Figuring Newton

Updated
Figuring Newton
Figuring Newton

For some weird reason I’ve been running into Isaac Newton on the internet a lot in the past few weeks. To be honest, it’s probably because I’ve been trying to think of new Newt Gingrich headline puns and I keep returning to “Newtonian” so I’ve worked myself into a bias.

My general impression of Newton was as a scowly, Billy-Connolly-looking old guy prone to wearing Dolly Parton wigs (ahem), as was the fashion.

But then I happened upon this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining why Isaac Newton was such a badass. (Go ahead and click, it’s only 2 minutes long.) The bottom line is that a lot of the things that make up our basic understanding of math and physics weren’t part of the human canon before he discovered them 350 years ago (or so).

On Monday, Cambridge University posted Newton’s early notebooks online. And now, knowing what deGrasse Tyson explained, and knowing that not only are we seeing writing from hundreds of years ago but also that we’re seeing the birth of a new level of human understanding of the world around us, well, it’s pretty neat.

A lot of what the notebooks contain is legible, so to the extent the subjet matter stays understandable it’s fun to just flip through the pages. Once I accepted that I wasn’t going to find the 1665 version of “Ozzy rules!” scribbled in the margins, I began looking for anything familiar from my own schooling (see above, it’s on page 41 here -though I don’t think they’re Newton’s). Like what about those famous laws of motion? As it happens, there’s a “The Lawes of Motion” beginning on image 157 of this collection (it’s a good idea to use the table of contents tab in the upper left rather than turning each page) but they’re not quite the ones I learned.

Somewhere in the course of a morning lost to squinting at Newton’s scribbles I began watching videos from the Newton MSS Project. Like the notebooks, these videos also appear to be newly uploaded and point back to The Newton Project, hosted by the University of Sussex, also new, I’m guessing because there’s a 2011 copyright date in the footer.

So while it may be Gingrich’s fault that I’ve been noticing more Isaac Newton online lately, apparently there’s a lot more Isaac Newton to notice online lately as well.

Figuring Newton

Updated