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Isaac Newton

If you could meet and talk with any scientist who had ever lived, who would it be, and why?

“Isaac Newton. Isaac Newton. No question about it: Isaac Newton. The smartest person ever — ever to walk the face of this earth. You read his writings, the man was connected to the universe in spooky ways. The most successful scientists in the history of the world are those who pose the right questions… Newton, his questions reached into the soul of the universe, and he pulled out insights and wisdom that transformed our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Someone said to him, ‘Isaac, why is it that planets orbit in these shapes you call ellipses, rather than circles? Why that shape?’ Newton said, ‘You know, I’ll get back to you on that.’ He goes away for a few months, comes back, and says, ‘Here’s the answer. Here’s why gravity produces ellipses for orbits.’

His friend asks, ‘Well how’d you figure that out?’

He says, ‘Well I had to invent this new kind of mathematics to do it.’ He invented calculus. Most of us sweat through it — for multiple years in school — just to learn it. He invented it practically on a dare.

He discovered the laws of motion. The laws of gravity. The laws of optics. Then he turned twenty-six.”


Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response to the question, “If you could meet and talk with any scientist who had ever lived, who would it be, and why?”

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said Let Newton be! and all was light.
– Alexander Pope’s intended epitaph for Newton’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Pick up the James Gaelic’s much praised biography Isaac Newton, then watch the Time Magazine interview below: