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Newton and the Origin of Civilization$
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Jed Z. Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691154787

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691154787.001.0001

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Interpreting Words

Interpreting Words

(p.246) 8 Interpreting Words
Newton and the Origin of Civilization

Jed Z. Buchwald

Mordechai Feingold

Princeton University Press

More than three decades separate Isaac Newton’s explorations of astronomical chronology and his youthful engagement with problems of perception and measurement. By the time of his first computations in the area, shortly before the publication of the Opticks, Isaac Newton’s understanding of measurement had been refined through years of experimental and computational experience, not the least of which occurred as he worked on the motions of bodies in fluids during the 1680s. The previous decade had given Newton considerable familiarity with words from the past, and he had slowly developed a highly skeptical attitude toward ancient remarks that did not have a continuous textual ancestry, or that reflected what he considered to be unreliable “poetic fancies.” Thus, aiming to produce a compelling argument grounded in computation for his new chronology, Newton faced a treacherous triple problem: he had first to argue that the words with which he worked were originally produced near the time of the Trojan War; then he had to transform these words into astronomical data; finally, he had to deploy a technique for working with what he rapidly learned was a set of extremely discrepant observations. He labored over these problems until his death. This chapter follows Newton as he transformed words and calculated.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, astronomical chronology, antiquity, words, measurement, Trojan War, astronomical data

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