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The prehistory of the classical or Newtonian conception of time, and with it of simultaneity, did not start with Gassendi’s revision of the Aristotelian theory of time. It can at least be traced back to the kinematical theories of the socalled Calculatores of the Merton School in Oxford, which flourished in the early fourteenth century. One may even claim that, strictly speaking, certain Greek kinematicians, like Autolycus of Pitane, who flourished about 310 B.C., or other ancient authors of purely kinematical treatises, who used the notion of time as logically prior to motion, anticipated its classical conception. In any case, by presenting time as the independent variable in their graphical representations of uniform or accelerated motions, as, for example, in the famous Merton theorem of uniform acceleration (or mean-speed theorem), the members of the Merton School, like Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, and John Dumbleton, prepared the ground for Galileo’s kinematics. In Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche intorno à due Nuove Scienze (1638), especially in the chapter entitled “Third Day” containing his kinematics , Galileo made frequent, though mostly implicit, use of the concept of simultaneity without defining it. He obviously assumed that the reader knows C H A P T E R F I V E The Concept of Simultaneity in Classical Physics its meaning from his everyday language. The Discorsi, in turn, served as the source of Isaac Newton’s kinematical theorems in his writings on mechanics. Newton’s conception of absolute time, however, was primarily influenced by Isaac Barrow’s Lectiones Geometricae (1669), which he reportedly revised and edited in the same year in which Barrow resigned his chair as Lucasian professor at the University of Cambridge to Newton. Because Newton’s conception of simultaneity is intricately connected with the notion of absolute time, and because his notion of absolute time is based on Barrow’s philosophy of time, it is appropriate to discuss, in brief, Barrow’s theory of absolute time. Barrow’s philosophy of time appears to have been strongly influenced by the philosophy of space of his colleague, the Cambridge Platonist Henry More, who was fifteen years his senior. In particular, More’s conception of space as the omnipresence of God must have greatly appealed to Barrow, who had been a theologian before his appointment as professor of geometry in 1662. In addition, More’s anti-Cartesian separation of space from matter and his argument for the reality of space from its measurability, as presented in his Antidote against Atheism (1653), must have greatly appealed to Barrow, who as a mathematician declared repeatedly that the object of science is quantity. It is not surprising, therefore, that just as More liberated space from its Cartesian bondage with matter, so Barrow disjoined time from its Aristotelian conjunction with motion. In Lectiones Geometricae Barrow wrote, repeating More’s argument of the eternity of space, though without mentioning More’s name: “Just as space existed before the world was created and even now there exists an infinite space beyond the world (with which God coexists) . . . so time exists before the world and simultaneously with the world (prius mundo et simul cum mundo).” He then asked whether the notion of time implies the concept of motion and answered: “Not at all as far as its absolute, intrinsic nature is concerned. . . . Whether things run or stand still, whether we sleep or wake, time flows in its even tenor (aequo tenore tempus labitur). Even if all the stars would have remained at the places where they had been created, nothing would have been lost to time (nihil inde quicquam tempori decessisset). The temporal relations of earlier, afterwards, and simultaneity, even in that tranquil state, would have had their proper existence (prius, posterius, simul etiam in illo transquillo statu fuisset in se).”1 This passage, in which Barrow Concepts of Simultaneity in Classical Physics 69 1I. Barrow, Lectiones Opticae & Geometricae (London: Scott, 1674). Lectiones Geometricae (reprinted: Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1976), p. 3. 70 Concepts of Simultaneity speaks of the “absolute . . . nature of time,” which “flows in its even tenor,” has historical importance. It is probably the first attribution of the predicate “absolute” to the concept of time and reverberates in Newton’s Scholium to his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which reads: “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.”2 Whether Newton’s use of the term “absolute time” resulted from his study of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801889530
Related ISBN
9780801884221
MARC Record
OCLC
213306047
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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