 Quotes

As far as Kepler was concerned, elliptical orbits were merely an ad hoc hypothesis, and a rather repugnant one at that, because ellipses were clearly less perfect than circles. […] he could not reconcile them with his idea that the planets were made to orbit the sun by magnetic forces.

Related Characters: Nicolas Copernicus (speaker), Sir Isaac Newton
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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It is an interesting reflection on the general climate of thought before the twentieth century that no one had suggested that the universe was expanding or contracting. [...] this may have been due to people’s tendency to believe in eternal truths, as well as the comfort they found in the thought that even though they may grow old and die, the universe is eternal and unchanging.

Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 2 Quotes

The Aristotelian tradition also held that one could work out all the laws that govern the universe by pure thought: it was not necessary to check by observation. So no one until Galileo bothered to see whether bodies of different weight did in fact fall at different speeds.

Page Number: 15
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Newton was very worried by this lack of absolute position, or absolute space, as it was called, because it did not accord with his idea of an absolute God. In fact, he refused to accept lack of absolute space, even though it was implied by his laws.

Related Characters: Sir Isaac Newton
Page Number: 18
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Sir Isaac Newton Character Timeline in A Brief History of Time

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Isaac Newton appears in A Brief History of Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
...with the idea that magnetic forces controlled all this movement. It wasn’t until Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica came out in 1687 that an explanation was offered. (full context)
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Newton’s work offered the math to back up his ideas about how things move in space... (full context)
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...there are finite stars in a finite universe, the stars would fall into each other, Newton wrote in a letter to a friend in 1691. But infinite stars spread uniformly across... (full context)
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The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
Even though Newton’s theory showed that the universe was not static, people did not immediately consider that it... (full context)
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...end on a star. Others had made similar arguments, even at the same time as Newton, but Olbers’s objection to Newton’s concept of an infinite, static universe was the first to... (full context)
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The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
...were earth, air, fire, and water is simple, but cannot make any predictions. By contrast, Newton’s theory of gravity, which is determined by mass and distance, is even simpler, but can... (full context)
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...extensions of previous theories. For example, Mercury’s movement diverged slightly from predictions made by applying Newton’s law of gravity. Albert Einstein’s slightly different prediction, via his general theory of relativity, matched... (full context)
Chapter 2
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The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
What we understand today about forces and motion dates back to Galileo and Newton. Before them, people believed Aristotle, who said an object was naturally at rest and only... (full context)
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Newton used Galileo's measurements as the foundation for his laws of motion. He deduced that the... (full context)
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Newton was the first to put this idea forward, in 1687. It is now called Newton's... (full context)
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Newton also discovered the law of gravity, which is the idea that every object attracts every... (full context)
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The main difference between Aristotle's approach and that of Galileo and Newton is the former's idea of the preferred state of rest, meaning an object would remain... (full context)
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Science and Religion Theme Icon
This idea worried Newton, as a lack of absolute space didn't agree with his idea of an absolute God.... (full context)
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Aristotle and Newton both believed in absolute time, meaning the interval of time between two events could be... (full context)
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...but it was still a remarkable achievement, especially as it came 11 years ahead of Newton's Principia Mathematica. (full context)
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This theory gave fixed speeds to different types of light, but Newton's theory had overridden the idea of absolute rest, so that raised the questions as to... (full context)
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...the laws of science were the same for all freely moving observers. This brought together Newton's laws of motion and Maxwell's theories on light. No matter how fast they are moving,... (full context)
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Relativity has changed the way we see space and time forever. Under Newton's theory, observers would agree on how long it took a beam of light to reach... (full context)
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The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
But this theory is inconsistent with Newton's laws on gravity, in which distance is a factor, meaning moving an object would affect... (full context)
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...straight in four-dimensional space-time, it looks like it follows a circular orbit in three-dimensional space. Newton's law of gravity predicted the planets' movements fairly accurately. But the gravitational effects are so... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Newton discovered that by using a prism we can measure the different colors of the light... (full context)
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...a great intellectual revolution that people wondered how it had not been thought of before. Newton should have guessed it, as otherwise the universe would have contracted under the influence of... (full context)
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The Danger of Stubbornness  Theme Icon
People could have realized the universe was expanding from Newton's theory of gravity, but everyone at the time seemed set on believing in a static... (full context)
Chapter 6
Human Curiosity and Ingenuity Theme Icon
...in 1969 to describe an idea that had been around for around 200 years. In Newton’s time, people argued whether light was a particle or a wave, and how gravity would... (full context)