By Barrack Muluka
The best thing I can do, the only thing in fact, is to apologise to my esteemed readers. I misled my youthful readers especially, in this column, last week. Such is what happens to you when you sink into intellectual complacency.
You make mistakes that can only be described as foolish. When that happens, you have only two things to do – to feel low and to say sorry. Now you see, I was going on and on, with what I called ‘ Einstein’s Laws of Motion.’ Good grace! Of course there is no such thing as ‘ Einstein’s Laws of Motion.’
What there is, are only Newton’s Laws of Motion. Now every child in high school has heard something about Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
They have also heard about Isaac Newton’s three Laws of Motion. Quite often, I get mixed up with the two, despite many years of producing science books for schools on these two gentlemen. I did it again.
Modern ICT correction techniques only made matters worse. Some day I shall tell the whole story. For now what matters is that I owe my readers an apology.
Interestingly, Newton’s ownership of the Laws of Motion is not itself without controversy. Writing in the volume A Hundred Ideas that Changed the World (2011), Prof Frank Close of Oxford University says, “Isaac Newton did not like to share the scientific stage.” He goes on to suggest that it was, in fact, Robert Hooke who first spoke of the Laws of Motion.
In 1674, Hooke published a paper titled “An Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth by Observations.” He wrote in part, “All bodies whatsoever that are put into a direct and simple motion, will continue to move forward in a straight line, till they are by some effectual powers deflected.”
This sounds very much like Newton’s First Law, which says that every body remains in a state of rest or uniform motion, unless it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force. This, Newton published in Principia Mathematica in 1687, some 14 years after Hooke. In any event, the great Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) observed ahead of Newton and Hooke, “A body moving on a level surface will continue in the same direction at a constant speed unless disturbed.”
Does Newton’s conscience appear to have been troubled by thoughts about Hooke? When the Royal Society moved to new premises in 1710, Hooke’s portrait that had hung from the wall in the old place disappeared. It was rumoured that Newton had ordered it destroyed. If his conscience troubled him, does he appear to have made amends when he remarked, “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”? Was Hooke one such a giant?
Whatever the case, Newton is acknowledged as the first person to lay out a set of mathematical equations for the laws of motion. These laws are the foundation of much of physics as we know and teach the subject.
They have informed Albert Einstein’s theories of general relativity, time and space. We who are privileged to communicate on these rare platforms are behooved to do our homework well before coming here to confuse our children with misstatement. I sincerely beg your pardon. Forgive me.
Away from that, there was a time when books I published for our children were rejected by Kenya’s Ministry of Education not because they had misstatement, but because someone was corrupt. I served, in the period 2003 to 2005 as the chairman of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA). I was baptised by fire in the politics of corrupt public procurement.
Someone asked us to present blank book dummies to the Ministry of Education, alongside the actual curriculum material. Mine, at East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), were rejected.