But Newton was to go beyond the mechanical approach.

His first work, the Opticks, included major advances in the study of light and concluded that "sunlight is a heterogeneous blend of all colors" and that the appearance of colors was due to the refraction of rays which separated into components. This was demonstrated with his famous experiment with prisms that showed the splitting of the light rays. This work, which "embodied all the standard features of the mechanical philosophy of nature," was of seminal importance. But the truly revolutionary quality of Newton's work did not consist of "his use of deductive reasoning, nor of a merely external form of argument that was presented as a series of demonstrations from first principles or actions."

Aside from the work on light, Newton's two major scientific contributions were the invention of the differential calculus and the book Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. This work, known simply as the Principia, is praised as "the expression of the highest performance ever achieved by the human mind in its struggle for discovering the laws of nature." Newton's immense achievement consisted of combining his "tremendous erudition and as innate ability to perform practical experiments" with mathematical analysis of a kind never employed before.

Newton, unlike many other scientists of the time, kept his work primarily to himself. But when the astronomer Edmond Halley asked him what he believed must be the shape of the planet's orbits--a problem in the calculation of the effect of gravity--Newton immediately replied that they would move elliptically and that he had performed the calculations that proved Kepler's claim that this was true. On receiving Newton's reworked calculations, the amazed Halley "recognizing the tremendous importance of Newton's accomplishment," urged him to publish his work on gravity and the movements of the solar system. In the Principia Ne...

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