Newton's Influence on organizational thought LO29253

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/02/02

Dear Complexifiers

Jon Bennett <jonjbenn@AOL.COM> writes

>Who can explain and trace the influence of Newton and
>mechanistic thinking, to organizational dynamics-in a clear
>and concise way-so that the average business man or
>interested bystander can grasp it.
> I think many business leaders and the average Joe have no
>clue of the profound influence of this mechanical model on
>their day to day activities- yet the ghost of Newton and
>Descartes wanders through most every organization, private
>or public.

Greetings Jon,

By now you should have received many replies, most of them making Newton
the villain of modern thinking which fails to solve the problems of modern

Newton was not a mechanistic thinker, not even by a margin as large as the
west separated from the east. It is true that his law of gravitation and
second law of motion were novel discoveries. By means of these two laws
and infinitesimal calculus he showed that the three laws of planetary
motion of Johannes Kepler were outcomes of gravitation.

That he discovered infinitesimal calculus is a contencious issue. Some say
that Leibniz discovered it first. However, much earlier Fermat already
made use of the quotient of differences to find the gradient of curves.

The application of Newton's laws of motion to find the trajectories of any
rigid body other than celestial bodies was the work of Leonhard Euler
(1707-83). He was a mathematical genius, if there ever was one. >From him
also came the name mechanics refering to such a study. Sir Hamilton was
the last innovative contributer to Newtonian mechanics by sort of pulling
the inside of it to the outside and vice versa.

Newton himself was no specialist. He did research on many subjects other
than the motion of bodies. I think here of heat, sound, light, alchemy
(chemistry), history and theology. In none of these cases did he ever
showed any inclinitation to mechanistic thinking, nor applying his laws of
motion to these phenomena. He even became the warden of the mint and a
representative to parliament.

Newton was a great scientist. He had a profound insight into the true
nature of science. Consider for example the following quote:-

   "I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties
    of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for
    whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called
    a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or
    physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no
    place in experimental philosophy."

In enquiring spirit he and Einstein could have been twins as the
following quotation tells:-

   "I know not what I appear to the world, but to myself I seem
    to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and
    diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or
    a prettier shell, whilest the great ocean of truth lay all
    undiscovered before me."

Einstein tells it somewhat differently:-

   "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
    It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this
    emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and
    stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

>Any good references, web resources or thoughts of your own?

The site
< >
has marvelous biographies of many important mathematicans and
scientists. Do yourself a favour and study Newton's biography.

I think we have to seek the cause of mechanistic thinking in something
else than Newton or his work. In his book
"The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God."
Rupert Sheldrake makes a remarkable attempt in tracing the origin(s)
of mechanistic thinking. We can also study more closely the writings
of Peter Senge and Fritoff Capra on this issue.

However, I also think that we have to search for people in the past who
became earlier aware of mechanistic thinking and its consequences. We can
learn a lot from them too. In this regard I think of the German Fritz
Lang's shocking (1926 -- silent, black and white) The Metropolis. In it he
depicts almost with apocalyptic clear vision the year 2000 as a gigantic
machine. Hitler was very impressed by it, but for the wrong reasons. He
asked Lang to make movies which would bring people under the impression
that Nazism will save the world. Lang declined and Hitler, not out of
spite, but because of knowing what he plans for the world, commanded the
confiscation of all copies of the movie.
Personally I think that mechanistic thinking has very much to do with the
way in which people learn. Study, for example, the work of medieval
thinkers who tried to suppress the work of original hinkers and you will
find as much mechanistic thinking in their work as today. And there were
few kinds of machines in those days an no theory at all for machines which
could be blindly followed!

At last, who wrote the following?

   "Are not gross bodies and light convertible into one another;
    and may not bodies receive much of their activity from the
    particles of light which enter into their composition? The
    changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, is very
    conformable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted
    with transmutations."

Best wishes

At de Lange <>
Snailmail: A M de Lange
Gold Fields Computer Centre
Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria
Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa


"AM de Lange" <>

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