How To Learn Like Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, astronomer and
physicist and one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He answered the
ancient riddles of light and motion, discovered gravity and co-created
What Newton learned remains the essence of what we know. His laws are our laws. And he’s definitely someone worth learning from…
Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day – 25 December 1642 – in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to his mother Hannah Ayscough and his father, also named Isaac Newton, was a farmer who had died 3 months before.
When he was just three, Newton’s mother remarried and went to live with her new husband, the Reverend Barnabas Smith, leaving young Isaac in the care of his grandmother.
From a young age, Isaac was fascinated with the natural world and preferred the company of his thoughts to that of people. He spent hours on end building sundials and models of windmills, which he would observe from a distance.
But despite his thoughtfulness, he was a poor student, ranking towards the bottom of his class.
At the age of 13, while studying at the King’s School in Grantham, he got into a fight with the school bully, Storer, who teased him for being stupid and weak.
After an epic battle, the seemingly feeble Newton beat the bigger Storer to a pulp to the disbelief of his classmates.
And from that moment on, he studied like never before, miraculously moving to the top of the class and becoming a model student.
Newton won a place at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661 and served the wealthier students to pay his way through university.
He eventually received a scholarship in 1664 that guaranteed him four more years of study to get his Masters.
Soon after Newton got his BA in 1665, Cambridge closed temporarily as a precaution against the Great Plague.
Newton returned home to Woolsthorpe and spend the next two years developing his theories on calculus, optics and gravity. It was during this time that Newton had his seminal moment sitting under a tree with his friend William Stukeley.
Legend has it that while the two friends were chatting, Newton was hit on the head by an apple, which gave him the breakthrough moment he needed to form his theory of gravity.
But he didn’t publish many of his theories until his Principia Mathematica in 1687, largely for fear of ridicule after his theory of optics was rejected by the mainstream scientists of the time.
By experimenting with a prism, Newton discovered that white light was a combination of all the different colours of the spectrum contrary to the established belief that white light was pure.
When he presented his findings to the Royal Society he was ridiculed and heavily criticised by the established scientist Robert Hooke.
Newton was so offended that he left the Royal Society and withdrew from public debate.
He later got into a dispute with the German Gottfried Leibniz over who invented calculus first…and while this proved to be a hugely valuable theory I don’t think many high school students are thanking either of them!
His scientific career was filled with controversy and took its toll on Newton physically. He was often ill due to a consistent lack of sleep and an obsession with his work, suffering a serious mental breakdown in 1693.
Nevertheless, after the success of his universal gravity equation, Newton was elected president of the Royal Society, appointed a member of Parliament and knighted by Queen Anne.
He never married, dying in 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, a church reserved for the burial of royalty and the most famous of the famous.
And his legacy lives on…because when we talk about momentum, forces and masses, we are seeing the world as Newtonians.
The fact we saw the universe as something we could understand and put a man on the moon is his legacy.
Here are 3 tips you can take from this remarkable scientist to accelerate your learning at the speed of light:
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Newton eventually attributed his success to building on the work of those who came before him, including philosophers like Aristotle and Descartes, and astronomers such as Galileo and Kepler.
Like Newton, you’d do well to take whatever you can from history’s greatest minds because many of life’s most important insights have already been figured out by others.
“The proper method for inquiring about things is to deduce them from experiments…and write about them”
Newton kept notebooks with him at all times in which he documented his experiments and took extensive notes about everything that interested him.
He was often seen lost in his thoughts, scribbling away and generating new insights in the process.
Keep a learning journal like Newton where you write down the ideas that come to you during the day and try to connect them to what you’ve already learned and your own experiences.
“My powers are ordinary. Only my application brings me success.“
Newton’s insights are often attributed to pure genius and natural ability. But not many know that Newton worked on his ideas about gravity for nearly twenty years before publishing them!
It’s very easy to assume that great insights come to the gifted few because of their talents - but progress in learning anything is impossible without the consistent effort of the type Newton displayed.
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