Forces and Motion

Newton’s quirks

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 IOP RESOURCES

Newton’s eccentric character is often commented upon. He kept a record of the sins he felt he had committed including:

  • Making a Mousetrap on Thy day
  • Peevishness with my mother
  • Punching my sister
  • Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it
  • Robbing my mother’s box of plums and sugar and
  • Using a fellow student’s towel to spare my own.

Newton predicted that the Day of Judgement could not come before 2060 and would perhaps occur even later. While investigating the formation of colours, Newton reports he took a bodkin and pushed it ‘as neare to the backside of my eye as I could’ causing circles to appear in his vision. After staring at the Sun for an extended period he reported that white paper appeared red when he looked at it with his damaged eye, and green when viewed through a pinhole. During the time Newton served as a member of parliament, the only record of his contribution is a request for a window to be closed. Newton argued that the vapour of comets’ tails might be attracted to the Earth and ‘… so for the conservation of the seas, and fluids of the planets, comets seem to be required’.

Interpreters have observed that Newton’s writing contains a number of alternative conceptions that are similar to those students hold. For example, at some points in his work, Newton implied that forces are transferred between objects during collisions and assumed that the motion of the planets required a centrifugal force.


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