December 25, 2008

Remember The Birth

On this day, hundreds of years ago, a baby boy was born.

His birth had been presaged by the passing of another great man, a great bringer of light to the world. But the people of the day scarcely noticed.

At first, he seemed like any other baby. Sometimes he cried, sometimes he ate, sometimes he smiled. The legend has it that he was unusually inquisitive even as a baby, but that did not really manifest itself until he had grown a bit.

As a little boy, he was precocious. Astonishingly smart for his age, he could ask questions about the world that stumped and astounded adults, starting with his teachers and religious guides.

When he became a young man, and ventured out into the world, he accomplished great things, things that changed the world forever. He gave us all a new way of looking at the universe, a new way of understanding how it worked. He gave us a new way to understand even very basic, fundamental ideas -- a better, more powerful way.

We all owe a tremendous debt to him. The gifts he left for us are beyond measure of worth or value; they have made the world we live in today a richer place, a more liveable world for us to inhabit. We can little appreciate the great revolution he brought about, one that lives on today in our minds so powerfully that we take for granted that which this man brought on the world.

He modestly said of himself and his achievements, "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 sea-shore, 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."

Let us all now take a moment to remember the coming of this extraordinary man:

Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1643, shortly after Galileo Galleli passed away in Italy. Newton invented the calculus, which is still the most powerful method available for advanced mathematics. Newton discerned laws of gravitation and motion which formed the basics of modern physics. Newton's work in optics are at the root of our modern understanding of quantum physics and you are using that science right now as you read this on your computer screen -- in a very real way, Sir Isaac is touching you right now. He was knighted for his work as Master of the Mint, and became President of the Royal Society, still one of the world's foremost bodies of scientific and humanistic thinking.

The dedicatory inscription on Newton's Monument in Westminster Abbey reads:

Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25th December, 1642, and died on 20th March 1726/7.
Newton was himself a religious man, albeit with beliefs thought "eccentric" by his contemporaries and with serious inconsistencies pointed out by his great rival, Gottfried Leibniz. But he stands today as a symbol of reason, understanding, learning, and most of all, of science. Spare a thought for Sir Isaac today on what would have been his 366th birthday.


Michael Reynolds said...


zzi said...


He was #2 behind who in the past thousand years, as most influential person?

also Rod's and Humphrey's Birthday

Burt Likko said...

He was #2 behind who in the past thousand years, as most influential person?

You can't mean Jesus. He was born in 6 B.C.E. and his real birthdate is lost to history. 6 B.C.E. (or BC, if you prefer) would have been 2,014 years before my original comment.

So from 1008 to today, the most influential person was... I'll say "Columbus." Not just on his own behalf, but in his capacity as a symbol for the European expansion into the New World -- that was probably the most important historical event of the past millenium and Columbus was the guy who spearheaded it all.