What was Newton's own explanation of Newton's rings? Newton advocated a corpuscular theory of light, but his rings would most conveniently be explained by a wave theory. How did he explain his own discovery?


1 Answer 1


In Isaac Newton's own words, per Proposition XII on p. 78 of Opticks: or, A treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light. Also two treatises of the species and magnitude of curvilinear figures.

Published 1704.

Prop. XII

Every ray of Light in its passage through any refracting surface is put into a certain transient constitution or state, which in the progress of the ray returns at equal intervals, and disposes the ray at every return to be easily transmitted through the next refracting surface, and between the returns to be easily reflected by it.

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    $\begingroup$ Yayks... if we give him a bit of leeway, he basically tried to think about the kernel of a path integral over 300 years before Dirac and Feynman. He missed that one had to consider all possible paths to make it work, of course. :-) $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Mar 28, 2016 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Hackless: You may want to compare that against the Huygens-Fresnel principle en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huygens%E2%80%93Fresnel_principle. One could easily implement both in a ray tracer and see how false Newton was... $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:32
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    $\begingroup$ Newton believed in corpuscles not waves and so his statement above is no more than a restatement of his observations rather than an explanation based on his corpuscular theory of light. $\endgroup$
    – Farcher
    Mar 29, 2016 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ Future visitors to this post should also see this post on HSM.SE, for more detailed context. $\endgroup$
    – 299792458
    Mar 13, 2019 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ This literally makes no sense to me. Did Newton think that this was a clear explanation, or was he just fudging it? $\endgroup$
    – vy32
    Oct 27, 2019 at 15:43

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