Mike and I were swapping emails today about the great (but oft-misinterpreted) economist John Maynard Keynes and Isaac Newton, and it seemed worth sharing. In the 1930s (if I recall the dates correctly) JMK bought a huge load of Newton’s papers and took great delight in ploughing through them. Both of them, of course, were Cambridge men.
Keynes was invited to give a lecture about Newton at the Royal Society, London, in 1946 and he drafted a talk entitled ‘Newton, the man’. Basically, the thrust of his talk was, Why was Newton such a genius? His answer was Newton’s phenomenal ability to think about a question until the answer surrendered itself. (Keynes’s sub-theme, however, was undoubtedly, ‘Only a genius such as myself can truly know’ – or something like that.)
“His peculiar gift was the power of holding continuously in his mind a purely mental problem until he had seen straight through it. I fancy his pre-eminence is due to his muscles of intuition being the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted.”
Newton didn’t use experiments to figure things out – he used experiments to prove that he was right.
His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he knew already.
Anyway – sadly, Keynes died shortly before he was able to deliver the speech, and so it was presented by his brother, Geoffrey. You can download a PDF of the speech by clicking on the attachment below – assuming that I’ve done this correctly…..!
As an aside, coincidentally Geoffrey Keynes wrote A Bibliography of Robert Hooke – Hooke being a great rival/enemy of Newton. I think (if I quote him correctly) Mike would say that Newton destroyed Hooke and his reputation.
Genius though he was, I don’t think Newton was a particularly nice man. Interesting that Keynes showed such interest in Newton… one could say that they were both great egotists (as well as geniuses, I’m sure)!
Newton undoubtedly tried to destroy Hooke’s reputation and was almost successful in erasing him for history.
A great book to read on this topic is “England’s Leonardo: Robert Hooke and the Seventeenth-Century Scientific Revolution” by Allan Chapman. It’s only been in the last century that Hooke’s reputation has been restored, primarily because his diary was rediscovered in the early 20th century.
Hooke was no saint, that’s for sure, but neither was Newton!
Just seen that the Royal Society have a lecture on “The Private Life of Isaac Newton” this coming Saturday at 1pm.
It makes reference to Keynes in the lecture synopsis.
Details are here.
I can’t make it along, sadly, but others may be interested in attending. It’s free, on a first come first served basis.
Thanks for that, Mike. Sadly I’m not going to be able to make it either, but I see that there’s going to be an audio recording posted on their site a few days later. I’ll have to make do with that!
I see that there’s going to be an audio recording posted on their site a few days later
Well spotted! I didn’t see that. Have to make sure we post a link once it’s up on their site.
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