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Useful Notes / Isaac Newton

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Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

Sir Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 - 20 March 1726 Julian calendar, 4 January 1643 - 31 March 1727 Gregorian calendar) was a revolutionary British scientist best remembered for his Accidental Discovery of gravity, which we all know can be a harsh mistress. Contemporary portraits suggest he looked like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin and Brian May after he turned greynote .

To elaborate, Isaac Newton is the originator of the Three Laws of Motion and the classical theory of universal gravitation (in popular imagery, after seeing an apple fall from a tree/after an apple fell on his head).note  Born on December 25, 1642 (i.e. Christmas day, not very long after Galileo Galilei died), the physicist was a Renaissance Man and dabbled in astronomy, mathematics, alchemy and theology. His work on gravity would lend further credence to heliocentrism (the belief that the Sun, and not the Earth, is the centre of the Solar System). To derive the equations for motion in his Principia Mathematica, he had to invent integral calculus out of whole cloth. He was one of the trope codifiers for the concept of Equivalent Exchange ("for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction") and the idea of a rational, regular universe—the idea that there are certain laws of nature that are always true, everywhere. This idea has become so entrenched in popular thought that, when further work by Albert Einstein on the extreme scales of the universe proved that his conclusions aren't applicable everywhere, the larger body of scientific research since then—including that by Einstein—has revolved around the idea of reconciling the two and restoring (our understanding of) the physical universe to a single, overarching theory.

Ironically, in his lifetime he was better known for being Warden and then Master of the Royal Mint—jobs which, doubly ironically, were meant to be sinecures to give him extra income to support his scientific career. Instead, he took his coinage jobs seriously, and during his tenure at the Mint he introduced the practice of milling coins — putting a decorative border on them so it would be obvious if pieces had been clipped off. This was important because of a practice at the time where criminals would clip the edges off coins, keep the bits of precious metal to melt down, and pass off the clipped coin as its full value, weakening the currency (and thus causing inflation). This is remembered in the edge inscription of the modern British pound, DECUS ET TUTAMEN ("an ornament and a safeguard").note  Newton is also commemorated in the edge description of the two pound coin (whose tail side bears a representation of scientific and technological progressnote ) with his relevant quote STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS. (On being praised for his scientific insight: "If I have seen further than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants."note ) He also became possibly the most badass inflation-fighter in history, personally going undercover to taverns and so on to catch counterfeiters and clippers and collect evidence to prosecute them at trial — which he would then go on to do, as he was a justice of the peace (at the time more of an investigatory and prosecutorial position rather than a judicial one) in every county. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 counterfeiters while in office, most prominently William Chaloner, who was more or less his archnemesis during this period.note  He also inadvertently switched Great Britain from a bimetallic system to the gold standard by setting the ratio of the value of the gold guinea (and other gold coins) to the value of the silver penny in a way that heavily favoured gold (due in part to the Spanish discovering huge gold deposits in Brazil and the subsequent recalculations to the price of gold and silver), leading to a mass exodus of silver from the country.note  His tomb in Westminster Abbey references this financial career rather than his scientific one.

He is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space. Also the inventor of the cat flap. Or so the legend claims.

He had a lonely, unhappy childhood, which may have been because he was much, much smarter than anyone else around him. Even after he became a professor at Cambridge he frequently lectured to an empty classroom. Contemporary accounts peg him as an Insufferable Genius; he was given the nickname "The Autocrat of Science" by Frank E. Manuel. He never married and was strongly suspected to have died a virgin, but this piece of trivia can never be completely verified; the possibility also exists that he was gay. It was only when he began corresponding with Christopher Wren and the other members of the Royal Society in London that he began to blossom as England's leading scientist.

Works featuring Isaac Newton:

Anime and Manga


  • William Blake created a colour copper entitled "Isaac Newton" in 1795. It's intended as a hostile caricature of Newton as doomed materialist, but is widely misinterpreted as heroic.


  • He is the main character — sort of — of Gotlib's Rubrique-à-Brac, in what could be the longest Running Gag ever (something landing on his head, leading to his discovering the universal law of gravitation).
  • He appeared at the end of a Pitheco story Centuries after Pitheco failed to pitch the famous discovery.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. (2010) revealed that Newton was a member of what'd become S.H.I.E.L.D. — and is immortal.


  • Mentioned very briefly in Apollo 13. When Jim Lovell powers down the LEM's reaction-control thrusters to save battery power, he remarks, "And that's it. We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver's seat."
  • Harpo Marx played him in "The Story of Mankind".


  • Alexander Pope wrote an epitaph for Newton.
  • He is an important character in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, where he took the job at the mint and moved England to the gold standard because he was trying find Solomonic gold (a raw material for the making of the Philosopher's Stone), which was accidentally put into general circulation as currency because of a quirk of fate involving a few vagabonds. He put England onto the Gold Standard and regiggled the exchange rate so that all the gold in the world will circulate through England at some point, allowing him to test them at his leisure. After all, historians did refer to Newton as the last alchemist.
  • Robert Langdon visits his tomb in The Da Vinci Code.
  • Is the codifier of all (European) Magic in the Rivers of London books, and the reason all spells are in Gratuitous Latin.
  • Missed meeting wizards from the Unseen University in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe having just stepped out for some fresh air when they pop in. It was probably for the best. A footnote in the science text says that if anyone on Roundworld was going to discover laws of magic it would be him. This inspired his role in Rivers of London.
  • Major character in the Age of Unreason series, not surprising when the first book is called Newton's Cannon. The book opens with Newton successfully making alchemy work, and goes from there.

Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek: Newton turns up twice.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Newton appears as a hologram, playing cards against Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and (non-holographic) Data.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: Newton is briefly transported onto the Voyager by a Q, who mentions that, if he never had gotten the inspiration to put forth the notion of gravity, he would have died penniless in debtor's prison... and a suspect in several prostitute murders.
  • One Hundred Greatest Britons: Newton is voted to #6 by British viewers in the election of the 2002 season.
  • Kamen Rider Ghost: Newton is one of fifteen main Eyecons, based on fifteen different historical people. In this form, Takeru as Ghost armed with orb-shaped gloves that allows him to attract or repel his enemies. He also can use the gloves as makeshift boxing gloves to deliver powerful punches.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • As mentioned in the intro, the First Law is referenced in Mass Effect 2 as the reason one does not "eyeball" the firing of a kinetic kill munition that travels at significant fractions of lightspeed. Space may be virtually infinite, but there is always a chance you'll hit something, whether it's in 10 seconds or 10,000 years.


Web Original

Western Animation