Re: Why Rohit hates being 23.

Lloyd Wood (
Wed, 29 Apr 1998 23:28:07 +0100 (BST)

On Wed, 29 Apr 1998, I Find Karma wrote:

> Talk to me if this confuses you, otherwise I'm popping back to van
> Doren's "History of Knowledge" passage for today. Pop.)
> I learned from the book today that Isaac Newton before he was 23
> invented

discovered/formalised, please.

> four fundamental things:
> 1. Proof of binomial theory
> 2. Calculus
> 3. Mechanics
> 4. Optics

This is news to me.

Newton was born in 1642. It's generally recognised that he showed no
promise in his early years at Cambridge and took a degree without
distinction in 1665 - when he was 23.

The discoveries and word of them happened in relative isolation, bar
constant mail, in the plague years following that; Isaac Barrow then
resigned his chair in favour of Newton in 1669.

The development of the ideas in mechanics and optics required
conversation and exchange of ideas with Hooke; the two later argued
over who should take credit for Principia. Newton didn't publish
Opticks in English until 1704, after Hooke's death.

As for calculus, Newton's fluxion notation lacks versatility, although
it still survives in abbreviated form. Modern
you-can-do-stuff-with-this calculus comes from Leibnitz, who had a
longstanding argument with Newton about who was first to formalise
calculus. The Royal Society declared for Newton in 1711 - but then
they _were_ English.

> Then he spent the rest of his life trying to turn lead into gold.


But he was never one to share the credit.

> Oh well, nobody's perfect.
> One could argue that any one of us going back a few centuries could have
> invented something we now take for granted, but even if that were the
> case, Newton was exceptionally ahead of his colleagues.

Not so; Hooke, Leibnitz and others were equal in these fields.

Leibnitz in particular is an amazing polymath, who, foreshadowing
today, published only what he could get funding and interest for and
left the original work - in optics, mechanics, law, politics,
probability theory - to be published after his death.

These days, we skip wasting time on the 'original work' bit.