Saturday, January 30, 2010

Random facts...

I imagine you are all familiar with the Isaac Newton quotation: "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."  Two interesting things about this statement: 1. Newton was paraphrasing an earlier sentiment by Bernard of Chartres:
“We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” quoted in John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon (1159).
and 2. Some science historians (such as John Gribbin, whose book The Scientists is an absolutely fantastic read) have suggested that the comment was not so much an assent to humility, but rather a jibe at Robert Hooke (whose Micrographia firmly established the field of microscopy).  Hooke liked to look at everything he could under the microscope, including oily films, like the kind you sometimes see in puddles that reflect rainbow colored rings.  Several years later, Isaac Newton would describe these rainbow colored rings, with only passing mention of Hooke's work, and the rings would come to be known as "Newton's rings".  Foment ensued, with Hooke writing to Newton, praising him, but subtly hinting that he wanted proper recognition.  Newton replied in a letter containing the famous quote, that also claimed Descartes deserved most of the credit, not Hooke.  Since Hooke was a stooped man with a bit of a hunchback, Gribbin and others have proposed that Newton's use of "the shoulders of Giants" comment was meant to be sarcastic, with Newton implying that not only was Hooke a physically diminutive man, but a "mental pygmy" (The Scientists p. 164) as well.

Without receiving much of the credit, Hooke seems to have contributed to some of Newton's other achievements as well.  For example, Hooke proposed: "That all bodies whatsoever that are put into a direct and simple motion, will so continue to move forward in a streight line, till they are by some other effectual powers deflected..." before Newton claimed it as his 1st law of motion.

1 comment:

  1. i happened to have stumbled on this; it made for an interesting tid-bit. thanks ;) -shelly