Thursday, March 1, 2012

Isaac Newton was a jerk.

Isaac Newton is one of the most important and influential individuals in history.
If he was alive today, he would tell you the same thing.

Isaac Newton had a famously big ego. He believed he was gods gift to the world, much smarter than everyone else, and believed other humans were on earth to hold him back.

Don't confuse his famous "Standing on the shoulders of Giants" quote for modesty. As it was likely a veiled insult of Robert Hooke, who was a rather short man. In contrast to Newton himself, who was rather tall. [1]

Robert Hooke is a man Isaac Newton did not hold in high regard. Hooke is known to have studied gravity years before Newton, even coining the term "gravity" before he uttered the word. So it's no wonder why Hooke felt Newton never gave him enough credit when he published his work on gravity in Principia [2]. Isaac Newton never forgave him for this view, and expunged all references to Hooke's work from his publications,[3] Isaac Newton also wrote the publisher of Principia in strong terms over the argument and caused Hooke to begin working in secret. Their argument lasted until Hooke's death, with Isaac years later striking the final blow by destroying the last authenticated portrait of Hooke[4], historians today still are not certain of what Robert Hooke looked like.
But maybe we can forgive Newton for destroying the life of one scientist after all he contributed to our species. There is no dispute that he *was* a genius. As he discovered the properties of light, gravity and calculus in one summer.[5] What did you do over your summer vacation?

The truth is, though, his douchebaggery does not end there. 

"When Newton disagreed with astronomer John Flamsteed‘s zealous approach to research, Newton stole his work and published it under Edmund Halley, Flamsteed’s mortal enemy." ([4])

Which I can only regard as one of histories greatest trolls.

Perhaps his most famous dispute was with Gottfried Leibniz, over who developed calculus first. (Whoever it was, they're a dick. At least during this school quarter). This debate is so big that it is often regarded as one of the most heated debates in the history of science. [3]

Leibniz did the gentlemanly thing and took the matter to the Royal Society, to act as a mediator and investigate the dispute. Of which Newton was the president of...

Newton organized a review committee filled with personal friends and then wrote the committee findings personally, unsurprisingly the "committee" ruled in Newtons favor.[4]

Truth is, I'm not that surprised by Newtons dickery. I suppose you need an ego as big as Newton had to think that you can do such amazing things, the difference between him and the average egotistical jerk. Is that he had a brain to match.

So new readers, how do you feel about discovering this? Or did you already know? Post a comment below to tell me about it. 


  1. I've always looked at Newton from a religious point of view , stuff you pick up from The DaVinci Code or The Lost Symbol. So i think this really doesnt make much of a difference to me. It wont change how i look at him. He never really gave me any inspiration anyway.

    Good find though! The only thing i knew here was that he destroyed Hooke's portraits.

  2. EnKrypt's Testosterone LAcking friend
    Wow, Never really knew any of this!
    and dud u have done ur research!
    and jeez, look at that face newton's got there, he doesn't look very 'en egoistical to me!'
    this blog is as informative and as precise as it is funny. wish my textbooks were like this!
    not really into science here and only knew of Newton from Dan brown's stuff, so ill just tell you what i can without seeming like an idiot who is trying to impress people.
    its like a political war of sciences, what with the tit for tat and all that hoopla. but i can give newton credit for being a genius though, albeit a trolling evil one!
    he isnt all that great though, hes like gandhi ji, he was great and all but he just used up other peoples ideas to come on top and made himsefl look like the shining star!'its like a christmas tree, people mosly look at the star on top and praise it and it is on top either way, but all those pretty ornaments are all left at the bottom among thorns and stuff.
    bad comparison but whatever, what really pissed me off was the measure he went to to cover up his tracks and his enemies and the fact that our textbooks are keeping this from us.
    they tell us about the big bad worls, but in our textbooks its clearly stated that is an apple falls on you or if you sink a golden crownin water, YOURE A CERTIFIED GENIUS!!
    oh geez! thats hippocrazy!

    1. Well one's neurotransmitters need to be quite obscurely arranged for you yo be a religious nut in the first place...
      everything from there on is utterly relative.

  3. Correction on Newton's height: He was not rather tall but described by contemporaries as being of short to medium height, which would be on the short side by modern standards.

  4. Netwon would have been disgraced for plagarism had he been alive today. He probably would have moved to California and became a programmer.

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  10. The funny thing about the cult of Newton (usually English) - and Newton himself - is that they fail to acknowledge the glaring historical fact that he was an absolute asshole and went to great lengths to hide, erase, diminish, or copy the works of others. He was a genius, no one disagrees with that, but so was Descartes - the man who created analytical geometry and was therefore far more important to the invention of calculus than even Newton. It's no co-incidence that Leibniz, a genius and polymath in his own right, created calculus independently of Newton around the same period. In fact, Leibniz's version of calculus, due to it's superior notation and clarity, is actually the far more influential version of calculus we use today as it includes the notation for differentiation dy/dx and integration. Moreover, Bernoulli and Euler, two of the greatest mathematicians of all time explicitly state they preference for Leibniz's version of calculus (and again, it was invented independently of Newton).

    After Newtown died Laplace had to invent pertubation theory to amend mistakes Newton made in his principia; in fact, Newtonian mechanics were designed by Newton geometrically and not in strict accord with the integrated/differentiated functions of the calculus ("fluxions") he co-invented. Strange, I know, but it's true. It was up to people like Laplace, Lagrange, Gauss, Euler, Felix Klein and and others to do quite a bit of the heavy lifting. ALL of science is collaborative and this idea that Newton was somehow a once in a millennium mind is absolute hogwash. Genius, yes, but even he needed plenty of help.

    Lastly, he stole Robert Hook's inverse square law and never gave him any credit for it and stopped any of Hooke's works from being published post-humously.

    Newton, for all his intellect, is an absolute asshole. He tried to diminish and defame anybody that threatened his self-aggrandizing reputation as Europe foremost intellectual, and that suggests how deeply insecure he was of his own abilities. (In my opinion, as great a genius as he was, I don't necessarily think he was "smarter" than say Leibniz, Einstein, Archimedes, or Gauss). Great article.

    1. He didn't steal Hooke's work, he had invented the inverse square law long before he finally published it and therefore long before Hooke. In addition, formerly when he published his work on optics, Hooke tried to claim that Newton had stolen it from him. He only published his Principia so late, because he was afraid that Hooke would do that again - and he was totally right.
      PS. Neither do I think that he was the smartest among all those othes geniuses, but in that era his discoveries were revolutionary and essential for the development of science (and he knew that too). For me, having fierce rivalries with others doesn't affect his scientific importance and brilliant mind, and that's why I still consider him to be one of the greatest (is not the greatest) scholars who have ever lived.

  11. its, hick

    Sounds like Motl, except that Motl's a complete fraud.

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  14. His douchebaggery didn't start there, either. As a young teen, he threatened to burn down the family house with his mother in it.

    1. He hated his mother and step father because they abandoned him when he was only three years. He only saw her on a few occasions over the next decade.