You know how during study sessions, you sometimes want to exclaim, “I hate the guy who started this!” when a difficult concept comes up? Well, for a lot of suffering calculus and physics students, the focal point of their grudge would be Sir Isaac Newton.
Often dubbed as one of the “fathers of physics” (the others being Galileo and Einstein), Newton’s contributions helped lay the groundwork for modern physics. For that, he is remembered today as one of the most influential figures of all time.
The Life of Sir Isaac Newton
Some would consider Galileo the father of classical physics, and that Newton its son and heir. So it’s only fitting that Newton was born in the same year that his predecessor died. Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe in 1643. Early in his life, he experienced events that may have scarred him.
For one, he never knew his father. Three months before he was born (on January 4), his father and namesake had died. Then, when he was three years old, his mother, Hannah Ayscough, all but abandoned him. He was left in the care of his grandmother, while his mother remarried and moved to another village.
His mother, twice widowed, eventually came back for him. She even wished he would manage their farm. However, by then, Newton had already displayed a promising future as an intellectual. The subject of rural life was dropped, and he continued his studies at Grantham School.
His stay at Cambridge was one rife with intellectual pursuit. He read Aristotle and Descartes. But as notable as his years studying in Cambridge was, it’s outweighed by the years he spent out of it.
In 1665, Europe was suffering through the Great Plague, causing Cambridge to close for two years. Newton spent this time in examination. It was during this time that he built the foundation for most of his theories.
After the plague, Newton went back to Cambridge to continue his studies. Eventually, he received his Master’s Degree. A year after that, he would succeed Isaac Barrow as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.
Isaac Newton is known for having a temper and an inability to handle criticism. As such, his life is peppered with feuds. The most famous of his enemies are Robert Hooke, who challenged him on life and colors; and Gottfried Leibniz, who Newton accused of stealing his unpublished ideas on calculus.
Later on in his life, after he had become a prominent figure in natural philosophy, Newton entered the public sphere as a politician. As a politician, he is remembered for fighting against the re-Catholization of Cambridge University.
He also saved the British currency by methodically responding to the increasing number of counterfeiters at the time. Later, he was elected as president of the Royal Society, where he began work on cementing his reputation.
It was while dining with fellow Royal Society member, William Stukeley, that Newton would first share the infamous story of the falling apple that would lead him to his conclusions on gravity.
Isaac Newton died at the age of 84, leagues away from the premature baby that people assumed wouldn’t survive a day. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The Legacy of Sir Isaac Newton
The story of the apple alone is a testament to his legacy. But Isaac Newton brought more to the world than a mere anecdote.
His greatest legacy, perhaps, is the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. It is with this paper that Newton introduced both the Law of Universal Gravitation and the Three Laws of Motion.
The former supposes that the force with which any matter particle attracts another depends on its mass and the distance between them.
While the other…well, the other is practically an oath that every physics student the world over has memorized. This work became the basis for both modern engineering and physics.
But there is so much more to learn from him. In the field of optics, he discovered that white light is composed of a spectrum of colors during the plague years. He also invented reflecting telescopes by substituting the lenses with mirrors. The experiments he conducted were further detailed in his second book, Opticks.
And that feud with Leibniz? That was to determine who created the field of calculus. Newton’s work, On the Methods of Series and Fluxions, predates the work done by Leibniz. It is, then, usually considered as the work that birthed calculus. Although, today, they’re both considered as fathers of the field (despite Newton’s active effort in the Royal Society to get full credit).
Notwithstanding being a bit of a quirky character, Sir Isaac Newton has a lot of knowledge to share. So whenever you feel overwhelmed, just remember: Isaac Newton suffered through exhaustion and a nervous breakdown, too. It’s even recorded sometime in 1693.
So, relax. Take a break. While you’re at it, why not read some famous quotes from this great man? It might help set your mind at ease.
Isaac Newton Quotes
“Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.” – Isaac Newton
“No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.” – Isaac Newton
“As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.” – Isaac Newton
“A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true.” – Isaac Newton
“What goes up must come down.” – Isaac Newton
“The more time and devotion one spends in the worship of false gods, the less he is able to spend in that of the True One.” – Isaac Newton
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Isaac Newton
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” – Isaac Newton
“Plato is my friend — Aristotle is my friend — but my greatest friend is truth.” – Isaac Newton
“If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” – Isaac Newton