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Lost in Translation...for 300 years: Virginia Tech Philosopher Reinterprets Newton's First Law

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Category: research Video duration: Lost in Translation...for 300 years: Virginia Tech Philosopher Reinterprets Newton's First Law
In a major discovery, philosopher Dan Hoek reveals that Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion has been misinterpreted for over three centuries. The accurate Latin wording of the law is "a body at rest remains at rest, and a body in motion remains in motion, except insofar as it is acted on by external forces," challenging a fundamental concept in physics. Learn how Hoek made the discovery and its implications for physics and society.
People often think that philosophy has nothing to do with science. But actually philosophy and science have everything to do with each other. In fact, for most of its history, science just was philosophy. Isaac Newton was a philosopher. He called himself a natural philosopher. The way I was taught, Newton's first law never really made sense to me. They are no objects, so they're completely free of impressed forces. So why have a law that doesn't apply to anything? So I went to the library to look up Newton's actual original text in Latin to see what Newton actually wrote. What I found out is that Newton's first law doesn't say what we're all told. It says actually the way Newton states the laws is like this. Everybody keeps on going in a straight line, are standing still. Right. So far, that's right. And then he says, except in so far as force is prevented from doing so. Now it may seem like a little hair splitting thing, this wording, except in so far, but it makes a huge difference because this is a law that does apply to objects in the real world. When you have an apple that's rolling along a surface, it will just keep on going in a straight line, except in so far as friction forces and other forces prevented from doing so. Another example, and this is Newton's own example, is a spinning top. Newton says a spinning top just keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning, except to the extent that resistance forces prevented from doing so. For the longest time, I just could not believe that I was really right about this. But it was only when I started looking into the history that the whole thing came together for me. Because then I discovered, right, that the reason why all those smart physicists who had written about it had been wrong about this is because they'd been reading the wrong translation. This find really turned on making the connection between the sciences and the humanities.