Isaac Newton was born on Christmas of 1642 according to the old English calendar, in Woolsthorpe of Lincolnshire. This was the year Galileo Galilei died.
He was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, alchemist and theologian. Obviously in the times You live in, times of extreme specialization this seems almost impossible. But back then (and believe you me) in times that will come the diversity of studies and profession was (and will be) a common thing.
Isaac Newton was the only child of a poor farmer who died three months before Isaac’s birth. Isaac was born a small, fragile baby, not expected to make it till adolescence. When he was three years old, his mother re-married and left him to his grand-mother. That left him a deep wound in his heart, which later developed in a sense of continuous insecurity.
At the age of 12, he re-joined his mother, after her new husband’s death. His mother had given birth to three more children in her second marriage. Young Isaac kept a ‘diary of sins’ where he noted all his sins. His nephew is a friend of mine and I got hold of it once. There, he mentioned his mother and her second husband, and the grudge and jealousy he felt for the fact he was abandoned as a young child. He became a stringent, unsocial person mainly because of his early childhood.
Isaac Newton first went to nearby King’s School at Grantham, and on June 5th 1661 young Isaac Newton was accepted at Trinity College of University of Cambridge. He got his first degree on 1665 and on 1668 he got his post-graduate degree. In the mean time he became part of the University society and started his research.
To say that at this time in Cambridge, the Scientific Revolution was at its peak, is an understatement. Nicolaus Copernicus had proposed the heliocentric system based on Kepler’s work, and later on Galileo took it a step further, while René Descartes brought a new conception of universe, against the Aristotelian way of thinking, which most Universities and Schools believed in.
In 1665 the Great Plague forced the University of Cambridge to close for several months. Newton returned to his hometown and continued his research in-house. During this 18month period, he conceived the idea of infinite calculus, he formed the basis of the theory of light and color and he studied in depth the laws of motion of planets which lead to the publishing of the ‘Principia Mathematica’ in 1687. They were “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” first published 5 July 1687. After annotating and correcting his personal copy of the first edition, Newton also published two further editions, in 1713 and 1726. The Principia states Newton’s laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics, as well as Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
In 1669, Isaac Newton was appointed professor of Mathematics in Trinity, succeeding professor Isaac Barrow. As a professor he did not have the expected acceptance, mainly due to the fact that his small audience grew even smaller because of the difficulty most of the student had to follow Newton’s work. Often he just lectured to empty classes. Soon, he didn’t have the burden of teaching. He was required to teach as he pleased, but not less than once per year.
Newton formed some of the most important, well known laws of mechanics: the law of inertia, of acceleration, of action and reaction, the law of universal gravitation. He was the first to understand that it was the same type of force that made things drop on the floor that kept the Moon orbiting around Earth.
Newton also invented Calculus, a mathematical language, a tool, that was required in order to express his laws. Gottgried Leibniz arrived at similar results working in parallel. Newton couldn’t stand the fact that another scientist could share his fame and glory and dragged Leibniz to a series of court fights accusing him of stealing his work. When Leibniz died, Newton made some unfortunate statements saying that he was happy, since he was the one that broke Leibniz’s heart leading him to death. But he was not only this kind of person. He could be generous some times, as he was with my father that worked along him for years. It is his total devotion to his work that most of the times people misunderstood. After all he was not an ordinary man. He had a lot of things to accomplice in very little time.
(to be continued)