Summary of Jed Buchwald: Isaac Newton and the Philosophy of Science | Lex Fridman Podcast #214

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00:00:00 - 01:00:00

In this podcast, Jed Buchwald discusses the life and work of Isaac Newton, focusing on his contributions to the world of science. He argues that while Newton was a brilliant scientist, he was not the only one working on the principles of science at the time. Buchwald concludes by saying that while science has progressed a great deal since the time of Newton, there is still much to be discovered.

  • 00:00:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the development of scientific concepts and the role of paradigm shifts in progress. He argues that progress does not occur in a linear fashion, but rather through a series of paradigm shifts.
  • 00:05:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the differences between the way that Newton and Thomas Young approached the problem of light diffraction. He argues that while Newton was able to generate a mathematical structure that could not be applied to diffraction, Young was able to deploy calculus forms of mathematics which enabled computations and observations to be melded. He concludes that there is still a place for paradigm shifts in science, but that they are not always created or led by lone geniuses.
  • 00:10:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the history of science, highlighting the contributions of Isaac Newton. He argues that while Newton was a brilliant scientist, he was not the only one working on the principles of science at the time. He also mentions the contributions of other important scientists such as Johannes Kepler and Christiaan Huygens. Buchwald concludes by saying that while science has progressed a great deal since the time of Newton, there is still much to be discovered.
  • 00:15:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the idea of the theory of everything, which is a dream or hope that by probing nature in artificially constructed ways, we can find out what's going on deep down. He argues that this is distinct from science being an observational thing, where you study nature.
  • 00:20:00 Jed Buchwald discusses how he feels about the current state of physics, discussing how he believes that the current understanding of the universe is unique to this particular universe and that it is possible to march backwards in time to explore the beginning of time. Buchwald also discusses a disagreement he had with Stephen Weinberg and how he feels about the reality of the universe.
  • 00:25:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the concept of "objective reality" and how it is difficult to determine what is outside the realm of science. He also discusses the idea of consciousness and how he doesn't believe that anything outside of material structures exists.
  • 00:30:00 Jed Buchwald discusses Isaac Newton's work on optics and how he used mathematics to describe how light behaves. He also mentions how Newton was able to abstract the colors themselves and how his work was important in the development of modern physics.
  • 00:35:00 Jed Buchwald discusses how he came to the conclusion that there are different types of light in sunlight, and how this led to his conception of light as a vectorial entity. He also discusses a controversy he got into with a paper he published on the subject, in which he argued that much of what Newton had written was already known to him.
  • 00:40:00 Isaac Newton was a brilliant scientist who made many contributions to the world of ideas. He was born in England in 1642, and his father died when he was young. His mother later remarried and Newton did not get along with his new stepfather. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he began to focus on deep questions of the nature of the world. He also began to explore mathematical structures to an extent that would later lead to the creation of the calculus. Newton's thoughts turned revolutionary when he began to question the traditional curriculum and began to probe deeper into the process of change. He died in 1727, leaving a legacy of brilliance and innovation.
  • 00:45:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the philosophical questions notebook, which contains discussions of the nature of reality and various issues concerning it, and the wastebook, which contains notes on what scholars refer to as scholastic or neo-scholastic ways of thinking about the world dating back to the reformulation of Aristotle in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas in the Church. He notes that Newton came to the realization that the qualities of the world are not in us, but in shapes of various kinds. This realization, coupled with his skepticism of the evidence provided by the senses, underlies much of his later work.
  • 00:50:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the historical argument between Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler over the nature of vision. Newton argued that humans have poor perceptual acuity, while Kepler argued that humans have better acuity than was previously thought. Buchwald calculates the acuity of human vision using modern tables from NASA and finds that humans have five or more times better perceptual acuity than previously thought.
  • 00:55:00 Jed Buchwald discusses how Isaac Newton's understanding of the human perceptual system may have been poor at the time, and how this led to him developing a different way of thinking about motion.

01:00:00 - 01:50:00

This video discusses how Isaac Newton's work in developing calculus and the binomial theorem led to major advances in physics. Jed Buchwald also discusses how Newton's unique brain structure may have contributed to his genius, and how religion played a role in his life and work.

  • 01:00:00 Jed Buchwald discusses Isaac Newton's role in developing calculus, and how his work led to the binomial theorem.
  • 01:05:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Newton's work led to the realization that the calculations of areas and tangents to curves are reciprocal, and that procedures he developed are still used in physics today. Leibniz independently developed his own form of calculus, which has been controversial as to whether or not he plagiarized Newton. However, Buchwald believes that the vast majority of historians of mathematics do not agree with this claim.
  • 01:10:00 The video discusses the history of scientific competition, focusing on the example of two 19th century physicists, Jed Buchwald and Jean-Baptiste Bio. Buchwald got angry when Bio did different novel things in his area, and Bio eventually became the better scientist. Arago, however, continued to hold animosity and fear of Bio, resulting in a bitter feud. In 1815, Napoleon's victory at Waterloo ended the feud.
  • 01:15:00 The video discusses how Isaac Newton's complicated life may have been due to his unique brain structure. It also discusses how Newton became Warden of the Mint and a significant figure in the development of science.
  • 01:20:00 Jed Buchwald discusses Isaac Newton's work in optics and the philosophy of science. Jed Buchwald notes that Newton was a poor teacher and went home twice during an epidemic to work on his research. Jed Buchwald also notes that Newton's work in optics can be found in his published book, the optics, and that his analysis has been done by a retired professor, Alan Shapiro.
  • 01:25:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the work of Isaac Newton in detail, noting the importance of the Principia Mathematica. Newtons use of limiting procedures and ratios helped him develop a model of the solar system that was largely accurate.
  • 01:30:00 Jed Buchwald discusses how data is used in the scientific method, describing how it is essential to have accurate measurements in order to make accurate predictions. He also discusses how Christian Huygens used data to improve his optical theory.
  • 01:35:00 Jed Buchwald, a famous physicist, discusses the history of alchemy and how it is not entirely true to say that alchemists only tried to create gold. They also learned how to create complex amalgams of various kinds, and many of the so-called "strange-looking" alchemical formulas were actually formulas for how to produce complex amalgams.
  • 01:40:00 Jed Buchwald discusses the influence of religion on Isaac Newton's work and life. Jed argues that religion helped Newton to figure out how the universe works, and that he would not have been able to do so without it.
  • 01:45:00 Jed Buchwald discusses how Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein had productive years, and how this may hint at their genius. He also discusses how intelligence may have evolved on earth, and how this gives him hope.
  • 01:50:00 Jed Buchwald discusses Isaac Newton and the philosophy of science with Lex Fridman. Jed explains how the answers to questions about reality can depend on the questions asked, and how Thomas Kuhn can help to understand this.

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