Editor's comment

Carried away with the success of Newton's laws in predicting the motions of the planets, scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries supposed that mathematical laws could be applied to all particles, even atoms. In such a world-view the universe is completely determined by the first instant of its beginning; since what happened at that moment determined the next moment, and that fixed the next, and so on, to the present and into the future. The result was the paradigm of a clockwork universe where even the actions of people could be predicted if enough were known.

Reading on: the Newtonian world-machine

LaPlace, Pierre, (1749- 1827) A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities Dover, New York 1951 Original publication 1819 [100 words] the clockwork deterministic universe worldview

Consider an intelligence which, at any instant, could have a knowledge of all forces controlling nature together with the momentary conditions of all the entities of which nature consists.

If this intelligence were powerful enough to submit all this data to analysis it would be able to embrace in a single formula the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atoms; for it, nothing would be uncertain; the future and the past would be equally present to its eyes.