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Newton, the Man (1946) (st-and.ac.uk)
52 points by mr_golyadkin 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

Hagiography aside, Newton, the Man was also mean-spirited and would go to great lengths to ensure his "opponents" would suffer. I remember reading that as President of the Royal Society, he politicized the Leibniz Calculus issue so much that even our politicians can pick up a lesson or two :-) [1]

Why am I telling this? Well, I'd like people to realize that our heroes also have flaws and we don't fall to blind hero-worship. There are, after all, lessons to be learnt on how not to be as well :-)


It's not a new observation. Stephen Hawking's biographical section on Newton in A Brief History of Time starts out "Isaac Newton was not a pleasant man."

He also was pretty nasty to Robert Hooke (of Hooke's Law and microscopy fame). Yes, he was probably a better scientist than Hooke, but Hooke wasn't nothing either.

The famous "shoulders of giants" quote has been seen by some as a mean dig at the hunchbacked Hooke.

That might be why when he worked at the Mint he tool the task of finding and prosecuting "coiners" so seriously - even working undercover himself to gather information and running the prosecutions himself:


World's greatest scientist turned undercover crime fighting superhero!

Is there strong evidence that people don't understand this already? There are plenty of lists such as this one pointing out similar people who were immensely talented in some respect.


Yes. Can anyone name a nice scientific genius? It's not a coincidence that these rare individuals aren't agreeable, i.e. not unduly influenced by the concerns/ideas of people around them.

Michael Faraday? From the little I've read about him he seemed to be a pretty nice guy.

Richard Feynman?

Hoo boy. I dunno. Of course I have never come close to meeting the man, but the stories make him seem incredibly cocky and willing to verbally slam people just for fun.

Leonard Susskind who actually worked with Feynman recently said Feynman had ego of the size of mountain.

A notorious philanderer, it is said, though I guess you may have to be nice to be one of those.


I don't think that page on Wikipedia can be the source of your information—it says nothing to support the claim of mean-spiritedness.

You're right.Here's a better source. I have highlighted the relevant passage on my Kindle from the book "A Brief History of Time" and sharing as an image because I can't quite get to post directly as text.


(authored by John Maynard Keynes)

That’s a good recommendation, thanks for the heads-up.

This is a great story indeed, but I have to disagree with it in one respect. I do not think that Newton was the "last of the magicians" because I don't think you have to believe in a personal god in order to have the same sense that creation is a meaningful mystery with "clues laid about the world". Seeing "God" as an impersonal force or schema underlying existence (Spinoza's God) can have an equivalent effect on the inquisitive mind, and many great scientists to this day are driven to much the same treasure hunt as Newton was. It is very much in this sense that Einstein said famously that "God does not play dice".

The truth is that even today Existence remains a great mystery... the most fundamental questions, such as the meaning of quantum indeterminacy, whether or not infinity is a physical quantity, the ultimate nature of space and time, all remain as mysterious as they ever were, and anyone who is driven to explore them is thus as much a magician as Newton was.

Thank you, a great story. One man trying to find the ‘code’ the universe was written with and discovering important parts.

This was likely posted because Michael Nielsen linked to it on his twitter, just for the historical record.

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