Category Archives: Mad Physicists

Mad Scientist #9: Sir Isaac Newton

Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians…
—John Maynard Keynes, economist, historian, baron.1

Fateful apple falls from a tree and bonks young Isaac Newton on the head. Newton has an epiphany (and presumably a heart-healthy snack).

Why, he wonders, should objects always fall down. Why not up? Or sideways? Or in some crazy, unrealistic corkscrew fashion? Then it hits him: Maybe the apple didn’t just fall. Maybe it was drawn down, by an invisible force emanating from our Earth. Bouyed by the fruit’s anticarcinogens and glucose-regulating phytonutrients, he then proceeds to sketch the foundations of the theory of universal gravity, differential calculus, and classical mechanics, unwittingly kick-starting the Enlightenment.

We all know the legend, but is there any truth to it? Is Newton’s apple a handy metaphor for serendipitous innovation? Or is it rather, a trick, designed to draw attention away from Sir Isaac’s true inspiration? A source so cultish, so cripplingly obscure, no grade school science teacher would dare speak its name. Continue reading