An important moment, in fact the important moment, in the development of modern science was the publication of Newton’s Principia in 1687.  The Royal Society refused to bear the expense of its publication, so Newton was eventually forced to approach one Joseph Streater, whose normal undertakings were pornographic.  Despite this, however, it was not long before the Principia was recognized as the supreme example of the experimental method.  Its explanation of a vast range of data by a few simple laws, its fulfilled predictions of the presence of planets and comets which had not previously been observed, or even suspected, and its mathematical elegance marked it out as without peer.  This, it was thought, was the supreme description of a universe of material corpuscles marshalled into perfect order by rational laws, the final nail in the coffin of the Medieval metaphysical cosmic order.  People went on believing in a corpuscular ether in fact until the end of the nineteenth century, when the Michelson Morley experiment finally despatched it to its much deserved grave.  This was Descartes’ vision of a clockwork nature brought to absolute perfection.  Here was the model of the absolutely mechanical universe that was to develop into the cosmology of Laplace, in which there were no mysteries and no room for God, because everything was totally explicable by reason   In actual fact, however, The Principia was the supreme example of the exact opposite, its reception a wonderful instance of the way scientists are apt to interpret and then develop even the most recalcitrant data within the framework of existing paradigms.   


Astonishingly, few seemed to notice that the essence of Newton’s theory was a connection between material elements that was anything but contiguous, and depended essentially on action at a distance.  So imbued were most seventeenth century scientists with the corpuscular concept of a matter which was wholly material, in a universe from which the metaphysical had been banished absolutely, Newton’s gravity was interpreted just as if the planets were connected to each other by immaterial forces that were nevertheless material, as if with lengths of invisible string, a mode of thought that prevailed until Einstein’s re-interpretation of gravity as a field.  In actual fact – though this is a misnomer for gravity is not a fact but a mystery – if there is anything that shows us that immaterial beings are part of physical reality it is gravity.  Nobody has ever seen, observed, weighed, measured or analyzed gravity, though they have done all those things with its observed effects.  In Descartes’ corpuscular system the corpuscles were essentially dead and statically motionless until they were kicked into motion by an adjacent corpuscle.that had itself been kicked into motion by a previous one.  The essence of Newton’s inertia, which he had inherited from Galileo,  is that bodies are already moving until they are diverted by another body.  Newton’s idea of bodies with intrinsic motion actually took physics back much closer to the ideology, though not to the thought world or the language, of Aristotle with his concept of stones with intrinsic appetite. The idea that was most anathemic to Boyle,  that of a Tao or Wisdom or the Stoic pneuma,  an invisible metaphysical underlying element animating everything in the universe, a blasphemous concept in Boyle’s view because it interfered with God’s direct action on nature,  was exactly what Newton thought, though he did not reveal that to Boyle.  


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