The shift from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s theory of relativity

Subject: Science
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 766
Topics: Physics, Albert Einstein, Astronomy

The shift from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s theory of relativity can be described by what Thomas Kuhn popularized as the notion of “paradigm” change. In his highly influential publication, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn argued that paradigm shifts take the shape of a scientific revolution when an unresolved anomaly occurs, leading to a crisis in the normal view of science (Kuhn, 1970). Since a paradigm is the model that forms the basis for scientific research, then scientific evolution from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s theory of relativity is an example of a paradigm according to Kuhn.

Newton’s Theory of Gravitation was the basic paradigm for physics and was universally accepted. Newton held that gravity is universal and introduced the three laws of motion (Michelini, 2010). This theory remained unquestioned until the beginning of the 20th century in 1095, when Albert Einstein introduced his theory of Special Theory of Relativity and shook the foundation of physics. Einstein did not attempt to show that Newtonian Theory of Gravitational was wrong, but demonstrated that the theory had great limitations, whose impact was to reduce it into approximations to reality (Lehmkuhl, 2014). While appealing to the fact that Newton’s physics and his gravitation theory was not false and that Einstein’s theory of relativity is not entirely true, prior research shows that Newtonian physics fit most in the data found in the common existence of people. However, it had a weakness and led to its breakdown when such data involved extreme speed and mass. Moreover, the model is still useful when dealing with diverse areas of life from technology, to construction and engineering among many others.

Newton’s Theory of Gravitation was based on a flat, finite universe, which Einstein felt that had a lot of discrepancies, hence introducing his theory of relativity on a curved space-time. (Mei, & Yu, 2012). Einstein theory is a deeper theory that takes into consideration a greater level of relativity in accounting for gravity. The higher predictive power in the theory provided better truths compared to the prior theory as it replaced the simplified approximations with better precision. For example, Einstein sought to account for the uniformity in the speed of falling objects by introducing the concept of special relativity. This means that there is no such thing as absolute rest/speed, only relative, as demonstrated by the difference in observation between moving and stationery observers. Taking into consideration the extreme speed of light, Einstein postulated that the speed of light is the same regardless of whether the observer is stationary or moving (Lehmkuhl, 2014). In this case, using normal data would be difficult to feel the difference between the two theories as human beings in their normal lives experience less velocities that can be easily accounted for by Newtonian physics.

The paradigm change is further demonstrated by Einstein’s notion of General Relativity, which introduced the principle of equivalence, differentiating between free falling things in uniform acceleration through gravitational force and things such as rockets with uniform acceleration (Lehmkuhl, 2014). This led to a shift in the belief that since situations of mechanism of uniform acceleration and free falling were indistinguishable, then Einstein accounted for both when the gravitational field was weak, and when it was strong, unlike Newton who only accounted for the usual human experience, when the gravitational field in weak. From the General Theory of Relativity, several insights emerged. One of the insights held that unlike in the Newtonian predictions, there was need to change the direction light propagation in the gravitational path. This notion is supported by precision as Einstein accounts for the magnitude and the effect. The other important insights was the introduction of the concept of “red shift” that sought to modify the Newtonian theory by postulating that a wavelength on light coming from a strong gravitational field should have an greater value. All these suggestion to the modification of the Newtonian theory was geared towards using the basis law of physics according to Newton to fix the weaknesses in the Theory of Gravitation.

Through paradigm change, the Einstein’s theory of relativity has replaced Newtonian physics as the dominant paradigm in physics as it is more useful and fits more into current data especially when involving complex data involving extreme units in speed and mass. Worth noting is that fact that the paradigm change did not destroy the Newtonian gravitation theory, but only demonstrated that the theory of relativity was a better approximation to reality that gravitation law. The best current mechanics theory is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but also has limitations, meaning it is also not accurate under certain conditions.

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  1. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  2. Lehmkuhl, D. (2014). Why Einstein did not believe that general relativity geometrizes gravity. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 46, 316-326.
  3. Mei, X., & Yu, P. (2012). Revised Newtonian Formula of Gravity and Equation of Cosmology in Flat Space-Time Transformed from Schwarzschild Solution. International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2(01), 6.
  4. Michelini, M. (2010). Physical Phenomena and Theoretical Problems Explained by the Micro-Quanta Paradigm. Applied Physics Research, 2(2), 90.
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