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From Galileo’s trajectory to Rayleigh’s harp

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A span of nearly 300 years separates Galileo Galilei from Lord Rayleigh—Galileo groping in the dark to perform the earliest quantitative explorations of motion, Lord Rayleigh identifying the key gaps of knowledge at the turn into the 20th century and using his home laboratory to fill them in. But the two scientists are connected by a continuous thread. Three centuries after Galileo discovered the parabolic trajectory, Rayleigh wrote down a fundamentally new equation of motion describing autonomous oscillators that would dominate the field of control theory in the 20th century and ultimately lead to the rise of chaos theory.  The equation’s solution defines a single point that traces out a single continuous curve that arcs through a high-dimensional and abstract space known as phase space. This arc is the distant descendant of Galileo’s parabolic trajectory. The concept of the system trajectory pervades modern science. From genetic drift to ideal gases to photons orbiting black holes,. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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