This is a soft question about the history of physics.

In Newton's time, electrical and magnetic phenomena (such as amber attracting things or the alignment of compass needles) were well known. Yet I couldn't find anything about Newton having studied them. Does anybody know why?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Newton seems to refer to magnetism a couple of times in the Principia, he explicitly mentions it in Optics and he seems to have used magnets in experimental studies. That he didn't go very far with this is not particularly surprising: forces between permanent magnets are messy and he was centuries away from precision electromagnetic measurements, which make things much clearer. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jul 3, 2016 at 0:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In the parallel world where he did, he ended up discovering Special Relativity, which led to modern physics being developed centuries earlier. A nuclear war broke out in the year 1803, wiping out modern civilization. That's why in our branch Newton become disinterested in this topic. $\endgroup$ Jul 3, 2016 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ This question is likee why dint galileo study nuclear physics $\endgroup$
    – user29978
    Jul 3, 2016 at 0:45

1 Answer 1


Please note that this is not so much an answer as an extended comment.

At this website (which is the Google Book website for Contemporary Newtonian Research by Z. Bechler) it says

It is well known that Newton became convinced towards the end of his life that electricity played a vital role in the operations of nature. In the famous final paragraph of the Scholium Generale that he added to the second edition of the Principia, published in 1713, he wrote of “a certain most subtle spirit which pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies.” It was this active spirit that gave rise, he supposed, to the electrical attractions and repulsions that manifested themselves at sensible distances from most bodies after they had been rubbed, as well as to the cohesion of particles when contiguous. In addition, he surmised, it was the agency responsible for the emission, reflection, refraction, inflection and heating effects of light; and by its vibrations in “the solid filaments of the nerves,” it carried sensations to the brain, and commands of the will from the brain to the muscles in order to bring about bodily motion.

So Newton did think about electricity. The real question is why didn't he keep thinking about it. CuriousOne succinctly describes the reason for this in the comments.

Hope this helps!

  • $\begingroup$ Edison did discover the "Edison Effect" which is named for him. He found that what are now known as electrons can be given off by a heated grid in an evacuated tube. Although Edison himself did not personally develop this effect very much, it eventually led to the development of vacuum tube technology by others. $\endgroup$
    – user16622
    Jul 3, 2016 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ @user16622 Did Edison discover it? Or did one of his genius-slaves discover it and he stole the credit for it? $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Jul 3, 2016 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ The Edison Effect was observed prior to Edison's work, and at best he can be credited with the effect's rediscovery. For good or ill, the phenomenon still bears his name in the annals of science. $\endgroup$
    – user16622
    Jul 3, 2016 at 21:58

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