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Isaac Newton

Isaac NewtonAKA Isaac Newton, Jr.

Born: 4-Jan-1643 [1]
Birthplace: Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Died: 31-Mar-1727 [2]
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Westminster Abbey, London, England

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Asexual
Occupation: Physicist, Mathematician

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Father of the clockwork universe

Isaac Newton, the principal founder of calculus, optics, and physics, never knew his father, an illiterate but prosperous farmer who died before Newton was born. He was raised in his earliest years by his maternal grandmother, and attended boarding school in Grantham, living with a local apothecary from whom he developed a fascination for chemistry and science in general. He worked as a menial laborer to earn his tuition to Cambridge, graduating without distinction in 1665 and then returning to his family farm for a year and a half while the college was closed due to bubonic plague. In the Spring of 1666, according to legend, Newton saw an apple fall from a tree on the farm and began pondering the laws of gravity and concerning himself with mathematics and physics. His first serious work elucidated the rules of differentiation and integration in 1666, which he called "the method of series and fluxions".

He was, however, disinterested in publishing his work until 1668, when mathematician Nicolas Mercator (1620-1687) wrote a work duplicating some of Newton's findings. The following year, after publication of Newton's paper De Analysi (The Analysis), he was named Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the recently re-opened Cambridge, where he worked for the remainder of his life. He constructed the first functioning reflecting telescope in 1669, based on a design by astronomer David Gregory (1661-1708). After the publication of his paper Theory about Light and Colors in 1672, he became embroiled in a long-running dispute with Robert Hooke of the Royal Society, who unsuccessfully challenged Newton for credit as discoverer of the inverse-square law of gravitational attraction. As a result, for several years Newton again refused to publish further work.

During his time away from the scientific community, Newton conducted never-published work on alchemy and studied the history of the Bible, concluding that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a falsehood introduced some four centuries after the time of Christ. In 1675 he published the paper Of Nature's Obvious Laws, which was also challenged by Hooke. By 1680, however, Hooke and Newton were corresponding cordially and at length over such concepts as inertia and centripetal attraction.

In 1687, with financial backing from his friend and admirer astronomer Edmund Halley, Newton published his masterwork of fluid physics, gravity, and physical mechanics, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (often referred to as simply Principia or by its English title The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). The book shows that gravitation is a universal force, explaining phenomena from a dropping apple to the precise motions of planets and comets. It also explains Newton's three laws of motion First, an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion at constant velocity, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Second, force equals mass times acceleration. And third, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In 1690 he showed that colored light is actually fundamental, meaning that it can recombined to make white light. In 1696 he was appointed Warden of the British Mint and relocated to London, where he again seems to have distanced himself from scientific circles, instead dedicating his efforts to reforming the corruption then rampant in mint management. In 1705 he published Opticks (Optics), laying out the principles of refraction and explaining the nature of light, and he was knighted in the same year.

His other friendships and correspondents included the philosopher John Locke and the mathematicians Richard Bentley and Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664-1753). After about 1700 Newton and his followers were involved in another scientific squabble, this time with Gottfried Leibniz over claims initiated by Fatio that Leibniz's theory of calculus was at least in part stolen from Newton's work. As the arguments continued and heightened, Newton's supporters savaged Leibniz for his belief that miracles are exceptions to the laws of nature miracles.

In 1703 he was elected President of the Royal Society, a post he held for the rest of his life and exploited mercilessly to ruin his rivals. In 1712, he compiled the Society's official report on the dispute between Leibniz and himself over the development of calculus. Unsurprisingly, the report found that Newton's work was conducted first, and the same report strongly implied plagiarism on the part of Leibniz. Newton also used his post with the Society to officially minimize the credit due to astronomer John Flamsteed for his observations and star charts, and had all mention of Flamsteed's work edited out of the second edition of Principia in 1713. In his last years, perhaps contrite, Newton wrote that all of his own work amounted to little more than rediscoveries of ancient but forgotten wisdom.

To become a Fellow of Trinity College at Cambridge in 1667 he was required to join the Church of England, take a vow of celibacy, and promise to train for the church's priesthood. He remained celibate and unmarried for his entire life, but in 1675, probably on account of his heretical stance against the existence of the Holy Trinity, he was granted dispensation from the priesthood portion of his pledge. For most of his adulthood, Newton was a Unitarian and an avid disbeliever in the divinity of Christ, but he kept these perspectives secret due to the political pressures of his time and place. In his latter years he had recurring and increasingly painful bladder stones (concentrated and crystallized urine in the bladder), and evidence suggests he also suffered from mercury poisoning, presumably brought on by his alchemical experiments. He spent the last weeks of his life nearly immobile in bed, and finally defied the church by refusing last rites as he died on 31 March 1727.

After his death, relatives sent for an assay of his papers and quickly learned of the volume of Newton's occult and esoteric writings. He had labored secretively throughout his life to reproduce several alchemical experiments, and Newton's library contained over a hundred books on alchemy. A completed book of chronology, which attempted to square Biblical chronology with Roman, Greek, and Assyrian history, was published after his death. But the majority of his papers were suppressed, and languished in an archive until in 1936 they were divided up and sold at auction, and thus scattered. Some of the papers were bought up by economist John Maynard Keynes, who published an essay "Newton the Man" in which he described Newton's occult studies and heretical beliefs, calling him "the last of the magicians" and "Copernicus and Faustus in one".


[1] Old Style, 25 December 1642. New Style, 4 January 1643.

[2] Old Style, 20 March 1727. New Style, 31 March 1727.

Father: Isaac Newton (farmer, b. 1606, d. Oct-1642)
Mother: Hannah Ayscough (m. Newton's father 1642, d. 1679)
Father: Barnabas Smith (stepfather, Christian minister, b. 1582, m. Ayscough 27-Jan-1645, d. 1653)
Sister: Mary Smith (stepsister, b. 1647)
Brother: Benjamin Smith (stepbrother, Christian minister, b. 1651)
Sister: Hannah Smith Pilkington (stepsister, b. 1652)

    High School: King's Grammar School, Grantham, England (1661)
    University:
BA, Cambridge University (1665)
    University: MA, Cambridge University (1668)
    Professor: Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Cambridge University (1669-1701)

    Royal Society 1672
    Royal Society President (1703-27)
    Warden of the Mint (1696-1700)
    Master of the Mint (1700-27)
    UK Member of Parliament (1701; representing Cambridge University)
    UK Member of Parliament (1689-90; representing Cambridge University)
    Knight of the British Empire 1705
    Nervous Breakdown 1678
    Nervous Breakdown 1693
    Exhumed
    English Ancestry
    Scottish Ancestry
    Asteroid Namesake 8000 Newton
    Lunar Crater Newton (76.7 S, 16.9 W, 79 km. diameter)
    Martian Crater Newton (40.8 S, 201.9 E, 298 km. diameter)
    International Space Hall of Fame 1998
    Risk Factors: Vegetarian, Insomnia, Depression, Stuttering, Gout

Author of books:
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687, non-fiction)
Opticks (1704, non-fiction)
De Mundi Systemate (1728, non-fiction)


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