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Science in the Looking GlassWhat Do Scientists Really Know?$
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E. Brian Davies

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199219186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199219186.001.0001

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Mechanics and Astronomy

Mechanics and Astronomy

(p.143) 6 Mechanics and Astronomy
Science in the Looking Glass

E. Brian Davies

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers two related topics. The first is the development of astronomy in the 16th and 17th centuries, culminating in Newton's publication of his laws of motion in 1687; the second concerns the subsequent history of these laws. Observations confirmed the predictions of Newton's theory, and after about 1750 nobody had any doubt that his theory of gravitation provided a true description of the world. However, in the first decades of the 20th century, it was discovered that this certainty was a chimera. Einstein dethroned Newton, and physics moved into a period of flux which has continued ever since. The fact that such a well-established theory could eventually be superseded poses a severe challenge to any theory of scientific knowledge. The chapter recounts the story of the period, selecting the aspects which are most relevant to this matter.

Keywords:   astronomy, Newton, laws of universal gravitation, Einstein, gravity, molecular, Laplace, determinism

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