Query 31

In famous publications, Query 31 is the final query or “quest” appended to the third book of the 1718 edition of English physicist Isaac Newton’s 1704 Opticks, the main point of which is as follows:

Is it not for want of an attractive virtue between the parts of water () and oil, of quick-silver ()(Hg) and antimony ()(Sb), of lead ()(Pb) and iron ()(Fe), that these substances do not mix; and by a weak attraction, that quick-silver ()(Hg) and copper ()(Cu) mix difficultly; and from a strong one, that quicksilver ()(Hg) and tin ()(Sn), antimony ()(Sb) and iron ()(Fe), water () and salts, mix readily?
Isaac Newton (1718), “Query 31” of Optics

wherein, a preliminary verbal outline of the laws of chemical attraction and dissociation were outlined, thus acting to launch affinity chemistry, through the construction of Geoffroy's affinity table, made by French chemist French chemist Étienne Geoffroy during a translation into French of the 1718 edition of Newton's Opticks, and thereafter, it is said, the chemical revolution. [1]
Query 31 (1730)
Opening paragraph to Query 31 of Book III of the 1730 edition of Newton's Opticks. [12]

In 1686, Isaac Newton, in the preface to his Principia, commented:

“I wish we could derive the rest of the phenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they may all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other.”

This paragraph can be seen as the draft-outline to Query 31. This can be compared to the opening paragraph of the Query shown adjacent. To corroborate, Newtonian biographer Richard Westfall specifically states that Query 31 was drafted in various parts of the Principia: [11]

Newton had composed an early draft of what later became familiar as Query 31 of the Opticks, in the papers composed with the Principia (1686-87).”

The logic expressed here is that Query 31, Newton's final lifetime query into the puzzles of nature, are the product of his final thoughts on his earlier 1686 mentions of how chemical phenomena may depend on the attractions and repulsions of "certain forces by which the particles of bodies either cohere in regular forms or are repelled and recede from each other."

In 1692, Newton, according to Spanish chemist and journalist Xavier Duran, wrote Query 31 in draft notes: [13]

“Newton, who had already come up with an explanation for the attraction of bodies, went on to propose that the laws of gravitational attraction and of magnetism and electricity could be extended to the union and separation of substance and gave examples of the reactions between alkalis and acids. In the only article he published on chemistry—written in 1692 but published in 1710—and issues 31 and 32 of Optics, he proposed the existence of a very powerful force between the particles of substances, which varied from one species to another. He even put forward a short list of six metals ordered by priority on replacing one another when dissolved in nitric acid.”

Query 31, to note, is also said to contain the most detailed description of Newton’s ‘shell theory’, his description of the relation of gravity to chemical affinity in the outward layers of the earth. [10]
Queries (construction timeline)
The timeline of the growth of the Queries. The first edition of the Opticks (1704) contained sixteen queries. A further seven were added to the first Latin edition of 1706. Eight more were added to the second English edition of 1717. The numbering of the queries change in the 1717 edition; which makes their identification somewhat confusing. The arrangement of the queries is summarized in the above diagram, with the arrows indicating continuity. [8]

In historical summary of Newton’s Opticks, American mathematician Kevin Brown notes that the Opticks, itself, was published the year following English physicist Robert Hooke’s reaction end (1703), a layover of the thirty-year debate with Hooke, the head of the Royal society, who had criticized Newton's writings on optics when they were first communicated to the Society in the early 1670's. [6]

In the years preceding 1704, Newton had personally entertained a great many bold hypotheses, including a number of semi-mystical hermetic explanations for all manner of things, not to mention his painstaking interpretations of biblical prophecies. Most of these he kept to himself, but when he finally got around to publishing his optical papers, the year after Hooke had died, in which Newton then became head of the Royal Society, supposedly said to have secretly destroyed all paintings of Hooke held by the Society, he couldn't resist including a list of 31 "Queries" concerning the big cosmic issues that he had been too reticent to address publicly before.

In introducing the function of the queries, Newton comments tersely that he had originally planned on repeating his experiments and investigations concerning the action of the rays of light in bodies, but that:

“I was interrupted, and cannot now think of taking these things into further consideration. Since I have not finished with this part of my design, I shall conclude with proposing only some queries, in order to farther search to be made by others.”
Title page of Newton's Opticks, the third book of which contains the 'Queries' (and the famous Qu. 31).

The Queries are said to contain some of Newton’s most influential and speculative writing. Newton, aside from the above note, presents them without header title and essentially without explanation. Only in his 1715 Account, did he give them a summary mention: [9]

“Mr Newton in his Optiques distinguished those things which were made certain by Experiments from those things which remained uncertain, and which he therefore proposed in the End of his Optiques in the form of Queries.”

The true nature of these "queries" can immediately be gathered from the fact that every one of them is phrased in the form of a negative question, as in "Are not the Rays of Light very small bodies emitted from shining substances?" Each one is plainly a hypothesis phrased as a question. [6]

The first edition of The Opticks (1704) contained only 16 queries, but when the Latin edition (1706) came out Newton was emboldened to add seven more, making for a list of 23 big ‘questions’. In the second English edition, supposedly, the list was up to 24.

It is said that in Query 28, Newton begins to introduce his particle theory as differing from that of Rene Descartes. It begins with the rhetorical question, as all the queries do, "Are not all Hypotheses erroneous in which Light is supposed to consist of Pression or Motion propagated through a fluid medium?" In this query, Newton rejects the Cartesian idea of a material substance filling in and comprising the space between particles. Newton preferred an atomistic view, believing that all substances were comprised of hard impenetrable particles moving and interacting via innate forces in an empty space.

Query 31
In 1717/18, Newton, in the in the revised English edition, expanded on this atomic theory chemistry logic, to introduce what is now known as the famous "31st Query" that, over the next two hundred years, stimulated a great deal of speculation and development on theories of chemical affinity. The final pages of The Opticks are devoted to Query 31, which begins: [2]

“Have not the small particles of bodies certain powers, virtues, or force, by which they act at a distance, not only upon the rays of light for reflecting, refracting, and inflecting them, but also upon one another for producing a great part of the phenomena of nature? ... We must learn from the phenomena of nature what bodies attract one another, and what are the laws and properties of attraction, before we enquire the cause which the attraction is performed.”

Newton goes on to speculate that the force of electricity operates on very small scales to hold the parts of chemicals together and govern their interactions, anticipating the modern theory of chemistry. To cite the core example of Newton’s description of a gradient of affinity reactions, he states: [4]

Is it not for want of an attractive virtue between the parts of water () and oil, of quick-silver ()(Hg) and antimony ()(Sb), of lead ()(Pb) and iron ()(Fe), that these substances do not mix; and by a weak attraction, that quick-silver ()(Hg) and copper ()(Cu) mix difficultly; and from a strong one, that quicksilver ()(Hg) and tin ()(Sn), antimony ()(Sb) and iron ()(Fe), water () and salts, mix readily?

Most of Query 31 is devoted to an extensive (20 pages) enumeration of chemical phenomena that Newton wished to cite in support of this view. [6] He outlines variations of attractions between different alchemical species, asking lots of questions along the way, thus initiating the logic of affinity gradients and preferences.

Geoffroy's affinity table 400px
French chemist Étienne Geoffroy's 1718 affinity table, build using the "verbal" descriptions of affinity gradients in Query 31 to construct the world’s first affinity table. [3]
Geoffroy's affinity tables
See main: Geoffroy's affinity table, Affinity table, Elective affinity, etc.
The publication of Newton's famous Query 31, resulted in the construction of the world's first affinity table, and from from this, it is said, the chemical revolution was launched. In particular, in 1718, during a translation into French of Newton’s Opticks, French chemist Étienne Geoffroy used the descriptions of affinity gradients in Query 31 to construct the world’s first affinity table. [3] In the years to follow many more affinity tables were built culminating in the construction of Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman’s 1775 table, in his textbook A Dissertation on Elective Attractions, containing 55-rows and 50-columns of chemical species. [4] Form these tables is where the logic the chemical reaction emerged.

Affinity, heat, free energy
To note, if Newton had never written his famous Query 31, it is unlikely that he great 19th century debate between, on one side, Danish chemist Julius Thomsen and French chemist Marcellin Berthelot and, on the other side, thermodynamicists such as Hermann Helmholtz, Walther Nernst, Fritz Haber, Theophile de Donder, or Gilbert Lewis, among others, on the issue of the "true measure of affinity", would have every taken place, and the science of chemical thermodynamics may have not progressed to its current stature. [5]

1. (a) Muir, Matthew M.P. (1907). A History of Chemical Theories and Laws (ch. XIV: Chemical Affinity, pgs. 379-430). Wiley.
(b) Kim, Mi Gyung. (2003). Affinity, That Elusive Dream – A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
2. Newton, Isaac. (1704). Opticks: a Treatise on the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colors of Light (Query 31, pgs. . London.
3. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two) (section: Affinity theories: 1687-1808, pgs. 380-95) (preview), (Google books). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
4. Bergman, Torbern. (1775). A Dissertation on Elective Attractions. London: Frank Cass & Co.
5. Nye, Mary J. (1993). From Chemical Philosophy to Theoretical Chemistry: Dynamics of Matter and Dynamics of Disciplines: 1800-1950 (section: From Chemical Affinity to Chemical Thermodynamics, pgs. 116-20). University of California Press.
6. Brown, Kevin. (2010). Reflections on Reality (contents) (ch. 8.2: Newton’s Cosmologic Queries, pgs. 559-67). MathPages.com.
7. Newton, Isaac. (1717). Opticks: or, A Treatise on the Reflections, Refractions, and Inflections and Colours of Light (382-pgs). W. Bowyer for W. Innnys.
8. Gjertsen, Derek. (1986). The Newton Handbook (Queries, pgs. 519-). Taylor & Francis.
9. Hall, A. Rupert (1980). Philosophers at War (pg. 312). Cambridge University Press.
10. Newman, William R. (2003). Gehennical Fire: the Lives of George Starkey, an American (shell theory, pg. 233). University of Chicago Press.
11. Westfall, Richard S. (1994). The Life of Isaac Newton (pg. 153). Cambridge University Press.
12. Newton, Isaac. (1730). Opticks (Query 31, pgs. 350-). London: Printed for W. Innys.
13. Duran, Xavier. (2012). “Goethe and the Affinity between Chemistry and Literature: Molecules and Divorce in a Romantic Novel”, Mètode, Annual Review.

External links
The Queries – Wikipedia.

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