31 Mar, 2021

Rene Descartes – philosopher, mathematician, physicist

René Descartes was born on March 31, 1596 in the city of Lae (now Descartes), Indre-et-Loire department, France. His mother died when the boy was only a year old. Descartes’ father was a city judge in Rennes, so he rarely appeared in Lae. The boy was raised by his maternal grandmother. As a child, Rene was distinguished by fragile health and incredible curiosity.

He received his primary education at a Jesuit college. Religious education served as an impetus for the growth of the young Descartes’ skeptical distrust of the then philosophical authorities. Later he formulated his method of cognition: deductive (mathematical) reasoning over the results of reproducible experiments.

For some time he was in the military and traveled. In 1628-1649 he lived in Holland. Nevertheless, mathematical precision and logic brought him into the bosom of science. His scientific research in physics relates mainly to mechanics, optics and the structure of the universe.

Descartes introduced the concept of a measure of motion (momentum), meaning by it the product of the mass of a body by the absolute value of its speed, formulated the law of conservation of motion, but interpreted it without taking into account that the momentum is a vector quantity (1664). He studied the laws of impact, first clearly formulated the law of inertia (1644). He suggested that atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing altitude.

In 1637 he laid the foundation for optics as a science, publishing “Dioptrics”, which contained the laws of the propagation of light, reflection and refraction, the idea of ​​ether as a carrier of light, an explanation of the rainbow. The first one mathematically derived the law of refraction of light (experimentally this law was established around 1621 by W. Snellius). Gave the theory of magnetism.

In mathematics, Descartes was the first to introduce in 1637 the concept of a variable quantity and function, and laid the foundations of analytical geometry. In the doctrine of knowledge, he was the founder of rationalism.

He strove to build a general picture of nature, in which all physical phenomena would be explained as a result of the movement of large and small particles formed from a single matter. But, unable to rely on sufficient experimental material, Descartes abused hypothetical constructions.

In 1649 Rene Descartes moved to Stockholm, where he died on February 11, 1650.