Friday, January 6, 2012

Medieval Scholars Applied Math to Physics

The Medieval scholars had no aversion to applying mathematics to physics, which they classified as a "middle sciences," and which, because of their "conclusions about physical matter from mathematical principles, are reckoned rather among the mathematical sciences, though, as to their matter they have more in common with physical [i.e., natural-philosophical] sciences." (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 9, a. 2 ad 3).

Here are some physicists we rarely hear about because of the myth that the Middle Ages were "dark ages":
  • The medieval scientist Thomas Bradwardine determined in 1300 that for uniformly accelerated objects, d = ½ a t², which Fr. de Soto, O.P., (b. ca. 1494) applied to free-falling objects. (Before Galileo!)
  • Jean Buridan (d. ca. 1359) invented the momentum equation: p = m v. Some have proposed naming the unit of momentum after him, where 1 B = 1 kg m/s.
  • The French Bishop Nicole Oresme (d. 1382) determined mean speed theorem of uniformly accelerated body: vavg = vf / 2.
  • Bishop Oresme posed the famous Gedankenexperiment: “I posit that the Earth is pierced clear through and that we can see through a great hole farther and farther right up to the other end where the antipodes [poles] would be if the whole of this Earth were inhabited; I say, first of all, that if we dropped a stone through this hole, it would fall and pass beyond the center of the earth, going straight on toward the other side for a certain limited distance, and that then it would turn back going beyond the center on this side of the Earth; afterward, it would fall back again, going beyond the center but not so far as before; it would go and come this way several times with a reduction of its reflex motions until finally it would come to rest as the center of the Earth....” Quoted by K. V. Magruder from Le Livre du Ciel et due Monde (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), translated by D. Menut, pg. 573.
  • Bishop Oresme wrote (before Galilean relativity): “If air were enclosed in a moving ship, it would seem to the person situated in this air that it was not moved.” Book of the Heavens, Book II chapter 25, from Grant, A Source Book of Medieval Science, pg. 505, Harvard, 1974

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