Talk:Isaac Newton

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Standing on the shoulders of Giants[edit]

"What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

This statement of Newton's, in a letter to Hooke, has relatively recently begun to be construed to be, or is even reported as "certainly" having been somehow an insult to the small stature of Hooke, either physically, intellectually, or both, but I cannot see that there is anything either certain, obvious, or even the least bit valid to such an interpretation.

A statement by William C. Waterhouse, Professor of Mathematics, at Penn State University presented at indicates that the idea that this was somehow intended as a personal insult seems to have originated with Frank Manuel, in his book A Portrait of Isaac Newton (1968), and that he has "never seen any reason to believe it."

Despite an assertion that was previously made on the article page, there is no statement that I am aware of where Newton ever referred to Hooke as a "dwarf", though I have found that there is an irresponsibly warped and presumptive interpretation of Newton's "Shoulder of Giants" statement in An Underground Education (1997) by Richard Zacks which declares: You might translate Newton's sentiments: "While I admit to building on the work of my scientific predecessors, I certainly didn't learn anything from a dwarf like you."

Personally, from what is indicated by the statement, I wouldn't translate Newton's sentiments into anything of the sort, and would consider this and other such interpretations as some people have made upon it to be an insult to normal human intelligence, if it were not plainly an indication of an appalling deficiency in their own.

More on other incidents of the idea which Newton uses can be found at the Wikipedia article "Standing on the shoulders of giants" ~ Achilles 19:03, 22 December 2005 (UTC)

For the sake of interest and comparison, I'll mention that there was an Italian anatomist called Caecilius Folius (1615-1650) who said "we know quite well that knowledge is acquired by adding one piece of it to another, and that all of us, like children sitting on the shoulders of giants, can see far more than our predecessors could." [For reference see, Clarke and O Malley's "The Human Brain and Spinal Cord. A Historical Study Illustrated by Writings from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century." 2nd Ed, Norman Publishing.] 00:17, 13 March 2008 (UTC)

Attribution of Pebbles Quote to Plato[edit]

Plato did not say this. I think anyone will see how the confusion arose by consulting p. 146 of the second volume of Adam's commentary on the Republic.

Sourced section[edit]

This needs work. "Sourced" these days is taken to mean that it actually tracks to the stated originator. A great many of these merely show someone repeated it as a factoid in some book. Gordonofcartoon 19:29, 30 November 2009 (UTC)

I'm inexperienced in wikiquote's standards, but from my wikipedia point of view I do not understand why there are quotes here that do not originate from Newton. Here is an uncited one I've removed from the page:
and another:

"The world will end in 2060, according to Newton" in the London Evening Standard (19 June 2007)]

and another:
  • Recently the statement "I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with." has been attributed to Plato, but the earliest published occurrence of this seems to be in The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Helping People Grow (2004) by Douglas K. Silsbee, p. 13, where it is attributed to Plato without a sourced citation.
Maybe these non-quotes belong in a section further down? :-84user 14:46, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
Two of the removals are understandable and have not been reverted, but one of these was actually a citation for a variant with modernized spelling : "As quoted in "The world will end in 2060, according to Newton" in the London Evening Standard (19 June 2007)"
The other two were a permissible but non-essential references to a humorous derivative made by Peter Winkler, and what was probably a response to someone's accusation that Newton's famous statement actually originated with Plato. I have not restored these, as they were rather trivial additions, but the citation I did restore, as the source of a modern published variant of a statement. ~ 17:33, 20 March 2010 (UTC)

Changing the "Shoulders of Giants" quote.[edit]

I'm surprised to see that the 'shoulders of giants' quote has been modernized. It currently reads:

If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Surely if we have the original words, we should use them?

The original can be found in "The correspondence of Isaac Newton, volume I", edited by HW Turnbull, 1959, page 416, and it reads:

"If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants".

Four changes - omitting the 'only', changing 'the' to 'ye', omitting the u from shoulders, and capitalizing the G.

I have a pdf scan of the letter itself from Turnbull. But I have no idea how to post that here. If you want to see it, please advise me how to do it. In the meantime, I can link you to Robert Merton's book, ' On The Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript', Free Press (1965), in which he quotes Newton on page 9, exactly as I have it here:

So does anyone have any objections to me making the changes?

(Edit to add: Interestingly, if you use Google to search for the current version, you get 6.5 million hits. If you google the correct version, you get 2 thousand!! So this may be a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. But I still think we should change it).

Gnu Ordure 20:47, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for the notice on this, I knew that the page had some uncontested and insufficiently examined edits, but this one had endured for quite a while. Years ago it had been posted properly as "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants" and has now been ammended back to this form, with modernized variants listed afterwards. ~ Kalki·· 21:08, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

Hi Kalki. (Are you a Gore Vidal fan, then?) And thank you for your private message. This is indeed my first attempt to edit Wikiquote (though I've edited Wikipedia itself a few times), so I thought I would seek approval before making the edit. After all, it's quite a famous quotation...

So, to be clear, are you OK with me making the edit?

By the way, I'm also suggesting these same changes on Wikipedia, the "SOTSOG" article.

Feel free to contribute there - noboby has replied yet!

Gnu Ordure 21:22, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

Gnu Ordure 21:22, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

I already made the change suggested, and yes, I actually am a fan of Gore Vidal's wit, but not someone quite so cynical as he — and I had used the name long before I learned of his darkly comic take on it — or even the Hindu and Buddhist takes on it — and though I had used variants of it for years, had decided to use such as my primary identifier one day before coincidentally learning of his dark cautionary tale against placing too much trust or power in the hands of individuals and groups of any sort. One of my favorite novels of his was his take on the emperor Julian. ~ Kalki·· 21:32, 19 January 2012 (UTC) + tweak

Hi Kalki: "I already made the change suggested" - ah, sorry, I didn't see you'd done it. Cheers.

As you can see, I've also removed the 'u' from shoulders, and added a note that 'sholders' is the original spelling, in case anyone thinks it's a typo. I hope that's OK.Gnu Ordure 21:49, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

That seems fine. I might go over things more later, but have been attending to computer work and other things in a bit of a rotating consideration. I might get back to working here for a few hours straight soon. ~ Kalki·· 21:52, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

Cool. Do you think I should go ahead and change the Wikipedia article as well? I'd appreciate your opinion.

I read Vidal's Kalki 30 years ago. I seem to remember it was pretty funny. (Goes off to check library - returns). Yes, still got it! I'm going to read it again, right now. Nice to meet you, Kalki. Gnu Ordure 22:09, 19 January 2012 (UTC)

Though we strive for accuracy here, often using archaic forms as our first variant of a quote, I can see that the modernized versions might be preferred by many when simply presenting the gist of the statement. I certainly don't object to using the modernized forms, but often it is good to remind people that even English language quotations have often undergone sometimes significant translation and revision from earlier forms. Vidal's take on Kalki was a rather mortifyingly dark one — but I must admit it was satirical genius — despite my own brighter take on things in general, I agree with many of the points he makes against presumptions. I can acknowledge he is a "valid ogre" of pessimism and despair, but I do tend to disagree with him on some of his more extreme opinions, and prefer to embrace many forms of optimism and hope, in regard to human Awareness, Life, and Love of Liberty, Truth and Justice. As you intend to reread the work, any significant quotes you find in his novel, can be added to the Kalki page. ~ Kalki·· 22:18, 19 January 2012 (UTC) + tweaks

"We build too many walls..." Source?[edit]

Many sites and people attribute to Newton the following quote: "We build too many walls and not enough bridges". Is this really of Newton? Anybody knows the source? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 14:39, 24 March 2012

This was attributed to Newton by Dominique Pire in his Nobel Lecture upon receiving Nobel Peace Prize, 11 December 1958 (in French, English translation), after which it became widely quoted. Pire's words were "Les homes construisent trop de murs et pas assez de ponts." (Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.) However, I cannot find any earlier sources in English or French so I suspect the attribution is apocryphal. I have also seen it attributed without citation to Antoine de Saint Exupéry. ~ Ningauble (talk) 17:56, 24 March 2012 (UTC)

I think I discovered the real author: he's not Isaac, but Joseph Fort Newton, a baptist minister and freemason: (however, I don't find the source of the text). —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 19:31, 24 March 2012

Thanks, I believe you are right. I found the passage from which it is apparently paraphrased, and added it to the "Misattributed" section because the error is widely repeated in print, not just on the web. ~ Ningauble (talk) 15:34, 25 March 2012 (UTC)