Newton had a hunch that the world in the small was like the world in the large. He wasn’t the first to believe in atoms. Newton could only guess that the particles composing air were spherical. Conventional wisdom counseled the opposite, that the particles were vastly different shapes and sizes. So Newton represents a familiar theme in the advance toward modern theories; there was a huge theoretical gap between what Newton knew and what he concluded. He made a significant guess, the hunch proved accurate, and the guess paid off. This corpuscular hunch was important not because the evidence for it was great, but because believing it moved the fields of physics and chemistry forward. By the 1740s, a few additional insights advanced the physics of motion and of gases squarely in front of truth’s target. It was now harder to miss the target, no matter what methodology was used.
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