Newton's Rejection

[From Bill Powers (951121.0600 MST)]

Bruce Abbott (951120.1220 EST) --

     Dear Mr. Newton:

     We regret to inform you that you paper, "A Theory of Objects in
     Motion," has been rejected for publication in the _Proceedings of
     the Royal Society_. While the new theory described in your article
     is provocative and clearly worth developing further, two of our
     reviewers were very concerned with your introduction of "gravity"
     as the key explanatory concept for bodies falling toward the Earth,
     pendulum motion, and planetary orbits. As you must be aware, this
     notion implies a mysterious ability of objects to influence each
     other from considerable distances through empty space. Our
     reviewers felt that the introduction of such a notion into your
     otherwise excellent analysis fatally damages your theory, for it
     represents a return to mysticism, which modern science has

Bruce, I found a note stuck to the back of the letter I posted
yesterday, presumably a copy of a reply from I.N. to someone, perhaps
the editor who rejected his article (the first and last parts of the
page are torn off as if by great force).

     ... irresponsible buffoons undeserving of positions of power. Had
     you read the words I used, sir, you would have realized that I
     never proposed the existence of a ponderable thing called "gravity"
     (wherever did you get that bastardised word, which I have never
     heard to be used by any person?), but only a process called
     gravitation, a term which any sixth-former knows means a tendency
     to move toward, or gravitate toward, something. It may be the
     custom of the uneducated to refer to a process (that is, that which
     proceeds) as if it were a physical thing, but I assure you, sir,
     that it is not mine.

     I have said most clearly that two objects tend to accelerate toward
     each other as if each is acted upon by a force proportional to the
     products of their masses and the inverse of the square of the
     distance separating them. Why they do this I know not nor do I
     conjecture, nor offer any impertinent suggestions about the cause.
     I do not make such hypotheses. I stated a law of gravitation, a law
     being merely an observation of the habit of matter in its
     movements. I have given an exacting form to this law, which, when
     applied to sundry celestial bodies, predicts their movements most
     nicely in a manner exceeding condensed. So, Sir, I offer you and
     your reviewers the opportunity to take your opinions and ....



Bill P.

[From Bruce Abbott (951121.1110 EST)]

Bill Powers (951121.0600 MST) --

I can well understand Newton's frustration over his treatment by those
reviewers and the editor, who clearly were demanding of him details that
were neither necessary to the theory nor possible for him to supply in his
day. Gravitation could only be inferred from empirical observation; it
could not be deduced from mechanism. Even so, one could use the empirical
law of gravitation to explain other observations in which gravitation would
be expected to play a part.

Newton's situation was very much like those of the reinforcement theorists
of the twentieth century, although Newton had the advantage of studying a
much simpler system whose empirical relationships were easily measured and
stable across a wide variety of conditions. Both built their theoretical
system on an empirical relationship. Newton refers to the "process of
gravitation," reinforcement theorists to the "process of reinforcement."
Neither theory requires the theorist to explain the process itself; both
then use the empirically-inferred process to explain other phenomena in
which the process appears to operate.

Newton was able to provide a quantitative model of great power, beginning
with that simple relationship between gravitational attraction, mass, and
distance. The reinforcement theorists went searching for an equally stable
relationship from which the "attraction" of the reinforcer could be
computed. What they found was a bewildering complexity of relationships
involving such factors as delay-to-reinforcement, amount, "establishing
operations," extra-experimental sources of reinforcement, response "cost,"
and on and on. Furthermore, what was being measured, as these theorists
recognized, was not some fixed property of external events, but the effect
of those events on the organism: the "attractiveness" of the reinforcer is
not an inherent property of the object or event, but a relationship between
the properties of the object/event, the context in which they appear, and
the internal organization and current state of the organism. What they were
able to discover was a series of quantitative empirical relationships that
hold approximately under very specific experimental conditions, but which
are subject to change when those conditions are altered.

If reinforcement theorists failed to achieve results comparable to Newton's,
it was not because they failed to adopt his approach.