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Isaac Newton's Guide to Life (by Paul W. Smith)

April 30, 2012

You are probably well acquainted with gravity.  What goes up must come down.  Unless you are an astronaut, you will spend your entire life under its spell.  It is such a constant presence that we seldom ponder the mystery of it.  The sun rises, our next breath follows the last, and things always – always – fall down.

                                                       

Galileo the experimentalist rolled musket balls down ramps and enlisted musicians, with their steady beat, to time them (there were no stop-sundials).  Newton the mathematician introduced symbolic logic and moved the debate from the lab to the chalkboard.  Einstein spent his life trying to jam it into his General Theory of Relativity.  In spite of the intellectual firepower that has rained down on gravity, its inscrutability remains intact.

 

Einstein saw gravity as a curvature of space-time, while Newton defined it as a force.  The practical money these days is riding on Newton.  As long as you’re not driving down the interstate at or near the speed of light, Newton is the safe bet.  Not only did he come up with a workable definition of gravity, Newton also wove it elegantly into his three laws, the ones that undergraduate physics students walk around campus mumbling to themselves.    Those who seek to understand the primal interplay between gravity, work and energy had best start with Mr. Newton. 

 

The thing about gravity is this; if you don’t fight it, it always takes you to the same place.  Down.  Resisting gravity, working against it, raising things to a new level creates potential.  Newton had equations to show that the harder you push, the further you go, the more potential you generate.  Working hard generates energy; working harder generates more.  It’s simple physics. 

 

When I was a mechanical engineering professor, I would tell my students to be on the lookout for Newton’s Laws in action wherever they might be.  Not only is this a good way to learn about the world, but it was also how I came up with exam questions. 

 

Gravity is more than just another implement for torturing undergraduates.  It has long been a metaphor for things of great significance in life; in times of turmoil and emotional stress, at life-altering turning points, we are awash in the gravity of the situation.  These grave intervals will plague us, all the way to the grave.  Aggravating though this is, it is inevitable.

 

In the spirit of the Four Noble Truths, or the Ten Commandments, herewith are the Four Basic Laws, the physics of life, according to Isaac Newton:

  • Big, heavy things are hard to get away from.The further away you get, the easier it becomes.

  • If you act against someone or something, sooner or later they will act back.

  • If you are moving along in a rut, chances are you will stay there unless you do something different.

  • Life often pulls you in a particular direction; going against it is hard and takes more work, but the end result is an increase in potential.

Much is written of the valuable resources on this Earth that are dwindling.  Oil, rare-earth metals – we fear these because we sense they are correlated to price, thus impacting our lifestyle.  Though often overlooked, the most precious resource of all is potential.

 

Great prophets (Jesus, Buddha, et al.) were challenged at some point to identify the single most important of their guiding principles.  For Isaac Newton, it might be this; no matter where you go or what you do, Non caveat gravitas adepto te descendant.

 

 

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life.  In addition to being a regular contributor to LoveMyTool, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics.  Paul has over 40 years

 of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders.  His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

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