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How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a "Year of Wonders" | Kerry McDonald

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https://fee.org/articles/how-isaac-newton-turned-isolation-from-the-great-plague-into-a-year-of-wonders/

fee.org

How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a "Year of Wonders" | Kerry McDonald
College students around the world left campus this month, unsure when they would return and what daily life would look like until then. Forced to leave their friends and classmates behind and return to their childhood bedrooms, young people, who on average are less impacted by COVID-19's dire health effects, may understandably feel angry and resentful.

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Isaac Newton's Quarantine

Isaac Newton's Quarantine

During the bubonic plague in 1665, Newton was among the students forced to return home from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Away from university life, curriculum constraints, and professors to g...

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Creativity unleashed

Isaac Newton mentioned that during his isolation days, he was in the prime for his age for invention and focused on Mathematics and Philosophy more than any other time.

His forced time away ...

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Focus on your potential

Our lives are upended and our routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. While there is much to despair about, we could also use this time for reflection and discovery.

The sudden ch...

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Isaac Newton's productivity

Isaac Newton's productivity

In 1665 Isaac Newton, a young scholar of Trinity College, fled from the Bubonic plague to his home, about sixty miles from the university. While in solitude, he would invent calculus, create the sc...

Newton's brilliance

The idea that the plague woke the brilliance in Newton is wrong and misleading as a measure of how well we apply ourselves during our own plague spring.

Isaac Newton had begun to think about the most pressing questions in science in 1664, a year before the plague broke out. Similarly, when the epidemic finally burned itself out in 1666, Newton kept on doing the same kind of work when he returned to Trinity College. Retreating to the country itself was not the decisive reason for his inventions.

Keep stoking your passion

Doing the work was what mattered to Isaac Newton. He kept at it before the plague, during, and after his return to college. He wrote that during the plague year, he had been in the prime of his age for invention and minded Mathematics and Philosophy more than at any time since.

Newton was able to do what he did not because of the forced solitude, but because of who he was. You should use this time of solitude, not to emulate an impossible standard, but to keep going at whatever aspect of your life that fires your passion.

Where ideas come from

Ideas come to us when we have a specific problem but we do not focus on solving the problem directly.

It’s not at all obvious how to go about thinking up some new twist on these things...

Unconscious processing

Henri Poincaré, the father of chaos theory and the co-discoverer of special relativity, relates his own discovery. "the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it.”

The Irish mathematician, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, had a similar epiphany while strolling by the Brougham Bridge. He was so delighted that he stopped and carved the defining algebraic equation into the bridge.

Don't overthink

The first phase of solving can be described as “worrying” about a problem or idea. It evokes anxiety and gives the impression of productivity.

But, overthinking can lead to a dead end. The key to solving the problem is to take a break from worrying. Focus your attention on some other activity. Take a long hike or a long drive, to give your mind the space to have a good idea.

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Insights of Albert Einstein

Insights of Albert Einstein

Many insights of Albert Einstein are now part of popular imagination: black holes, time warps, and wormholes show up in movies and books.

Less famous, but probably the most revolutionary pa...

Some changes don't change anything

The most fundamental aspects of nature stay the same.

For example, Einstein's papers on relativity show that the relationship between energy and mass is invariant, even though energy and mass can take on many different forms.

Even though matter produces energy, the energy-matter content of the universe never changes. Matter and energy are less fundamental than the underlying relationship between them.

Relationships over things

We often think of things as the heart of reality. But most often the relationship is more important, not the stuff.

We may think "stuff" like space and time are unchangeable aspects of nature. In reality, the relationship between space and time stays the same.

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