top of page
Vintage English
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!

Scientist - Sir Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton could be the greatest of all scientists. He has said that ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. However, it is possible that he more or less created classical physics on his own. Even Einstein’s postulates and theories could very well be defined as improvements (no doubt, fantastic) on existing knowledge.

Newton was a very versatile genius. He is considered to be a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian. Beyond that, he was a man with a lot of personal capacities. He was born on the 4th of January 1643. His birth was a few months after his father’s death. His mother remarried when he was three, and he was brought up by his maternal grandmother. His mother tried to make him take to farming, but that was not his taste, nor his destiny. He never married, even though he did have a minor love affair, which was short-lived. As a young boy, he is said to have made windmills, water-clocks, kites and dials. It is said that he did invent a four-wheeled carriage, which was to be moved by the rider.


What was great in him was his originality in the themes he dealt with. His Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, (later known as Principia) published in 1687, is considered to be the most influential book in the history of science.

It must be admitted that he was very much interested in occult studies and such themes. It may seem difficult to conceive how this man who was sort of champion of modern science could dabble in such ideas. However, in this context it may be remembered that his postulate in Principia of an invisible force, able to act over vast distances, was heavily criticized by many persons. It was alleged that he was introducing occult agencies into the realm of science.

Though, he was admitted to the Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661, formal academic studies were not of any use to him. At that time, the focus of formal education was on Aristotle. Newton was privately engaged in reading on modern philosophers like Descartes, and astronomers like Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. By the year 1665, he had already developed the generalized binomial theorem, which was to later develop into the infinitesimal calculus. It was his private study in his home at Woolsthrope over the next two years that was to see the development of his theories on calculus, optics and the law of gravitation.

We can look at his discoveries on a step-by-step basis. He was possibly working on different fields of knowledge simultaneously, at least inside his mind.

First his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. It is a three-volume work published on the 5th of July 1687. It contains Newton’s laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Newton’s laws of motion forms the foundation of classical mechanics. Though Newton used his own creation of Calculus to formulate his theories, he did not make use of them in explaining his theories in the Principia. Instead, he used geometrical contentions.

The Principia had a supplement with the title General Scholium in which, his famous dialogue ("I feign no hypotheses" or "I make no guesses) was found.


It is claimed that Newton created the mathematical subject of Calculus on his own. However, this contention has some problem. Gottfried Leibniz was also working on similar lines and had actually discovered something more or less similar. As per Newton’s companions, Newton had worked out his theory much before Leibniz did, but he did not publish the same until 1693. Moreover, he could give a detailed sketch of this only in 1704. However, Leibniz did publish a full account of the same in the year 1684. This led to a great controversy, which was to disturb both their lives. Newton later said that he feared to publish his findings as he expected to be ridiculed.

It must be said here that Gottfried Leibniz was a great genius, and is credited with invention of the binary system, which stands as the foundation of modern computer architecture.

Even though this controversy does cast a slight shadow on our thoughts on Newton, he is credited with the generalized binomial theorem, valid for any exponent. Other mathematical discoveries of his include the Newton’s identities, Newton’s method and classified cubic plane curves (polynomials of degree three in two variables). He also made very important contributions to theory of finite differences, and he was the first person to use fractional indices and to use coordinate geometry to derive solutions to Diophantine equations. There are other equally fascinating mathematical contributions of his.


Between the years, 1670 and 1672, he focused his attention on light and its properties. He worked on refraction of light. He showed that a prism could split white light into an array of colours. Then he showed it corollary. That is, a lens and a second prism could recompose this array of multicolour back into white light.

His next discovery was Newton’s theory of colour. It was that colour of an object is the result of objects interacting with already-coloured light, rather than objects generating colours on their own.

This work then led to study of chromatic aberration, which in turn led to the creation of the Newtonian telescope. He wrote his Opticks, based on these studies. However, Robert Hooke criticised some of his ideas. Newton was offended and he withdrew from public debate. Hooke and Newton did not have a good relationship till Hooke’s death.

Newton did dabble with the ideas of both corpuscles and waveform of light, but then the modern ideas of quantum mechanics, photons, and wave-particle duality have expanded very much further that it might be impossible to say that they have their origin in Newton’s ideas.

It is true that the boundaries of Newton’s ideas on lights and gravity did blur into the realm of that of occult science and alchemy. For, he did consider the possibility of the medium of ether than filled the space/void. However, we cannot write off these concepts, as there is still plenty of uncertainty with regard to the exact features of reality.

There is this dialogue in Opticks:

Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another, and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter their Composition?

Well, do these lines have any whispery connection to modern concepts of Energy-mass conversion?

Mechanics and gravitation

It was in 1684 that he published his De motu corporum in gyrum which contains the beginning of his laws on motion as they appear in the Principia. The Principia itself was published on the 5th of July 1687. His three universal laws of motion is stated in this work.

Johann Kepler had proved by an elaborate series of measurements that each planet revolves in an elliptical orbit round the sun, whose centre occupies one of the foci of the orbit, that the radius vector of each planet drawn from the sun describes equal areas in equal times, and that the squares of the periodic times of the planets are in the same proportion as the cubes of their mean distances from the sun.

Newton could show that the motion of celestial bodies and that of earth are consistent with the same set of natural laws, and showed the consistency between Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and his theory of gravitation. It more or less destroyed all support for heliocentrism.

In this book, he also gave the first analytical determination of the speed of sound in air. This was based on Boyle’s law. With the publishing of this book, Newton became internationally famous. At the same time, it may be noted that he was also criticised for introducing the occult concept of an invisible force that could act over large unconnected distances.

Biblical interpretations

Now there is another part of his life that is not that is rarely given importance in scientific circles. In the 1690s, he wrote extensively on literal interpretations of Bible. He more or less disputed the existence of the Trinity. Some of his works in this vein were published only after his death. Moreover, it may be remembered that he was supremely interested in alchemy and occult sciences. It is possible that he had an uncanny feeling that all his theories, though sound, reaches nowhere with regard to the exact architecture of this universe.

Other activities

He was a member of the Parliament of England for some time, but it is very much possible that he had nothing to speak or debate in there.

In 1696, he was posted as the Warden of the Royal Mint. It was more or less a honorary post, with no real responsibilities. However, he took his post seriously and took interest in the reform of British currency. He also strived to catch counterfeiters and clippers (persons who shaved off an edge of the valuable metal in the coin). He also moved the Pound Sterling from the Silver Standard to that of Gold Standard. This action helped in consolidating the wealth and stability of England. For this, he received a Knighthood from Queen Anne (1705). In 1703, he was made the President of the Royal Society.

Theist or Atheist

Did Newton believe in god? Well it is said that he conceived God as the master creator, whose existence cannot be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation. However, he changed the world from that governed by an interventionist God, into a world designed by a God who designed the world on rational and universal principles. In other words, the nature of the world was brought down to the level of simple human reason. At least, that is how the world viewed his conception of universe. Whether he himself felt satisfied by this simplistic view is not confirmable.


In the last years of his life, he was troubled by incontinence of urine, which could have been due to stone. He died on the 20th of March 1727, without experiencing much pain, between one and two O’clock in the morning.

The English poet Alexander Pope had this write about him:

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;

God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.

Newton himself wrote thus in a memoir:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Book profile



Author: Somerset Maugham

The Story

Folk songs:

On the banks of Allen Water,

On the banks of Clyde

Excerpt: Magnus in The Apple Cart

English Colonial History:

Emancipation of slaves

Scientist: Sir. Isaac Newton

Geo discoverers: Captain James Cook

Film: The bridge on River Kwai

Actress: Vivien Leigh

Battle: Jameson Raid

Incidence: Nelson’s death



Popular songs: Jingle Bells

Place: Rocks of Gibraltar

bottom of page