– Originally published in 2006
In the plot of time versus genius there are two spikes shooting out of the chart. The reader will not be shocked to learn that the first spike is Newton.
Compared to Newton’s genius the peaks of other well known genius such as Archimedes, Galileo, Huygens, Aristotle look very modest. Newton’s genius approaches the perfect genius of deities but it never becomes one, because Newton was humble enough to call himself a demi-god, not a total divinity.
For two millennia all geniuses have been more or less equally ingenious. How did nature spontaneously produce a human born whose genius asymptotically approached the abilities of gods? First lets verify scientifically that Newton was indeed a demi-god as he claimed himself to be. We pull out our Principia, the greatest science book ever written, and open a random page. Ooops! Did we pick up the wrong book? This one looks like an anthology of Christian poetry:
Lo, for your gaze, the pattern of the skies!
What balance of the mass, what reckonings
Divine! Here ponder too the Laws which God,
Framing the universe, set not aside
But made the fixed foundations of his work.”
Lo, never mind! This was not even written by Newton but by his acolyte Halley. Let’s move our gaze to another random page.
Good, here’s a proposition where Newton discusses the hydrodynamics of shipbuilding. Sure enough this particular science is called Newtonian hydrodynamics in honor of its founder who laid its foundation in this very proposition upon which we hereby direct our attentive gaze.
As we read and try to understand the great man’s divine thoughts we remember the words of an eminent Newton scholar who carefully studied this proposition and declared that it was fortunate for humanity that Newtonian shipbuilding principles were never adopted by any shipyards. The Newtonian ship had no hydrodynamical probability of floating.
Well, a little disappointing but this is not such an important reckoning as to which to disallow us from giving Newton the benefit of the doubt. So we open another random page. Here the greatest genius ever lived is at his own territory and he will now compute for us the mass of the moon to seven significant digits.
Wow! Seven significant digits! This is like measuring the distance between New York and Boston with a tape measure and then claiming an accuracy of quarter of an inch. Such precise measurement of the moon’s mass has been achieved only recently by NASA by bouncing a laser beam from the surface of the moon. Newton, as a genius way ahead of his time, pretended that his number for the mass of the moon was so precise that it needed seven significant digits to properly express it. This would have been one of the greatest discoveries of Newton only if his number could be called even a ballpark figure. Unfortunately, Newton’s mass of the moon is one hundred per cent wrong. This is the most precisely wrong mass of the moon ever calculated by any genius of any caliber.
Let’s try another page. Here Newton is attempting to compute the speed of sound. He seems to be having some problems with his experiment which shows no respect for Newton’s genius and refuses to yield a number close enough to the known value. Newton invents interesting sounding ad hoc labels such as “crassitude of the air” to get a usable figure, failing that, he doctors the numbers, invents faked experimental results, but to no avail, his manuscript keeps coming back from the conscientious editor politely asking Newton to get it right.
But today no academic physicist would be foolish enough to commit what he doctors into writing but Newton believes in his genius. If the speed of sound is not what Newton calculates then the speed of sound must be what Newton calculates.
At the end, the great man is fed up and imposes his authority on the editor and instructs him to adjust the numbers to agree with the known value of the speed of sound. The editor, his acolyte Halley, complies. This Newtonian scientific method is still widely practiced in academic physics circles today.
Newton’s computations of tides are also very creative to say the least. Newton even includes the wind as a factor effecting the action of the moon on the earth’s oceans.
Let’s try another random page. Here’s one of the most celebrated calculations in the entire history of science. This is the famous theorem which is the source of the myth that Newton and Halley used Newtonian dynamical methods to compute the return of the Halley’s comet which in turn proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Newtonian dynamical gravity permeated the entire universe.
This dynamic duo of scientific frauds found an ingenious way to fake this calculation as well. The proposition that we have been studying happens to be free of any dynamical notions. This theorem is about drawing a parabola from three given points. This is a geometrical problem and we don’t need Newton’s dynamical notions to draw a parabola. Newton and Halley fit a curve to three observations of the comet and then claim to have used Newton’s laws of gravitation to calculate the return of a comet forever dubbed Halley’s comet.
This comet has become sort of a symbol periodically reminding humanity how much their reason is vulnerable to tempering by Doctors of Philosophy who would refrain from nothing to gain academic fame and fortune.
So far the random pages we have studied from the greatest scientific book ever written did not live up to the myth that this was the greatest scientific book ever written. Without the myth, the wig, the propaganda and the elaborately carved marble tomb Newton is not a genius that would register in our chart—he is a fraud.
Newton was also a mathematician. Was he good enough to register in our genius chart? Let’s say that he was. In our chart he would be on a par with Leibniz, his nemesis. If we want to be charitable, we may mark Newton as a genius equal to Huygens. That’s all. There is nothing divine in Newton’s mathematics. The mathematics in Principia is grade school mathematics expressed in obscure scholastic terminology. Pick up a copy and see for yourself.
Even this simple study of Newton’s monumental book tells us that Newton the superhuman genius is a monumental myth. A finely crafted and polished and nurtured myth but a myth nevertheless.
What about Newton’s discovery of the universal law of gravity with which Newton and Halley made so many of their calculations to reveal to us the secrets of the universe? That’s another category all together. That “discovery” assures Newton a privileged place in the chart of greatest intellectual thieves of all times.