The real story of Newton and the apple

The first mention of the story of Newton and the Apple came from the book 'The Life of Sir Isaac Newton’ by William Stukeley (1752).

The story of Newton’s apple is possibly one of the best known and most widespread stories in the history of science. According to popular belief, Newton found himself in the shade of an apple tree, reflecting and thinking, when an apple fell on his head and gave him the first idea of his future law of gravity. The manuscript that originally recounted the story of how the British scientist inspired his physical theories from the famous apple, a time known as Newton’s Eureka’ (1643 - 1727) is part of his biography written by his friend William Stukeley in 1752.

In January 2010, this manuscript was first released from the archives of the Royal Society of London. Until now, it had remained hidden in the funds of the ancient London scientific society until the year of its 350th anniversary. Coinciding with the anniversary, the society wanted to carry out the publication of the famous document through its website.

Martin Rees, president of the organisation at the time of the publication (a post also held by Sir Isaac Newton), said that Stukeley’s biography is a precious tool for science historians, and he assured that Internet access to the document “allows anyone to view it as if they had it in their hands”. Since then, many scientific and historical societies have turned the Internet into a new tool for enjoying and examining ancient documents of incalculable value.

As Martin Rees explained, Newton’s biographer, William Stukeley, was a friend and acquaintance of the scientist and witnessed his reflections on the theory of gravity. Both used to sit in the shade of apple trees that Newton had in the garden of his house and spend hours reflecting and debating the current scientific situation. In an excerpt from Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, Stukeley wrote “I was told that I had been in this same situation when the notion of gravity assaulted his mind. It was caused by the fall of an apple while sitting in contemplative attitude. Why does that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground? he asked himself.” 

Even with the information provided in this document, many continue to question the truth of this story. Some think the story of the apple was a small invention of Newton to improve his story and increase his already considerable fame, while others believe that the mythical apple is a metaphor, since this fruit has long been related as a symbol of knowledge (from the apple from the Garden of Eden that Eve ate).

Whether or not an apple planted the gravity seed in Newton, What can be assured is that the British scientist was one of the most important and respected intellectuals of his time and is still considered one today. Alexander Pope has already said this in his epitaph: Nature and its laws were hidden in the night; God said, "Let Newton be done" and the light was made.

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