The Great Ocean of Truth

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. --Isaac Newton

Can you imagine what good ol' Sir Isaac would've said, done, and thought if he could've looked up at the stars and seen what we see today?

Image credit: Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Just inspiring, awesome, and yes, this was all undiscovered to him and subsequent scientists for centuries. The ability to give him a single picture like this would have changed worldviews about our place in the Universe for centuries (no need to wait for Hubble to find that the Universe is full of galaxies).

It looks like a table of galaxies, laid out, as it were, just for us. And now the very views and perspectives that eluded some of the greatest minds for their entire lifetimes are just... here. For you and me and everyone who wants to see them. Enjoy!

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This happens to be one of my favorite topics of discussion. This statement by Newton is an expression of a humble man, penned to Robert Hooke towards the end of a very long and productive scientific career; he has given us so much but yet considers himself a small boy tinkering with the small stones, pebbles and shells along the sea shore whilst the ocean [of truth] lay before him. Ah, were he only alive today! What could we learn from him? And yet, he said "If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants"; whose shoulders? Copernicus; Brahe; Kepler; Galileo? None of these could have given Newton the depth of insight and understanding he had and yet, knowing this to himself, he utters these words.

It is we, today, and those who came before us through the 20th century, who have discovered so much, who have arrogated so much of the credit to ourselves, should say, with profound humility, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants".

Our greatest truths are little more than myths that have proven a bit useful; we are forever children exploring the unknown world, the ever mysterious; and yet there are giants amongst us (of the modest type) in that they are orginals (one of a kinds). To be an original whether appreciated by many or none is quite an accomplishment. I would suggests that Newton's "shoulder's of giants" were scientists as well as ordinary folks who inspired him by their originality and integrity regardless of their fame or not.

It's so amazing that when there was little technology in the past, knowldge was still so cherished. I wonder what Newton would have done if he had a laptop.

By Emmanuel Mensah (not verified) on 17 Sep 2012 #permalink