Isaac Newton: The Insecure Arrogant!

The greatest scientific book of all time is Principia Mathematica, completed by Isaac Newton in 1687. Newton’s paradigm of the physics of motion united terrestrial and planetary motions with simple mathematical laws. He elegantly demonstrated the ability of theoretical physics to derive precise predictions of empirically observable phenomena.

Yet Newton was so insecure and so incapable of dealing with the criticisms of others that he nearly failed to make his findings public. He completed much of the work of Principia many years before publishing it. Only Edwin Hubble’s constant encouragement and partial financing eventually compelled Newton to producePrincipia.

Twenty years earlier, when Newton began his work on gravitation, he developed the calculus. Rather than publish calculus, he kept it secret, using it to make several discoveries but then couching the presentation of these discoveries in ordinary mathematics. In about 1676 Gottfried Leibniz developed calculus independently. Newton, convinced that Leibniz had somehow stolen the idea from him, started a bitter feud.

Although Newton was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant scientific minds in history, his insecurity fostered arrogance and prevented him from distinguishing scientific criticism from personal criticism. He was ridiculed, and he responded by trying to discredit and destroy other scientists. Personal weakness damped, at least temporarily, his scientific impact.

 Fortunately, he did publish!

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