chapter  6
27 Pages

The development of inertial motion

The history of mechanics has been extensively investigated in a number of historical works, including classic books such as Mach (1960), Dugas (1988), and Clagett (1961), and scores of articles in various academic journals. The full story from the Greeks and medievals through the Scientific Revolution to the modern era is long and complex. It is also incomplete. Studies to date have been admirably thorough in putting empirical discoveries into proper perspective and in making clear the importance of mathematical innovations. But there has been surprisingly little regard for the role of thought experiments in the development of mechanics. Of course, many historians have rightly stressed the importance of reconceptualization in the history of science and further noted that this process is something different from the observation of new facts. But the focus has not been on thought experiments as the driving force behind such conceptual developments. In neither kinematics nor dynamics have they received their historical due in their ancient, medieval, classical (Newtonian) or modern (Relativity and Quantum Theory) forms, in spite of their obvious importance in the development of each.